It’s hard to convey just how special Rowenna Mason’s handwoven cushions really are; the level of skill and amount of work and attention to detail that goes into making each one is astonishing. Tactile, and luxurious, combining traditional methods of making and materials with modern geometric patters and colour combinations, each cushion is an exceptional piece of craftsmanship. Awed as we are by Rowenna’s talent, we decided to catch up with her for our first Maker Story to find out a bit more about just how she does it…
What made you choose hand-weaving as a career? I always loved making things from a young age. Throughout school I enjoyed Art and Textiles, when it came to choosing a degree I decided to study Textile Design at Nottingham Trent Uni. This was where I was introduced to weaving and I’ve never looked back! Since I learnt to weave six years ago, I have fallen in love with the craft. I love the variety of the elements which make up a cloth, and endless possibilities this provides. Within the rules of weaving there is huge scope for innovation. I love the hands-on nature of weaving; it gives me satisfaction and purpose.
Can you tell us a little bit about your workspace? My workspace is at Cockpit Arts, on the Deptford site. On my current award with the Clothworkers’ foundation I am based across two studios, with four other awardee weavers. We have 3 looms and equipment to share, as well as personal workspace. It’s great to be part of a little weave community, and being able to use a loom is a real bonus. My desk is surrounded by yarns, samples, research, files and sketchbooks. I also have shelves full of my handwoven cushions. As someone who is a weaver I tend to be both logically and creatively minded. I think my workspace reflects both these traits!
Your pieces fuse traditional methods of making with modern designs and colour combinations. Can you describe how your work evolved into its current form and what has inspired the direction you’ve taken? As a weaver, my work is tied to the history and story behind the technique, yet I have always been encouraged to pursue innovation within textile design. During my MA at Chelsea I began to explore the world of craft and how it relates to wider design and society. I wanted to challenge established views of craft; in particular I explored themes like ‘innovative vs traditional’ and ‘urban vs rural’. Craft is a varied spectrum of making and I want to celebrate different elements of this, both the traditional and the contemporary. My work is inspired by London architecture, yet uses wool. I also use traditional hand-weaving, yet modern geometric forms. Something exciting happens when opposites come together.
As someone who has never tried hand weaving, can you describe exactly what it involves? It looks to be quite a complicated and time-consuming process. How long approximately does it take to weave enough material for one cushion? The process of weaving is repetitive, technical and hands-on. It is also extremely rewarding because of the effort it involves. Essentially woven cloth is made up of vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) yarns, and how they interact with each other. Though in actual fact it is very complex! The loom takes a day and half to set up, before getting anywhere near weaving. This will include making the warp, winding it onto the loom, threading up hundreds of warp-ends (yarn), putting the warp through the reed and tying the warp onto the loom. Once ready to weave, the process involves lifting some warp yarns, and passing a shuttle – with weft yarn on – underneath them. For each line of weft, different yarns are lifted and the fabric structure begins to form. It’s very difficult to describe, as there is so much going on! I can weave about 1-2 metres of cloth in one day, my designs are even more complicated as I create a double-cloth which is twice the amount of work.
What advice would you give to people just starting out or interested in making?
My advice would be to have confidence in your work, your process and your design instinct. People love to know about the story behind your work and about you, so make sure you tell them. The finished product is one thing, but the meaning behind it and the investment you put into it is really valuable. Also to have patience, I am very early on with my practice, but I know it’s going to take time and lots of hard work to move forward!
Are there any craftsmen or designers who have particularly inspired or influenced you or your work?
The Bauhaus era of design is really inspiring to me. Especially weavers like Annie Albers and Gunta Stolz. Their bold use of geometric pattern and colour is really current; they often balanced simple and complex elements to form a cohesive design. My work is also inspired by traditional forms of geometric patterns, like patchwork quilts and Victorian floor tiles.
What is your favourite artwork? Last year I visited the Sonia Delauney exhibition at the Tate Modern. I couldn’t pick one piece, but the whole thing was amazing. From massive paintings to designs for silk scarves, her use of colour and shape was so exciting.
What is your favourite piece of design? My favourite piece of design is the Sugarhouse Studios in Stratford. The building is covered in loads of colourful tiles, which is so refreshing in grey London!
What style of home décor do you find the most exciting at the moment/what style are you drawn to when decorating your own home? My home is quite eclectic, I am renting so I seem to have collected lots of different items over the years. Being a textile designer, I have far too many cushions and throws, which makes my home nice and cosy. I love a retro modern look, with a playful use of colour and vintage and contemporary styles. I also really like the textures and fresh simplicity of Scandinavian interiors.