All Artists | Textiles | Nell Swift

Nell Swift

I’m Nell a weaver working in the heart of the Peak District and yearning for the sea. I use natural fibres and antique hand looms.

Biography

A weaver in natural fibres, utilising antique hand looms. Nell weaves sea and mountain, coast and peak, capturing movement, pattern and texture to create textiles embedded with underlying codes and a significance of place, time and memory. Nell is happy to take commissions and works closely with clients on the creation of unique hand woven pieces.

Fleeting memories are the foundation of my practice- it’s reminiscent of synaesthesia, feeling the sun and wind and and smelling the sea air. Often I dream my weaves – and slowly the idea comes into focus and I have all the elements I need to begin. I weave sea and mountain, coast and peak- the smallest things grab me- raindrops on rock pools and windows, ripples in the sand, moss on walls, cobblestones. My weaves capture movement, pattern and texture to create textiles embedded with underlying codes and a significance of place, time and memory.

I weave garments and textiles for the home. I only work in natural fibres- from an environmental perspective, producing the least impactful fabrics. Place is significant for my practice- I’m surrounded by fields full of sheep so wool is my favourite versatile, and renewable of fibres. Wool presents the ideal solution to the massive environmental and social impact of fast fashion and fibres derived from oil and plastic. I’m fascinated by the fibreshed movement, which seeks to link land reclamation, farming, yarn spinning, weaving and garment production together in small community networks. This linking of beginnings to endings, inputs to outputs that creates connections between people and preserves skills and creates local small-scale production that is my driver .I am motivated by a need to de-scale production levels, produce and value quality fabrics, repair what we have and see fabrics for their technical and artistic value.

I always made things- I was brought up in a household of makers, and as an only child, I spent lots of time alone, just following my imagination and making. My mum taught me to sew on a machine when I was five so I’ve always made my own clothes. Trying to find the perfect fabric led me back to wanting to learn to weave- I remember making little cardboard looms when I was a child.

Weaving is old. There are hundreds of thousands of drafts, offering infinite combinations of pattern, colour and texture. It’s not possible to weave everything in a lifetime. I think this bottomless quality is what appeals- it’s the same as my academic background in archaeology- you never know everything so there’s always something to learn, a new experience to be had.

My looms found me! I began my weaving journey on a four shaft loom made by John and George Maxwell. They lived and worked in a commune in Suffolk set up by Eric Gill the sculptor and artist. It’s about 100 years old and I restored it. Researching the loom and it’s history really tapped in to my archaeology- I specialise in the historical period and taught on utopian communities. I had no idea when I got it that there’d be so much history in a loom, but it’s our oldest technology.

I now use a 12 shaft custom made floor loom. I am the custodian of a beautiful bespoke loom from Sweden that belonged to one of our greatest weavers. Barbara Mullins and her mother Gwen ran a weaving workshop and school- they were know as the Graffham Weavers. Their work is in the V&A and Gwen taught the finest 20th century rug weaver, Peter Collingwood. My loom was owned by Barbara- I’ve found hours of audio recordings in the British library, talking about her life and work. – Gwen went on to found the Crafts Council- they were two remarkable women whose story needs to be more widely known. I want to build a weaving shed and get it up and working again. It feels fitting that it should be working again and I feel the responsibility profoundly.

Currently I sell my work privately and through Instagram and Folksy. I sell in person at curated sales and a large part of my practice is in taking commissions. I  exhibit my work at New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham and the National Centre for Craft & Design, Sleaford. I particularly enjoy exhibiting my work in the context of other artists, as I am fascinated with how my work reacts to and with others. I feel I share a sense of community with my fellow artisans and believe passionately that collective endeavour is the way forward.