Silks and Snow

As I mentioned a few weeks ago my friend Gill from Paisley Pedlar http://paisleypedlar.wordpress. and I had planned a trip to visit the Whitchurch Silk Mill and yesterday was the day. We were a bit apprehensive before the trip as the weather has been very disruptive with the snow and ice but once again fortune smiled on us and we set off on clear roads. Gill was driving and she decided to take the scenic route which goes through some lovely countryside up the Downs if you get my drift. Completely to our delight we came across this fabulous winter wonderland of trees completely covered in snow, looking ever so much as if a huge dredger of icing sugar had been liberally sprinkled. I have never seen anything like it before.

We arrived in good time at the mill and made our first call at the shop which is at the entrance. We became enraptured by the beautiful celebration silk which was produced last year as part of a feasibility study. The mill had not been in production for several months and now with a new board of directors it is hoped it will start producing again very soon. The shop has some lovely examples of the luxurious and high quality silks produced made into items such as table runners and very elegant doorstops as well as a delightful needlebooks and rosette ruffles.

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The mill was built in 1815 and in its past wove the linings for Burberry’s based in nearby  Alton, it was weaving right up until 1985 when The Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust bought it to preserve and restore it. In 1990 the mill was opened to the public under the management of  The Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust.

The silk produced at the mill has been in demand in the recent past, by theatrical costumers and the cafe walls are lined with photos of the period production pieces as well as the many films and television productions which have featured Whitchurch Mill silks.

Organza, georgette, crepe, chiffon, dupion these names conjure up the variety and richness of texture into which silk thread is woven. The silk comes from all over the world as Britain is unable to produce any due to the climate. Although several of the looms were threaded up there were no weavers working that day. This was a disappointment to me as I would have loved to see the mechanised looms in action. But not to be outdone I had a go on a manual loom set up for visitors to try, complete with instructions. I have always loved silk fabric, the lustre of it gives the colours an eloquence and depth unrivalled by any other thread. The colours are gorgeous.

The river that runs by the mill was in full torrent due to the recent rainfall and a very large group of ducks were struggling against the flow. It certainly is a very picturesque spot and I hope they will continue weaving that fabulous silk very far into the future.


Looming up on the Horizon

English: Whitchurch - Silk Mill The weaving ro...

English: Whitchurch – Silk Mill The weaving room makes small run silk products. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m quite excited as in a couple of weeks I’m going on a little jaunt with my friend Gill to Whitchurch.

My friend Gill and I plan several little jaunts a year and like to go somewhere that offers some artistic and creative food for thought and often a good dose of inspiration with it. We have visited exhibitions at galleries and artists’ homes as well as having a good old mooch in an enriching and vibrant town. We usually have a lot of fun as well as gaining some creative enrichment.

Where is Whitchurch and what is there to see there? Well Whitchurch is a few miles north of Winchester, a very nice town in Hampshire, and there you will find  a silk mill.  Now you don’t see many of these nowadays, certainly not functioning anyway and as readers of my blog will know I’m a bit of a loomy….. that is I  have a long held fascination for them.  I have  a whole section on weaving in my book “Androula’s Kitchen-” and on one visit to Cyprus I met up with a weaver Rolandos Locaides, who is fascinated by the old patterns used in silk weaving in the past. When I visited he wasn’t weaving silk and I am interested to see some being woven close to.

Archive photo from Yerolakkos

Archive photo from Yerolakkos of Auntie Eugenia at her loom

Silk is such a fabulous fabric with it’s lustrous, shimmering sheen and that sensuous soft feel when you wear it. Although it can feel very cool on the skin and indeed is cool to wear in hot weather it is also a good insulator in winter if worn in layers. Of course it isn’t cheap to make as the yarn is acquired from the cocoons of a silk worm. I am looking forward to taking lots of photos and filling you in on my experience.


Whitchurch (Photo credit: HerryLawford)

Silk in the 21st century

Yet another fantastic video from TED. Silk has been around for millennia and yet now the scientists are coming up with some mind blowing uses for this ancient material in the present day. It seems the uses are endless, throw away cups that are biodegradable, uses for storing information and drugs that can be placed in the body even for making screws that can be used to screw together fractures and then eventually disintegrate. How exciting that nature can provide scientists with imagination, materials that can be utilised in such a diverse way.

In Androula’s Kitchen I discuss the more well known uses of silk as a thread that is woven to produce a shimmering fabric. I live in hope that the once universal cultivation of silk worms, will once again become common in Cyprus to provide a new breed of silk weavers to join Rolandos. On my research trip to Cyprus last year I went to visit him in his studio in Lefkosia, Rolandos has studied the samples of old silk in the museum archives of Lefkosia and made a determined effort to learn the techniques which produced such fine examples. Cyprus was once renowned throughout Europe for its fine silks and the practice has gradually died out, the last time  silk was produced was in 1960’s. Rolandos alone at present is looking to revive this tradition and I look forward to viewing his new creations on my next visit.

Weavers Unite!- Cyprus on a Plate

Weavers at the Handicraft Centre weaving fythkiotika

I’m very excited …it doesn’t take much.

Today, while searching WordPress for other blogs relating to topics I cover in my book ‘Androula’s Kitchen’, I came across Phitiotika. It is a site set up by two British artists Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon, they both have connections with Cyprus and had a strong empathy with the weavers of Fyti who are struggling to keep their weaving traditions alive in a dwindling village. They, like myself, feel there should be a way to carry on the strong traditions and heritage of weaving in  Cyprus, through the younger generations by encouraging innovation and diversity.

Throughout the centuries Cyprus has had a reputation for fine weaving. Each region had their own specialities and styles. At one time their was an abundance of silk and silk weaving was commonplace. Each family would own a loom and the women of the household wove all the  linen needed for everyday life  including their clothing and bedding. Silk worms were cultivated, cotton grown and there were plenty of sheep to supply wool.  Silk is no longer cultivated and the weaving of silk has not been practised in Cyprus since the 1960s. Life has changed rapidly and people live different lives where there is no necessity to make everything themselves with mass production and cheap imports.

Fyti, in the Paphos region of Cyprus, has a very particular style of weaving which incorporates patterns of coloured wools. The patterns are mostly geometric and each weaver would make their own patterns usually telling a story. Maura McKee and Sarah Dixon are working together with The Laona Foundation to come up with a plan for conserving and recording the weaving practises of Fyti while setting in place  initiatives which will encourage Cypriot artists to embrace and improvise on this valuable heritage as well as academics, artists, textile collectors and weavers internationally, with the help of the internet. Sarah has experience of working on cultural and conservation projects in several countries. Their aim:

“The aim of this proposed project is to reinvigorate and recontextualise Phiti weaving, and to support Phiti weavers in their practice. We are setting out to catalyse a process of conserving and adapting tradition.”

You can find out more on their blog, the link is on the blogroll and join their Facebook page.

I wish them both every success in this endeavour as this issue is close to my heart.