Adrienne Mulqueen of Adrienne’s Loom has been weaving since 1979. She loved it from the moment she threw her first weft, immediately feeling she wanted to do nothing else but weave. Life has taken her in different directions over the years but it has now allowed her to return to her looms. Adrienne is passionate about producing textiles that people will enjoy using – she’d really rather you didn’t tuck her creations away for “best”!
What do you make?
I weave fabric out of wool, silk, alpaca, cotton and linen. This can be lengths of cloth, blankets for beds, knees, babies and as throws; scarves and wraps; hand towels and kitchen or tea towels; floor rugs, table mats, table napkins and bags. Although I don’t sell them on my site I also spin and knit and dye wool and make small items like scarves, socks and gloves and use hand woven yarn in some of my blankets.
How did you get into your craft?
I was visiting a friend in Nelson in 1979 and discovered the Nelson School of Weaving. I had always wanted to weave but it had seemed something out of my reach until I visited the school and the weaving studios that were in Nelson at the time. I thought I could do this and so I enrolled for the course.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I attended the school for 18 months but didn’t sit for any qualifications as there weren’t any on offer at the time. We were a pretty unruly class with everyone just wanting to “weave” and our very patient teacher, Anna Correa-Hunt, doing her best to train us in traditional German artisan style. I treasure everything I learnt from her and would love to go back and have that time over again. I also worked with Christine Keller, another German weaver in Dunedin in 2013 learning how to do production weaving.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I have several looms and although I enjoy using them all my favourite remains my first one which was made to order by Ken Bartlett of Christchurch in 1980. It is a beautiful rimu, handmade 8 shaft countermarche loom and is a work of art, beautiful and easy to use and has never missed a beat. I also have a favourite flying shuttle, made in Germany, obviously very old and well worn in. It goes so well and smoothly and I can develop an efficient rhythm which enables me to weave easily and well. I so wish they could still make ones like that. My favourite part of the setting up of the loom is the threading of the heddles. I’m not quite sure why but somehow putting all those threads in order is very pleasant and I’m quite happy to spend as long as it takes to complete that particular job.
“I’m not sure what the textile equivalent saying is to “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” but it’s hard to keep the stash under control and find places to… well… stash it…”
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
Firstly you have to make the warp which are all the threads that run the length of your piece of fabric. The threads have to be all the same length and enough to cover the width. Maths plays an important part here as you have to calculate take up on the loom as it is woven and shrinkage when washed and wastage from being tied onto the loom (and therefore not usable for weaving). They have to be kept in order and evenly put onto the back beam of your loom. These are then threaded through the heddles which are on the shafts of the loom and which are then manipulated up or down to create the pattern. These threads are then pulled through a reed or beater which is a metal frame which both keeps the threads the correct distance apart, and together, and is used to beat the weft, which is the thread that goes across the fabric. The final part of the weaving is the throwing or placing of the thread or weft across all the threads and beating them into place. Once it is all woven and then cut off the loom, broken threads and mistakes need to be mended and then it is washed or shrunk or fulled if necessary, then cut and sewn. The actual “weaving” is only one part of this whole process.
What inspires you?
Often seeing old textiles in museums and clothing in countries that are still weaving their everyday clothing. Most have been hand woven and have lasted for many years and in some cases, centuries. Appreciating their beauty, durability and timelessness.
Colours are everywhere to be admired and inspired by; flowers, animals, birds, insects, forests, fish and art.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I like that it takes time to weave fabric and so it has substance. I like the feel and the properties of the natural fibres I use, and knowing that the fabric will last a long time and be useful and at the same time beautiful. I find it hard to let go of things and so for example my clothing becomes familiar and I grow fond of it. I don’t like it when it wears out and I have to buy something new. So it suits me to have things that will last and I don’t have to replace too often. Often people say that my kitchen towels look too good to be used but I encourage them to use them as they will last and will in fact get better with use. Often beautiful textiles are kept in cupboards and only brought out for special occasions and maybe never until someone dies when they are handed on or down. I like to say use them everyday and enjoy having art in your kitchen and watch them age beautifully.
Describe your creative process:
Oh dear. I’m not sure I have one! In fact I think I would have to say I don’t. It would make life so much easier if I did. Sometimes I’m not sure if I will be able to come up with something that will work. I often have an idea but then it’s like starting at the beginning again and wondering how on earth I can achieve what I am imagining. I just have to have faith that it will happen but it’s not always easy to believe it. At other times as I’m finishing something I’ll know immediately how to explore a variation. Fits and starts, excitement and stress, joyous anticipation and ominous dread: it’s all there, lurking in the ether of my studio. It’s always so good when you start on something and it’s going well and you can see it’s going to work. Then it’s such a happy time to be working. I’m often very surprised and relieved when something turns out well.
At the moment I am deliberately working on trying to create towels that will bring to mind birds and because that’s new it has slowed me down. I’m sure once I have done a few and seen how they work out I’ll be more relaxed and productive. But, it is like taking a big gamble and working in the garden or making soup seems a safer bet.
Describe your workspace:
I have two work spaces. One is an old crib and the other is a rather lovely sleep-out which is also a shared family space. They are both full of light and have wonderful views over Portobello Bay. Often, I just don’t want to stop weaving and go down to our home. They are sometimes very messy and cluttered and sometimes very ordered and gorgeous looking. Sometimes you have much more than you need out, just to look at it and make decisions about what to use in any given project. Once I have a project on the loom I like to clean everything up and weave in peace and simplicity. The problem when you are working with fibre is that you keep seeing new and even more beautiful skeins and balls and you want it all. I’m not sure what the textile equivalent saying is to “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” but it’s hard to keep the stash under control and find places to… well… stash it… and then remember that you have it so you can use it.
Five words that describe your mind:
Warped, woolly, fulled, complex and colourful.
“I like that it takes time to weave fabric and so it has substance.”
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Someone told me that my weaving reminded her of textiles that she had seen in Scandinavia. For me this was very high praise and gave me a real lift, a flush of pleasure and much encouragement.
What are you currently listening to? The Chills.
Recommend an album: Snow Bound.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
This is going to date me but I loved Anne of Green Gables. I liked her because she had spirit, courage, honesty and lots of resilience.
What are you reading now? Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Rania Abuzeid. I have just finished reading her book, No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria. This is an incredibly courageous and candid book about what has happened and is happening in Syria. Rania is a journalist who smuggled herself into Syria over a period of seven years and followed various people as they struggled to continue to live their lives there. She lets them talk for themselves and so delivers to the reader a non biased and non judgemental view of all the different sections of the society. Her bravery and resilience is remarkable as are the people she introduces us to. She was born in New Zealand of Lebanese parents, bought up in Australia and lives in Lebanon now. Journalists like Rania, who are prepared to spend many years of their lives bringing us truthful news and the stark reality of the horror of what is going on in the world, exposing much that we can so easily overlook, deserve to be listened to and honoured.
A favourite quote:
Be kind to everyone you meet as often they are carrying a heavy burden.
Tell us about your pets:
We have always had cats who, apart from our first one, have just turned up and stayed. We had decided that when our last cat, the lovely Princess Tamil died we wouldn’t replace her, sadly realising that these gorgeous animals were in fact deadly predators. Unfortunately this happened earlier this year. We were wondering if we would be able to keep to our pledge but when we were gobsmacked by the sheer numbers of birds that suddenly appeared we realised we could. We now have birds flitting around singing and chattering that are our pets.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Believe in yourself and give it a go. Start small and let it grow naturally so you can’t lose anything and one step after the other will keep you and your business grounded and original.
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Handmade items are usually… unusual or different… so catch my eye. They are original and beautiful and mostly being sold by the person who has made them. When examining it or admiring and looking at it you get to interact with the maker so when you buy from them you are buying a bit of them, a memory and helping the craft and the maker to survive. In so doing our communities are strengthened and our footprint is decreased.
What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
I am always very pleased and appreciative that someone has liked something I have made enough to want to have it. It’s a real compliment and it makes me want to keep weaving. It also makes me want to do the best I can so they won’t be disappointed.
“Often beautiful textiles are kept in cupboards and only brought out for special occasions… I like to say use them everyday and enjoy having art in your kitchen.”
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Some beautiful hand made soap made locally. Soap lasts me for ages and I love the smooth softness and the fresh aroma of the essential oils used. I always buy them and keep them with my clothes at first. When I need a new one I go rummaging and it’s like a treasure hunt.
What’s in store for the rest of 2020?
More and more weaving… maybe a small tapestry exploring a sculpture made by my late brother, Stephen.
Prize draw for Felt readers!
Adrienne has kindly offered a lovely prize for one lucky Felt reader of this cosy and stylish handwoven scarf (see below). Woven from a Touch Yarn 12 ply boućle yarn made up of 20% merino and 74% mohair produced in Otago, this scarf is silky soft, non-scratchy and incredibly warm, with a beautiful lustre. When you wear this you will be wearing a scarf that has not only been handwoven locally on a New Zealand hand-crafted loom: it is also woven from fibre that has been grown and produced here, and better still, it is 100% Otago made! It weighs 152gms and measures 17x180cms.
To be in to win this gorgeous piece leave us a comment telling us what you love about Adrienne’s story and her weaving. The draw closes at 5pm Monday 20 July and is open to New Zealand residents only.