8th April 2020

Craft / Llio James

Continuing a Craft by Weaver Llio James

16 5 mins 2

WWool manufacturing was historically one of the most important industries in Wales. Since World War I the industry has seriously declined; where there were once around three hundred mills across Wales, now there are fewer than ten. One of the last mills is thirty miles from where textile designer Llio James lives and works.

The weavers at this wool mill have over fifty years’ experience. Llio explains how, “working with them is very much a collaboration”. The significance of her work is its rich cultural heritage, the history and relationship between her hand weaving work and the traditional woollen mill industry within Wales.

 

Llio James was born on the middle West coast of Wales in a village named, Tal-y-bont. Although a small village, with a population of just 700 people, Tal-y-bont once played an essential role in textile production. The village had two woollen mills that manufactured tweed cloth. The wool was purchased directly from the local famers, was processed by the mill’s water-powered machinery, woven by hand, washed in the mill’s river and sold on site. The perfect circle.

The two mills closed down and stood derelict long before Llio was born. She cannot say whether her home village’s history inspired her profession, but it seems reasonable to believe that its significant past had some influence. Through her work, Llio reconnects with her village’s heritage and explains that “the feeling of belonging to country and culture is important to me”.

Llio studied textiles at Manchester School of Art. “I wasn’t there to study the history of the woollen industry, I didn’t think about the link to my upbringing. Instead, I was interested in how textiles are such a huge part of our every day.”

“Think about it, you’re born and wrapped in cloth. We put clothing on every day next to our skin. Our feet walk along carpets, on wooden floorboards on concrete slabs and sometimes even run along cobbled streets. We sit, drape, lounge on what will support and comfort our bodies. Textiles and textures are everywhere.”

During her studies, Llio was introduced to weaving. “I knew early on that the process of using my hands to make cloth was for me. Starting with a cone of yarn, followed by a number of stages, you’re slowly constructing fabric.” After graduating, Llio moved to New York, designing and weaving window coverings working with PVC. “The plastic wasn’t for me, but I was gaining experience and slowly filtering my interests.” But the pull to her home and heritage brought Llio back to Wales.

“Today, I work on a traditional dobby loom which fills every corner of my attic studio. As a handweaver I’m able to adapt the work as it grows. Using my hands and eyes to build a contemporary cloth. I create cloth to be handled, to be used and to be loved generation after generation.”

She explains how her work is very much a collaboration between herself and the weavers at the mill. “I hand weave samples on my dobby loom and following discussions with the mill, the design is developed to be taken forward into production. The weavers work on ‘dobcross’ power looms creating cloth full of outstanding quality and beautiful detail.”

Pushing the development of -and continuing the craftsmanship- is what is important to Llio. Allowing the continuation of a historic craft through its adaption to modern design. “I want to see how we can create cloth for today on looms that were built in the 1930s.” Vital to that development is the relationship between the handweavers and the weavers at the mill.

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Llio James is a contemporary weaver working from her attic studio in Aberystwyth on the West Wales coast. Llio draws up traditional weaving techniques and an extensive knowledge of traditional weaving in Wales to create modern designs.

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