Penny Wheeler

Quantock Weavers in the Somerset Heritage Textile Collection

At our first visit to the Somerset Heritage Textile Collection, Estelle, the Textile Curator, mentioned that they had a collection from the Quantock Weavers.  Intrigued, I arranged to come back and see it, and was completely bowled over by the beautiful work.

Firstly there were boxes of woven textiles, tablemats, table-runners, scarves and shawls, all unique.  On asking about the weavers Bethan brought in a box of stones and Estelle produced a booklet ‘Woven from a Stone’ by Hubert Fox that gives a short, life-history of the weavers.

The Quantock Weavers were Gladys Dickinson and Norah Biddulph, they set up business together in 1932, both aged 47, at the Old Forge in Over Stowey close to the Quantock Hills in Somerset. They spun, wove and bottled fruit (including whortleberries, which they sold in London to Fortnum and Mason, and Harrods); gradually devoting more time to the spinning and weaving.



“Local wool was bought from the farmers for spinning into yarn.  Natural dyes were used.  They were obtained from heather, gorse, bracken, and broom in the hills, from leaves, flowers, and brambles in the lanes, and from lichen on apple trees and boulders.  The humble galvanised bucket was used as a dye vat.”

Fox, H.  ‘Woven from a Stone’



In 1956 an artist friend gave Gladys and Norah an olive green, red and silver serpentine stone from Cornwall.  The ladies matched the colours with natural dyes and wove a curtain with the shades and pattern of the stone.  This was to be the first of many stones that would arrive from all over the world in little wedding cake boxes to be turned into patterns on the loom.

Both Gladys and Nora had come from comfortable backgrounds in London and Ireland, respectively, and had then been plunged into poverty after World War I and the deaths of their fathers.  They were both very resourceful women: Gladys had run her father’s farm during the war, including hand-shearing her and her neighbours’ sheep, and then worked for the ‘Women’s Guild of Empire’; Norah staying with her sister in Egypt got a job at Bourg-el-Arab in the Libyan Desert where Bedouin women were being taught to spin and weave, and on returning home after the British left Egypt in 1924, went to Sweden to learn more, taking courses in spinning and weaving.  They met in Somerset where Norah had started a job spinning, weaving and bottling fruit with an acquaintance in Washford.


It was fun matching the stones to the woven pieces; above is a piece of granite with lichen matched to a small placemat.  The Quantock Weavers use a very simple, but time-consuming, inlay technique to weave their patterns, similar to tapestry.  They were very skilled at choosing neutral warps, in this case a mid-green that blends well into the grey and the bright lime, lichen colour.  To show the inlay all the pieces are designed to be weft-facing.


A larger placemat matched to a larger piece of slate.  Here they have used inlay again but predominately they have simplified the weaving by using just two colours, one at either side of each weft row or pick.


It was quite hard to work out what each piece was designed for; the archive pieces were mostly all similar weights but there was one much finer piece.  The above piece was larger, approximately one metre long, I am guessing a large tablemat/tablecloth …


Brilliant colours from natural dyes: definitely a scarf or stole above on the left, on the right lovely; delicate hand-stitching on the back of a tablemat.


The one piece that was not plain weave – a point draft 2:2 twill, again a large tablemat/table cloth?


Again the same for the above pink piece that I have linked to a piece of gypsum (Note: the types of stones may not be accurate, there were quite a few question marks on the different labels).


The last two pieces are small tablemats linked to stones that both may be onyx, however the stones seem to have very different textures.  I love the use of a dull pinky-purple, putty colour with the vibrant lime greens and oranges.




New tools to make old tools: laser cutting rigid heddles

Rigid heddles have their roots in ancient civilisations. You can use them to make a back-strap loom, which will allow you to weave anywhere.  One end of the warp is tied to a handy tree or table leg, and the other end is tied to a stick, that in turn is tied to a strap around your back.  You use your body weight to tension the loom.

Because of their portability rigid heddles are an ideal way to introduce people to weaving – and as part of the Z-Twist education programme I will be using the laser cutter at Somerset College to make about 30 rigid heddles to teach community groups and schools how to weave.

Rigid heddles in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.  On the left a rigid heddle band loom from Zuni, New Mexico, USA, made from wooden laths tied to sticks, with a wool warp and a wooden sword for beating in.  On the right decorated rigid heddles from Europe, top from Auvergne, France and below from Abruzzi, Italy.

Rigid heddles in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. On the left a rigid heddle band loom from Zuni, New Mexico, USA, made from wooden laths tied to sticks, with a wool warp and a wooden sword for beating in (you can see the tip of the sword poking out under the heddle). On the right decorated rigid heddles from Europe, top from Auvergne, France, and below from Abruzzi, Italy.

A rigid heddle is made up of alternating slots and holes, through which the warp is threaded. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has an interesting collection of rigid heddles from around the world made from a variety of materials.  Using a laser cutter to make rigid heddles is not new, Travis Meinolf, the Action Weaver, first made some as part of his Masters in 2008 and is now selling laser cut plywood rigid heddle kits.

Designing my rigid heddles I automatically fell back on my weaving training and started thinking about the density of the cloth we will be making, the yarn, how close or far away each warp thread should be to the next, and what it is possible to cut without weakening the final rigid heddle too much.


The first test on some spare scrap (above).  The laser both cuts and engraves (left) but my design was not robust enough at the edge.  On the reverse you can see the laser is too hot and has melted the cut edges.


My second test on an A4 piece of 3mm green, fluorescent-tinted acrylic.


The acrylic comes with a protective film on both sides – the film has burnt but underneath the acrylic is fine.


The laser cutter uses Adobe Illustrator (a vector-based drawing package) files to tell it where to cut. I am trying to make maximum use of the material (left), making sticks for tying the warp on to and securing around your waist, and stick shuttles for weaving in the weft. I tested an 8 dpi (dents or holes per inch) and a 10 dpi rigid heddle.  The 10 dpi with more slots/holes is looking fragile; there is not enough acrylic between the holes and the slots. I also thought about two designs of stick – the slot design (far right stick in the left image) is a no-go, the acrylic is not flexible enough to slot into another parallel stick – plus the slot is only 2mm wide and the acrylic is 3mm thick…


Trying out the 8 dpi rigid heddle using 2/11.3 nm “supersoft” lambswool I made a short 1m warp with the legs of two upturned chairs.


Threading the rigid heddle is easiest using masking tape and the edge of a table.


Weaving with the rigid heddle, the far end of the warp is attached to a table leg out-of-shot and the other end is tied to the stick which is also tied around my waist with a piece of cloth from the scrap bins. It weaves well, making a good gap or ‘shed’ between the slots and holes, for the shuttle to pass through.  Perhaps a little more space at the top would be useful for holding on to.

I am using two colours for my warp, arranged in a particular order, and then using the same colours again in the weft, woven in a chosen order to get a ‘colour-and-weave’ patterned effect.

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As you weave the rigid heddle gets further and further away from you, so every so often you need to wind the woven cloth around one stick and secure it with a second stick to be able to weave comfortably.  The holes in the sticks could be a little larger.

A successful test – I will make a couple of tweaks to the design but essentially I am ready to cut more.  The main problem is timing; it took 40 minutes to cut an A4 piece of acrylic with 2 rigid heddles – I want to move on to A3 pieces with more rigid heddles, but the laser cutting slots at Somerset College are only 1 hour long.  I need to look at minimising cuts …

Ghent and the textile innovation gap

Belgium has had a strong textile industry and for the last 20 years the government has been proactive in supporting the industry by funding exciting research.  However, they have identified a gap between innovative textile research and the commercial exploitation of that research.  Patricia, Debbie and I went to the NeoTextileShop conference in Ghent, Belgium to learn more about how this gap is being addressed.

TIO3 Workshop with new tools: laser cutter and digital embroidery machine on the left and a traditional loom on the right.

TIO3 Fab(ric) Lab with new tools: laser cutter and digital embroidery machine on the left and a traditional loom on the right.

As I see it there are two different waves in textile innovation:

First wave: New tools computerising the making process: digital print, digital embroidery, laser cutting, computerised looms and 3-D printing.
The benefits of these new tools is that they enable sampling, short runs and have the potential to increase the speed to market and facilitate a move away from mass-market production.  Less space is required for manufacture.

Second wave: New yarns and fabrics, and smart textiles, including nano fabrics, fabrics/clothing that include electronics, functional fabrics designed to support specific tasks etc.
The benefits include improving specific needs eg better protection for fire-fighters.  Smart textiles have the potential to change the way we live, how we use and see textiles – rather like mobile phones have created a new user need; in the 80s could we have predicted how we use mobile phones now?

The first wave is starting to make an impact on the textile industry, the second wave is still in its infancy, still exploring user needs and how we will be using smart textiles in the future.

New yarns and electronics at the TIO3 workshop and detail of a smart textile dress at the University of Gent.

New conductive yarns and electronic components at the TIO3 Fab(ric) Lab and detail of a smart textile dress demonstrator at Ghent University.

The Belgium approach to addressing the innovation gap has been to set up TIO3, the Textile Open Innovation Centre, in Ronse with 51% private and 49% public funding.  The NeoTextileShop conference was held at TIO3 and we were lucky to get a tour by the Director, Pierre Van Trimpont. The aim of TIO3 is to inspire with new materials, new processes and new technologies in the field of textiles, including exhibitions and a materials library; create a platform to experiment with their Fab(ric) Lab; and provide business support, including textile industry knowledge and networks, for start-up textile businesses.  Business support advice is open to all EU citizens, the first two meetings are free; any further meetings are charged.

Debbie checking out TIO3 materials library.  It holds swatches of fabric made from different yarns and with different structures including Flex, a tri-dimensional textile on the left.

Debbie checking out TIO3 materials library. It holds swatches of fabric made from different yarns and with different structures including Flex, a tri-dimensional textile on the left.

The speakers at the NeoTextileShop conference were either supporting textile innovation or introducing their research. Centexbel, the Belgian Textile Research Centre, carries out a huge range of textile research projects with industry partners. Their projects include developing smart textiles, sustainability, improving properties of textiles, and meeting real-world needs with textiles. The projects that caught my imagination were:

S(p)eedkits working with the Red Cross to re-design emergency response kits (tents, blankets, food, water) used in disaster relief through smart packaging and new technological applications using light, strong, durable textiles.

Smart textiles and lighting projects: SmartPro, Poleot – printing light emitting devices on textiles, Place-IT – integration of lighting into light, flexible textiles either for healthcare, interior lighting or safety clothing.

All4Rest improving the quality of sleep by looking at physical and thermal comfort using biomaterials and research of new ones, reactive sleep systems that monitor sleep quality and use heat-able/cooling textiles to improve comfort.

The next day we visited Ghent University, their Textile Department is part of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture; it focuses on the science and technology of textiles rather than design, and has accredited textile laboratories that they share with Centexbel. The University does a lot of research, including smart textiles, however they did say that they found it useful to collaborate with design students to make polished prototypes. Excitingly they provide an e-learning course on smart textiles in English.

University of Gent accreditied material testing laboratories test how fabric wear over time eg the machine on the right tests how the colour and pile of a particular carpet cope with wheeled chairs in accordance with European standards.

Ghent University textile laboratories test how fabrics wear over time eg the machine on the left tests how the colour and pile of carpets cope with wheeled chair motion in accordance with European standards.  The carpet pieces on the right show how the carpet can look after testing.

One of University of Gent's research areas is artificial turf.  from the ingredients to the shape of the leaves and how they perform over time.

One of Ghent University’s research areas is artificial turf (really just a type of carpet), from the raw materials to the shape of the leaves and how they perform over time.

Our visit got me thinking, as a maker what do l think we need for textile innovation in the UK, and Somerset and the South West in particular? Here, in no particular order, is my shopping list, I have tried to include references to good practice that I know about, but it is by no means complete and has a weave bias… do comment if I have missed important things out.
  • information about textile tools and innovation, including sustainability
    Exhibitions, symposia, conferences, shows – Stroud International Textiles, the Crafts Council, Victoria and Albert Museum (Power of Making 2011), Wearable Technology trade show in London, yearly in March.   Google Alerts could be good way of keeping up to date with a particular topic.
  • materials library  – Mark Miodownik (Institute of Making) argues that new project discussions are entirely different surrounded by materials, rather than limited to post-its on the wall.  As far as I know there are no materials libraries in the South West.
    Institute of Making (UCL)Material Lab, Rematerialise a sustainable materials library (all London), MateriO (France, Belgium +).
  • access to new yarns and materials, in small quantities It is no good for experimentation if the smallest quantity is a pallet.
    The Handweavers Studio (I use a lot of their yarns) and individual manufacturers.
  • access to new tools, workshops and training.
    Most universities with textile design courses, including Somerset College, have the new tools.  Z Twist has given us mid-career artists’ access, and there are bureau facilities available. However access to industrial looms is not as easy, The Weave Shed has a list of commission weavers, but a lot of mills are small and specialist, there is the cost implication of minimum lengths and often there is a waiting list. Weavers may need to go abroad for training in industrial weaving.
  • opportunities for collaboration (and networking) Collaboration with industry, collaboration between different disciplines, and especially collaboration between the arts and the sciences, essential for the development of smart textiles. 
    Residencies programmes including Z Twist, Crafts Council (The Watershed 2013, Craft Rally).  But, I think collaboration needs to be introduced earlier, at university. Working well with other people is a key ingredient to success in your working life, but English universities are very focused on individual achievement. Taking a different approach is the Institute of Making a research club for interdisciplinary making at UCL, the Building Virtual Worlds class at Carnegie Mellon University which takes students from different backgrounds and puts them together to build a virtual world – graduates who took this class have gone on to work for Walt Disney Imagineering etc
  • textile/craft-specific marketing and business advice, and knowledge
    Crafts Council (Hothouse support for emerging makers, Injection business development support for mid-career makers), The Design Trust (on-line and events), a-n The Artists Information Company (on-line, networking and events), Cockpit Arts (London, studio-based).
  • funding for production and marketing The transition from a successful hand-maker to manufacturing is a big step that may require a large initial investment eg for minimum order sizes.  Taking stands at design events is also expensive.
  • raising awareness of good design and the importance of local making  
    Champions for making include:  Somerset Art WorksStroud International Textiles, Devon Guild of Craftsmen, and the Crafts Council.   Intuitively, I think the SouthWest may be behind in design thinking in comparison to a London audience or is that just force of numbers? Contemporary craft/design shows include SIT Select, Stroud, and surroundings, in April/May; Contemporary Craft Fair, Bovey Tracey in June; open studio events including Somerset Open Studios in September; and smaller open studios in Bath in May including Bear Flat Artists.

Fox Brothers’ yarn store …

My second visit to Fox Brothers & Co. Ltd and Rosemarie, the designer, gave me access to their yarn store – my idea of heaven … I spent a happy couple of hours finding  all the colours I had put into colour palettes in my sketchbook (see previous post) and winding off small hanks.  I will be using this hanked yarn to experiment further with colours and designs for the blanket – it will be a relief to work with the exact colours.


Their hank winder is splendid, it has lovely ornamentation that harks back to a different era.


Rosemarie also gave me two samples of their lambswool blankets – more gorgeous labelling, and some samples of loom-state blanket cloth, all stiff and rough, such a contrast.


Every time I visit Fox Brothers I seem to notice something different – this time it is subtle checks.  I like the stitched effect of the white and navy-blue twill check on the khaki sample on the right (from Rosemarie’s inspiration board).  On the left the combination of the scarf and jacket in similar checks with toning colour-ways is very sophisticated.


On the right there is a lovely, soft, dogtooth colour-and-weave check, the inclusion of the purple and blue is a nice re-interpretation of a classic.  Re-interpretation is taken even further on the left with converse trainers in classic flannels, reminding me of the sporting origins of flannel.

Colour in the Post

What could be better than receiving this gorgeous shade card in the post from Gardiner Yarns? The colours are really delicious (to me colour is edible…) and I am really excited about working with them.  Usually I dye my own colours so working with a set colour palette is new for me – the advantage is that most of the colours have a tweediness, they are not flat colour but are spun with flecks of two or more colours, giving an interesting depth.

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Ideally I would love cones of each one of the 60 colours – but that would be prohibitively expensive …so to start getting to know the colours I have been working with my photos creating colour palettes.  Initially I started in Adobe Illustrator creating pattern swatches from a scan of the shade card – bad idea – Illustrator does not work well with jpgs and quickly my file size was over a Gigabyte…

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So I went low-tech, printed out several copies of the shade card and worked with scissors and glue (much more fun).  The printed colours are approximate – trying to match colours when using computers and printers that are not calibrated is nigh on impossible.  I started off matching  the reds and then the browns were all wrong .. but it was a quick way to get familiar with the shades and how I could work with them, before diving into the yarn itself.

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Inspired by the Somerset Levels

I live on the edge of Somerset, in Bath, and travel to Taunton by train for my residency at Somerset College.  There is something about train journeys; they give me the space to think, look out of the window and work if needs be.  The dominant feature over the last weeks has been, of course, the flooding of the Somerset Levels – the track lies precariously in the middle of flooded fields and was finally engulfed too.  The diversionary route via Westbury also travels through flooded fields.

Dawn in January from the train from Bristol to Taunton

Dawn from the train in January, travelling from Bristol to Taunton

The floods must be awful for the people living there, but as a traveller through the landscape they are fascinating, bringing an otherness, a mirrored finish to the landscape, sometimes framed with field structures, hedges and trees, sometimes completely submerged. In the gales the flooded fields are more like an inland sea with galloping white horses.  I cannot imagine how difficult it is for the people cut-off from their homes and work.  Everyday struggles must have become an epic: struggling to be heard; struggling to keep their lives, homes and work together.


Field patterns in the flooding around Burrowbridge

However it is not the flooding that has inspired me, but the Somerset Levels themselves; the contrast between the disastrous flooding and the lush, vibrant landscape in spring and summer. The Somerset Levels and Moors are a unique and beautiful environment set in the centre of the county – they are unmistakenly Somerset, so I am choosing the Levels as my inspiration for warmth of belonging in Somerset. The Levels deserve protection, as do the people who live and work there.

Shapwick Heath nature reserve, June

Shapwick Heath nature reserve, June

More flooding near Burrowbridge

More flooding near Burrowbridge

Winter lays everything bare, I haven’t noticed the pollarded trees before.

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Concept: Warmth of Belonging

The Z-Twist brief is all about collaborating with industry partners, heritage, new technology and having a sense of place. When I was applying there was much in the news about energy price rises and the ability of the vulnerable to keep warm this winter. Textiles can keep you warmer – wrapping yourself in layers;  jumpers, scarves, coats and blankets, helps keep the thermostat lower. But how could that relate to place?

My idea for Z-Twist is all about warmth; the physical warmth provided by textiles, in particular blankets, and the emotional warmth of belonging to a place or community. For me there is that feeling of warmth and relaxation you get when you sense you are nearly home. You may be looking out for a particular landmark, it may be subtle changes that you see out of the corner of you eye, or it may be the community or people with whom you live.

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I get that feeling of relaxation at different places for different journeys: returning on the train it is the lovely warm gold of Bath stone in my peripheral vision.


Coming from London and the M4 it is that sudden, beautiful view of Bath coming down the A46.

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And from Wales, I look out for the Second Severn Crossing, the structure always inspires me and once over it we are back in England.

Talking to different people they have their own landmarks that give them a warmth of belonging: for example turning off the motorway on to the A46 roundabout, and one Taunton taxi driver very eloquently said ‘when the pavement ends’ – he lives in the country but necessarily works in the town.

Where do you get that feeling of relaxation and warmth of belonging?

Stripes, checks and maps in the Somerset Heritage Textile Collection

The Somerset Heritage Textile Collection holds over 2,000 items.  Their oldest item is a 15th Century medieval cope that is displayed at the Museum of Somerset, and their newest item is a woolly jumper worn by Mick Aston from ‘The Time Team’.  Everything is very carefully packed away, cosseted in tissue paper, and labelled in boxes and garment bags all on rows and rows of shelves.

This was my first time visiting a  textile collection ‘behind the scenes’ and it was hard to anticipate what to expect and what I wanted to see.  I had made a vague request to see some stripes and checks when we arranged the visit.  Estelle, the Textile Curator, and Bethan were very generous with their time; they gave Lucy, Debbie and I an introductory tour and had very kindly found some garments with stripes and checks for me.  The garments were amazingly bright and had some interesting woven-design detail.  The mastery of pattern cutting, fabric manipulation and getting the most out of a striped fabric by using different stripe angles was also impressive.

It was great that we went together, items requested by Lucy and Debbie sparked some ideas in me; in particular a fine cross-stitch map sampler map of England and Wales.  Maps are an obvious way of connecting people to the landscape and I like the idea of fabric maps.  While I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Public Archive to view some old linen-backed maps – their fragility and materiality is fascinating.  Unfortunately I cannot publish any photos because of the Public Archive restrictions.

Edwardian day dress

Edwardian day dress (skirt and bodice).  I love the different angles of those stripes and how the fabric is used as decoration over the lace.

Edwardian day dress, detail

Edwardian day dress, detail.  The archive tag says “???. Daydress. black and white striped voile and bands of white machine made lace insertion of black velvet trimming.  Skirt full at back with slight train worn over separate cream taffeta underskirt and sham frills.  Bodice high boned neck sleeves of spotted net. ”  On the right notice that the edges of each white or black stripe are defined, darker/more intense in both white and black.  Two? threads are woven as one, in contrast to the single threads in plain weave in the rest of the stripe.

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Victorian checked dress (skirt and bodice), detail. Between each of the background vertical stripes there is a light turquoise stripe of a single thread to highlight the edges of the stripes. The bold foreground gold and dark blue stripes are probably in a thicker yarn and were possibly on an additional warp beam (extra warp).


Victorian check dress (skirt and bodice), details. I love the clever ability to have long or short sleeves on the bodice. On the right you can see that a tougher ribbon has been handstitched to the hem to protect the silk hem from contact with the floor and fraying.

Silk stripe

Silk striped dress, I am unsure which era, possibly 1920’s or 1930’s ?  A beautiful wearable dress that has really made the striped fabric work to create some tension and drama in the design.


Checked and spotted dress (skirt and bodice). Unsure of the date of this dress, it reminds me of the Judy Garland, MGM musical “Meet me in St Louis” so it may be early 1900s.

SamplerMap and SomersetMap2

The sampler map was created using very fine cross-stitch, unfortunately in wool because a lot of the names of the counties have been eaten! Apparently maps in samplers are quite common; they were used as a tool to learn geography.  An old paper map of Somerset on the right.  Here Somerset stretches from Portishead and Bath in the North to Dulverton and Yeovil in the South, and it looks like Bristol is included.

First visit to Fox Brothers & Co Ltd

An eagerly anticipated visit with Lucy, Patricia and Rob, that did not disappoint.  Fox Brothers & Co Ltd weave very fine woollen and worsted cloth in Wellington, Somerset and they have been doing so for a very long time; since 1772.  They mostly make men’s suiting and coating; flannels, chalk stripes, tweeds, lots of dark colours, with the occasional surprise of bright orange, or a crisp wool and linen shirting.  The handle of some of their lambswool cloth could be mistaken for their cashmere but with the advantage of a more structured fabric.

The designer, Rosemarie, was incredibly helpful, giving us a comprehensive and informative tour of the mill and their new venture The Merchant Fox, selling luxury British hand-crafted products.  They also have the most fantastic archives; shelves and shelves of weaving sample books with weaving swatches that still look contemporary.

Fox Brothers weave a range of blankets, in checks, stripes and herringbone using different wools from shetland wool to the lambswool, herringbone, tasselled blankets in the image below.  My favourite is of course, the most  expensive and luxuriously soft; the lambswool herringbone.  I have decided to work with the same lambswool yarns to develop a blanket design inspired by the Somerset landscape.


The Merchant Fox is brilliantly styled, you walk into a cross between a British gentleman’s dressing room and his den. It even smells delicious – the scent of flannel from specially commissioned candles.


Cloth swatches in an archive book – they could be contemporary, and recently woven flannel. The piece of fabric below the sample book is unfinished, it is in its ‘loom-state’, feeling rough and stiff, a big contrast to the highly strokeable, soft, finished cloth in the sample book above.


Pages from the oldest, 1773, ‘pattern book’ at Fox Brothers (bound in calves leather). Flannels in some lovely, subtle shades of greens on the left, and the only page of silks on the right, but I could not resist the beautiful soft tones .  Everything would have been coloured using natural dyes.

I love all the detail in the woven and printed labels, it shows the heritage in comparison to a lot of labels today that are very simple. Also the use of the specific 'Made in the West of England' rather than the usual 'Made in Britain'.

I love all the detailed drawing and fonts in the woven and printed labels, it shows the heritage, subtlely, in comparison to a lot of labels today that are very simple. Also the use of the specific ‘Made in the West of England’ rather than the usual ‘Made in Britain’.


The warp is made in sections, the cones on the frame to the left supply the yarn which is fed onto the barrel to the right at the right density, or spacing, and with all the yarn at the same tension (very important). The yarn that is threaded onto the loom is called the warp.  Cloth is made when yarn (the weft) is woven into the warp threads.


The warp from the barrel is wound onto a warp beam, these are large, warps can be 1000’s of metres long. On the right is a warp on a beam, each thread has been threaded onto an individual heddle which is controlled by one of 12 shafts (the set of metal objects above the beam). The order of threading the heddles will determine the weave structures or patterns in the final cloth. With so many threads, it is heavy and so is supported by what looks like a mini fork-lift.


Fox Brothers have two new computerised looms (one on the left) as well as their existing looms that weave from punch cards (on the right). I love the magic of turning thread into cloth. On the loom on the right a broken thread is being repaired, the shafts are in front of us and behind are the ‘droppers’, these drop and stop the loom weaving if a thread in the warp breaks.