I HEART WORK - interview with The Lifestyle editor
Wednesday 13th January 2016 - http://www.thelifestyleeditor.com/day/2016/01/13/
Who are you: Sarah Tyssen
What is your work: I am a woven textile designer
What is your: Website / Instagram
Describe your work in 5 words. Classic, subtle, detail, unique and sustainable.
Can you tell us a little about your what you do?
I design Merino lambswool scarves and blankets on a hand loom, for small-scale limited-edition production in a mill. I start by doing lots and lots of card windings (wrapping yarns around pieces of card) to decide on the warp colours and the proportions of warp stripes, then making a series of short sample warps, playing with constructions and colourways on the loom.
I refine my designs with each new warp, and finally hand weave a large sample of each of the chosen designs and colourways. I then write out a very detailed specification, calculate yarn quantities for production, order the yarns and have colours dyed, and sent to the mill in Yorkshire, where my blankets and scarves are woven on mechanised looms. The design process of weaving is the part I enjoy the most - not weaving metres and metres of the same design - so for me, using a mill for production is the perfect way of working. Although my designs are woven on mechanised looms, they are not mass produced. I limit them to just 12 of each colourway (sometimes less) and I will never re-weave the same design.
Once the scarves are woven, they go up to Scotland to have the fringes twisted, and to be washed and milled (a finishing process that softens the fabric) and stretched on tenter hooks to be blow dried. Work is then returned to me to cut up and have the labels sewn in.
Can you tell us briefly your career journey and how you got to where you are today?
I did an Art Foundation course at Sheffield Polytechnic and went on to study printed and woven textiles at West Surrey College of Art (now UCA) in Farnham. I specialised in weave in my third year, and I was lucky enough to be offered a job straight after college at Morgan & Oates in Ledbury, Herefordshire - hand weaving shawls, and working on blanket designs for high street stores, on a George Wood dobby loom. I started my own business in 1989, and apart from taking time out raising my two children, I’ve been doing it ever since.
What is a typical day in the office?
There is no typical day…that’s what I love about being self employed, and it works really well around having a family. There are so many processes involved in hand weaving; I can be designing on paper, making warps, setting up the loom or weaving. My work is seasonal. I spend the early part of the year designing, for production through the summer, ready for all the shows and exhibitions in the autumn/winter. By the end of the shows I’m really excited to get back into my workshop again!
What is the first thing you do when you get to work?
Make a pot of coffee and look over what I’ve been doing the day before, with fresh eyes!
Where is your office/studio and what is the view out of your window?
I work in a studio in the garden so I look out on our house. It was built in 1896 as a weaving workshop for the Haslemere Peasant Industries, which was a branch of the Arts and Crafts movement. The movement was very much against the industrial revolution, and believed passionately that health and happiness lay in the ‘country life’. They were pro-women’s rights, and they employed young local girls, teaching them the life skill of weaving, paying them a fair wage and giving them an alternative to going into service. There were 11 looms working here, producing cotton and linen fabrics for clothing and home textiles, and also for the appliquéd peasant 'tapestries’ - 'Tree of Life’ and 'The Spies’, designed by Godfrey Blount, and hanging in the Arts & Crafts galleries at the V&A Museum in London.
What are the tools of your trade?
A loom, warping mill, shuttles, weavers snips, pirns and a pirn winder, and wool…the ultimate renewable and sustainable product. Wool is a 100% natural product which can, at the end of its natural life, be put onto the compost heap to rot down back into the earth, rather than linger in a landfill site for eternity.
What can’t you work without?
Good light. My studio has long windows at the front and it is north facing so the natural light is quite good….and a radio!
Why do you love what you do?
I just love working with colour…I’m fascinated by the way one colour changes when placed next to another, or crosses another. I love the way wool fibres can be blended during spinning, to create a depth to the colour in the yarn. I get very excited when the colours 'work’. It’s a magical process and incredibly satisfying to take yarns and create a usable piece of cloth.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by lots of things, but mostly by the natural world around me. I am constantly looking at colour and pattern and making mental notes. I sometimes jot down construction ideas or colours for a design…but often they are just absorbed, to emerge at some point in the future! I do love the Arts and Crafts movement and people frequently comment that my work has the feel of William Morris or Liberty….a huge compliment! People often ask if I use natural dyes..the answer is no, but I did lots of natural dyeing at college and I love the colour palette you get with them. They are, however, not commercially viable, and not as good for the environment as you might think…many requiring harmful mordants to set the colour.
What is the best advice you have received?
Probably being advised to look at textile degree courses by my foundation tutor, embroiderer Kate Wells. I didn’t really know which direction to take but she could see a future in textiles from my dyed grease-proof paper, pushed through chicken wire! I have no idea what I would be doing if I hadn’t gone down that route!
What is one moment in your career you will always remember?
I had a big order for a Japanese department store which was ruined at the finishers. They brushed the surface of the fabric by mistake…it was beautifully soft but the weave pattern was completely obliterated and the whole order had to be rewoven in time for the tight shipping deadline. I got grey hair overnight!
What is the best part of your job?
Working from home, the variety, and the freedom to do what I want, when I want. I love being around to knock up a tray of biscuits for the boys getting home, or to be able to nip back into my workshop in the evenings when it’s quiet.
And the worst? Marketing! A vital part of a designer/maker’s business, but often the bit we’re not very good at!
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Winning a handful of awards over the years…most recently the Craft & Design magazine award at Made London in 2014…its a real boost to the confidence to be recognised for excellence in our field.
What are you working on at the moment?
New scarf and blanket designs for Craft, part of Top Drawer trade fair at Olympia.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
To be more organised! I dream of having a proper system of cataloguing a small piece of each design and colourway, but I just have boxes full of bits of fabric!
Three of your favourite websites or Instagram feeds?
I really don’t spend a lot of time perusing the internet….but on Instagram I like @hodjster who is a fellow weaver who shares my love of a natural colour palette and notices the world in the same detail that I do. Then@coldatnight for her creative images using natural materials, and the beautifully styled shots of her idyllic cottage in Wales, and the surrounding countryside. I also love the 'bricks and mortar’ storeBaileys Home, so I guess I can include their website.
What have you learnt the hard way?
That I’ll probably never get to grips with technology! I am just not interested in it. I can send emails and post on Instagram…but that’s it! So much of life is dependent on the internet these days…I am more at home with a pencil and a piece of paper! I hate internet banking - you know where you are with a cheque book! My loom isn’t computerised, its mechanical, but I even work out my weave constructions in a rather haphazard way! I could never teach! My lovely husband is very patient with me and manages to keep my head above water!
If you could do another job what would you like to do and why?
I love cooking so I could happily do that…but that might take the pleasure out of it?!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you are doing?
I don’t really feel qualified to offer advice! I’ve done what I’ve done the way I’ve done it…and it may not be right for anyone else. It was invaluable to work in a design studio for three years to begin with. Being self-employed is not for everyone…you really have to want to do it, and be prepared to do other things to support it in the early days.
If you could be someone else for a day who would it be?
I love flowers so would love to be a florist for a day please!
Do you have a secret ambition still to achieve?
Now that would be telling!
What is your personal motto?
Buy cheap, buy twice! I would always rather have one well made and ‘realistically’ priced item, than several cheap ones that don’t work. I hate the throw-away society we’ve become, and think this motto reflects in what I do.
What would you like to be doing in five years time?
I’m not an ambitious person. I just want to keep designing and to be able to sell what I make. It’s worked so far!
If you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it?
A jigsaw puzzle!
How would you like to be remembered?
For my textiles…but also as someone who didn’t leave a huge impact on the earth…just on my family and friends!