Margo Selby is the mentor in the weaving episode of the BBC2 series Mastercrafts. This is an adapted extract from the interview with her that features in Mastercrafts the book.
When she was a child, Margo, admits, she found it really difficult to concentrate either at home or at school. But one thing consistently captured her imagination: textiles. She was delighted when her grandmother showed her how to crochet. “That was my first memory of textiles and how to make them, and I loved it.”
Margo’s first degree was in textiles, specialising in woven fabrics, and she then started an MA in constructed textiles at the Royal College of Art. Having found her vocation, she was offered a two-year fellowship at the Ann Sutton Foundation, which conducted research into textiles. This gave her a supported environment in which to set up her business. “I was able to produce a project for industry – in other words a fabric that could be produced in a mill. It gave me a real understanding of how the industry works.”
At the end of her fellowship Margo set up her studio in London and opened a shop in Bloomsbury. Here she sells the beautiful things she makes, and her 24-shaft dobby loom is set up in the basement.
Developing a fabric can take years. “I use lots of different fibres because I’m interested in seeing how they react together – I use silk, lycra, cashmere, mohair, lamb’s wool, cotton and viscose.” Combining different fibres which shrink and react differently in the finishing creates 3-D fabrics.
Margo’s great passsion is colour and texture. “I’m driven by colour,” she explains, “but I want the colour and the structure to work together. I create optical patterns of warp and weft that match and complement each other. I create geometric patterns using a technique called ‘colour and weave’. 3-D colour surfaces are created with a double cloth fabric. This means that the cloth is made from two layers of fabric which swap over to form patterns and raised surfaces.”
Margo designs and develops all her own fabrics, which are now sold all over the world, but the process of designing and making a new fabric begins when she sits alone in front of her loom. “All my fabrics start as hand-woven ideas, even though they are often taken to industrial mills to make limited editions of fabrics which are more accessible. We sell hand-woven items in the shop, but it is the collaboration between the handcrafted and industrial techniques which have made the business successful, and allowed interesting woven fabrics to be available to a wider market.”
Though weaving was once a big industry in Britain it has declined dramatically, but Margo’s enthusiasm and success show that there is a market – and a good one at that – for fabric designed carefully, beautifully and by hand.
For more information about Margo Selby, visit her website.
For more information about Mastercrafts the book, and to order at £6 off the RRP, visit rubooks.co.uk/mastercrafts
The art of stained glass making dates back at least to medieval times. It combines a range of craft skills with the skills of the painter. To many it evokes ancient church windows, but it is actually an important artistic discipline that has survived throughout the centuries intact and largely unchanged, though the colours and designs used by stained glass artists today would astonish and perhaps even delight their medieval counterparts.
Sophie Lister Hussain, who features as the mentor in the fourth episode of Mastercrafts (BBC2, Friday 5 March, 9pm) is a talented stained glass artist who grew up on the Isle of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales – a primary influence in her early artistic development. “My earliest memories are of my grandmother. She taught me to knit and to sew and the combining of a multitude of different materials. She also instilled in me the self discipline to strive to do my very best with anything I made.”
Sophie is fascinated by all types of glass work, but especially her own specialism of stained glass.
“The majority of my work is stained glass. It’s always etched with acid or painted with kiln firing paints, silver stained or surface decorated by sandblasting stencil work; a combination of any or all of these techniques can give a detailed and rich texture to the surface of glass. Sandblasting gives glass a frosted appearance, and can be used to shade areas of clear glass; painting can be done in many different colours straight on to the glass, and etching produces a range of interesting effects, melting away the surface of unmasked glass.”
After the client is happy with the design, the making of the glass follows the same procedure each time. “First I measure the window frame – this has to be done accurately. Then the designs are enlarged to a full sized working drawing. Any indication of glass paint, silver stain and etching is marked, drawn to scale and even sketched on to the cartoon.
“A cut line drawing is taken from the cartoon, which shows each and every piece of glass. The lines indicate the heart of all the leads, lines that glass cutters know should not be crossed. When the glass pieces are ready you ‘lead it up’ – start fixing all the pieces into their positions using a lead knife, pliers and horseshoe nails.”
By the time that the glass is fitted into the leads, the windows soldered and cemented, the old frame amended to fit again, or the new frame securely installed into the building, then the finished glass can finally be installed into the frame.
For Sophie it is not technique but personality, drive and enthusiasm that really transform a stained glass window into something unique and important.