Makers gonna make; Shona Mason x KerrieALDO
The making process is such an important part of the journey for me. My designs are focused on functional detailing, sustainable design and quality fabrics. Each piece is built to last and is made with great care and attention to detail. With this in mind how could I say no when Shona got in touch to ask about whether I might be up for making her a coat but with the twist of providing her own hand woven fabric that I would then use as the lining.
I was excited by the prospect of this project and it has been months in the making, from first point of contact to the finished coat to making it's way to it's final destination. It really does have a story to tell.
To help do this Shona has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the process she went through to make the fabric and what her thoughts are on the finished piece. I found it really insightful and interesting to read about how this fabric was made by hand and am humbled that Shona trusted me with this project. It's clear that we share the same ethos and I hope you enjoy reading more about this unique and truly priceless custom coat.
|A collaboration of makers; KerrieALDO 'merlot' waxed cotton hooded jacket x Shona Mason's hand woven fabric for lining.|
An Interview with Shona Mason...
It is quite a special piece, what inspired you to make the fabric especially to line your own custom-made coat?
I started to learn to weave last summer, getting lessons from a local teacher who used to teach at DJCAD (Jan Shelley). I’ve always been into textiles (dressmaking and knitting) but was becoming more interested in making my own fabrics, mostly from wool which I love to work with, it has so many amazing properties. After some lessons I knew I would love the weaving and I got a loom for my birthday (50th) which I bought from Ange at Weftblown whose work I had liked when I saw it at Gallery Q in Dundee. I also knew that I didn’t just want to be making scarves and wraps, I wanted fabric I could use, so I chose a loom which was just wide enough for that without being too big for the house (or too expensive for a first time loom!)
Just after getting the loom we went on holiday to Shetland for 3 weeks (a regular place for us) and while I was there I started planning my first project of my own. I knew my first piece would be quite ambitious and would not be perfect and didn’t think it would stand up to the scrutiny of being a dress or similar. That’s when I remembered about Kerrie’s custom coats. I had first seen her work at a Tea Green event in Dundee in 2016 (or was it Christmas 2015?) where I also got the chance to watch her work and speak with her. I had loved her approach, ideals (work local, use local) and her swing coats! I didn’t get one for myself but knew my eldest daughter would love one. So later in the year, at a summer event in Slessor Gardens I took her to meet Kerrie and try on a coat. She loved it. So I started talking to Kerrie about a custom swing coat with a special lining. Our family initials spell SHARK and we have used the name since the youngest was born (and now all three daughters have a small shark fin tattoos too!) and I thought a coat with a shark print lining would be great. Kerrie found the perfect fabric and my daughter absolutely loves her coat.
So, it suddenly dawned on me that the perfect solution was to make a fabric which could become a coat lining - I would have the satisfaction of making something special and useful and any flaws would be there but not on full show. I contacted Kerrie to see what she thought and she was well up for it. So I started planning the fabric and colours. Initially I had thought of using natural shades of wool (there are a lot in Shetland wool) but after a walk at Sumburgh Head I was inspired by the colours of the grasses and flowers and decided to use them as a base for a tweed style fabric. Kerrie sent me samples of some of her wax cottons while we were still up there which included the new 'Merlot'.
|A close up look at the fabric just before the cutting process was started. There was carful planning at this stage to ensure the pattern pieces were used to ensure the best use of the fabric.|
Can you tell me a little about the process you went through to make the woven fabric?
It was a long process and a very steep learning curve. I decided I needed to make the fabric double width to be sure of having enough. Double width means essentially weaving two layers of fabric on the loom at once, leaving one edge open and one making a fold so that as you weave you have an upper and a lower layer which you don’t see as one until you take it off the loom. There is a lot of planning in a weave - how to structure the pattern, how to make the colours work together, how much warp thread is needed, and then the added difficulty of how to make an upper and a lower layer which would look like one when opened out. That actually went a little wrong and I can see where the twill pattern doesn’t turn the way it should at the centre of the fabric - but that is at the centre back of the coat now! You also have to work out how much shrinkage there will be when the cloth relaxes off the loom and when you prepare it by washing it.
As I said it was a very steep learning curve. It was the equivalent of doing a hand knit fairisle jumper as your first knitting project, or a fitted evening dress as your first dress making project, but I was determined. I used books I was able to borrow from DJCAD and some online help via Ravelry (a great online environment/resource for (mostly) knitters but there are groups for weavers too. While I was in Shetland I used an App called iWeaveIt to help plan the structure of the weave which was great fun.
|Weave is a double cloth 2/2 twill in Shetland wool on my Louet Jane loom Image taken from instagram.com/shonamason|
What got you into weave and how did you learn the skill?
I think I’ve mostly covered that above. As I said I love making clothes by knitting or sewing, I was taught at primary school in Perth and have continued ever since for myself and family - I even made my daughter’s wedding dress in 2015 (made my own in 1990!) Knitting is great for making a fabric stitch by stitch, adjusting the fit and feel of the cloth as you go, but it is slow (which is often a good thing). Weaving would be faster and allow different items to be made, sometimes putting different fibers together. I hadn’t anticipated how much I would enjoy the planning of weaving; the process of playing around with the how the warp and weft threads work together is fascinating and the possibilities can be endless.
How important do you think it is for people to keep these skills alive?
Very. We seemed to have arrived at a point where we are disconnected with the fact that everything comes from somewhere, is made by someone or grown by someone - be that the cheap clothing we buy as almost disposable or the food we buy in the shops. The whole slow fashion/ethical fashion/buy local movement has been fascinating to watch (and quite funny too since I grew up when people were still making things for themselves more!)
We don’t all need to be makers, though it is a wonderful thing to be able to make something for someone you love, but we do need to appreciate the skills and work needed to make stuff instead of wanting cheaper and cheaper. I am sure I read somewhere that the cheap fashion market is a way to make us feel rich because we can buy a lot but it actually makes for more poverty, on many levels. And when we are still in austerity in this country it’s good to be able to support a local maker using their skills in a valuable way.
What kind of yarns did you use to weave with?
For the coat lining I used Shetland wool which I bought in Shetland from Jamieson and Smith. I took samples of the grasses and flowers into the shop and matched them up with the colours available. On Shetland wool can be bought from 2 main sources (though there are other small local producers too). All the local crofters sell their raw wool to either Jamieson and Smith (the wool brokers) or to Jamiesons of Shetland. J&S sort all the wool and send the stuff suitable for knitting with to a mill in Yorkshire who spin and dye it before sending it back to be sold in the shop. At Jamiesons all the wool is washed, dyed and spun on island in a factory on the west coast which provides most of the local employment. The wool does not leave the island until it is bought by the customer. I love this. And the factory is amazing - like walking into a Wallace and Gromit set. Both companies produce over 200 colours of wool.
I love working with wool, real wool, from the sheep, and have been inspired by podcaster Louise Scollay (@knit_british) to really think about British sheep and wools and provinance. Shetland wool is my favourite. I have also woven with some cotton and cashmere I got hold of at ScrapAntics in Dundee - one of the local weavers (Cally Booker) who has a studio in Wasps Studios above had been doing a clear out and I got some amazing yarns for very little money. I am currently weaving a couple of ties for my husband using a Blue Faced Leicester wool (British sheep) blended with silk and a little nylon and another yarn which is alpaca and bamboo blend. My next three planned projects will be primarily wool - 2 using wools hand dyed by Lindsay of @bordertart, one of which is some Shetland wool produced by a shepherdess in the borders and one large project which will be made from the wool of three Ryeland sheep owned by a work colleague. She had three years of their fleeces spun at the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall and I am very excited to see what I can do with this.
|The cloth is inspired by the summer colours in the meadow areas around Sumburgh Head. Image taken from instagram.com/shonamason|
The weave that has been used for the fabric lining of the coat is now a prize winning weave, can you tell me a little bit more about this?
Last year I joined our local Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Guild. I had heard about them and had been to an open day when I realized there were a lot of people involved. The online creative community is great, full of all inspiration and ideas and skills but actually sitting with people who are all enthusiastic for fibre, and have years and years of experience which they share freely is fantastic. It’s one of the things I love about Shetland, the great heritage of making and their willingness and eagerness to share the skills and knowledge. At the first meeting of the year the Guild have a competition where you can enter either a handwoven item, hand dyed or handspun fibre. I entered my cloth and won in the weaving category. I was delighted. There weren’t many entries but there were some lovely ones, including one from a professional weaver! The competition is judged by the members, each one putting a vote in for every category. Many were horrified when I revealed that I would be sending it away to be chopped up but it was definitely worth it.
|The final fabric. Image taken from instagram.com/shonamason|
The task of cutting a prize winning fabric!
The process from you contacting me with the idea to the finished piece has been quite a bit longer than normal with a little more to-ing and fro-ing needed along with allowing for the actual time it took to make the fabric. How long did it take you to weave the fabric?
It took quite some time. First there was the delay in getting back from holiday. I also work 3 ½ days a week and needed to be sure I would have a full day to get the wool wrapped onto the warping board. It then took me ages to get it on the loom. And I mean ages, a few weeks on and off! As I said it was very ambitious for a first weave being 4m long and double cloth. Shetland wool is beautiful to work with but quite sticky so it doesn’t flow through the raddle (a rack thing to help you keep the threads evenly spaced as you wind them on to the loom) very easily and having double the number of threads made it very difficult. Also I learned that I had rooky mistakes in the wrapping of the warp. As with anything you do, an early mistake has consequences all through the job. But I was determined I was not going to be beaten and waste all that wool. When I finally got to weaving I was so happy. I had to deal with many broken threads (consequence of less than ideal warping) and most of them were in the layer underneath which meant I had to get down on the floor and work away on fixing each one on my back with my arms up to the cloth. Again, much learnt. I loved the actual weaving process but it would take me about 8 hours to weave a metre (not very fast!). I finally got it off the loom before Christmas (having started in September) but having decided I wanted to put it into S,W&D Guild competition I held on to it until February before sending it to Kerrie. I also just loved seeing it lying there in the spare room and just giving it a stroke every now and then. I am happy to say that subsequent weaves have been much simpler and much quicker.
I think that the texture of the waxed cotton next to the hand woven fabric looks great, is there anything that specifically made you choose this combination?
One of the reasons I like Kerrie’s work is that she uses the waxed cotton from Halley Stevenson’s Mill here in Dundee. I had seen on her Instagram feed that she had made a coat with a fleece lining and I thought that made for a great combination of weather proofing - the waxed cotton with a cozy lining. Of course I wanted wool instead of man made fleece. It would make the coat a three season coat (which is kind of what we need here in sunny, but windy, Dundee. The combination for me wasn’t just about the look of the two fabrics together (though that merlot colour and the Shetland colours look fantastic together) it was the story behind the fabrics - Dundee and Shetland.
|Halley Stevenson Waxed Cotton Fabric x Hand Woven Shetland Wool Lining|
Is the finished piece how you imagined it would be and how do you feel about the outcome?
It’s even better than I imagined it would be; it is a magnificent coat which looks gorgeous as well as being practical and personal. Kerrie’s finishing and use of my fabric is outstanding and I love the outcome. There are flaws in my fabric which only I know about and and Kerrie has put the whole thing together beautifully. We are heading up to Shetland for the first week in April and I will be wearing this coat all the time with great satisfaction. I hope people in Dundee will recognize the label and ask about the coat. I could have bought a cheaper coat, and could certainly have put less effort into having a coat but this is a coat which has a story and an identity, it’s personal and unique. I supported a local (albeit Leeds now rather than Dundee,) maker and really enjoyed the whole collaborative process.
I don’t have to make to earn my living, I have another career, but I enjoy making and appreciate the skills involved. We need to be more aware of the local makers, creatives and designers around us and support them when we can.
In the making
Thanks to Shona for letting me be a part of this unique and special coat design and process! I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks after reading about the craftsmanship thought and care that has went into this piece. It has definitley inspired me and although I am working with lots of different fabrics on a day to day basis, it was a new experience and challenge to work with this new fabric which involved adopting some new techniques and finishes. I also felt very proud to be working on it.
You can see more of Shona's knitting and weaving projects on instagram via the handle @shonamason / https://www.instagram.com/shonamason/