Meet the Maker: Eleanor Pritchard

I met weave designer Eleanor Pritchard at Maison et Objet a couple of years ago and immediately fell for the vibrant colours and intricate patterns of her traditionally-woven Welsh blankets. Joe and I called in on Eleanor and her assistant Holly as they were hard at work on designs for their new collection to explore her South London studio and find out more about the inspirations behind her work.

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Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard British weave designer

Eleanor Pritchard's weave studio by Decorator's Notebook

Where did you learn your craft?

I initially did a history degree and worked in bookselling and publishing for a while. I went back to college as a mature student and studied weaving for a second degree. I had always loved making things, but going back to college really gave me the skills to develop my own design process as well as the technical grounding in weave. I studied Textile design, specializing in weave at Chelsea and set up my own studio almost as soon as I left college, with a helping hand from the Crafts Council who gave me a grant to buy my first loom. For a number of years I taught at Central St Martins alongside my studio practice, but now work on my weaving business full time. Our blankets are sold in 25 countries, and we have also just launched an upholstery line so there’s plenty to keep us busy.

Talk us through your design process when you work on something new…

I always start by making a storyboard, which can contain anything from postcards and drawings to bits of packaging and postage stamps. Once the ideas come together I begin sampling on the Dobby loom I have here in my studio. I often thread it with different colourways in the warp so we can try several options at once. When I can see what’s working well, I weave a larger sample of the ones I like the look of.

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard sampling on loom

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard close up of loom

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard assistant weaving

The loom looks very complicated! How do all these threads actually become a woven fabric?

Looms work on the principal of binary codes… the first computers were actually based on looms. The woven pattern comes partly from the order you thread the loom up in and partly from the order you lift the warp threads up and down in as the weft passes through. A lot of the planning happens before you even start, and with experience you get to learn what will happen when you thread the loom in a certain way. You need to follow certain rules to make sure that the fabric has a structure that will hold together, but there’s still lots of room to experiment. I enjoy the discipline of working within those parameters.

Do you weave each blanket here, by hand?

Not anymore. I sample the new designs here on my hand-operated loom, then the blankets are woven in a mill in Carmarthenshire in Wales using a power loom. A power loom works the same way but is much quicker. It’s an area where weaving used to be a huge industry – the steep little valleys were filled with hundreds of water-powered mills – but now the mill I use is one of the only ones left.

Eleanor Pritchard's weaving studio by Decorator's Notebook

How important is tradition in your work?

I am very interested in vernacular British textiles – traditional Welsh tapestry blankets are woven using a technique called ‘double cloth’ which are woven with two sets of warp and weft threads so that the front and back are exact opposites of one another. A lot of my blankets are woven using the same principal. The patterns are all my own but the technique is the same one that has been used for hundreds of years.

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard wool

Eleanor Pritchard studio tour by Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard view from the studio

Describe your workspace… what can we see from your window?

I have a lovely bright and sunny studio at the top of the Cockpit Arts building in Deptford, South London. I overlook the creek and can see over to the Greenwich Observatory in one direction and Canary Wharf in the other. It’s a fantastic place to come to work each day.

How do you spend your tea breaks?

There are a lot of designer-makers here working in a wide range of disciplines: ceramics, jewellery, wood carving, metalwork. It’s a really nice community and we often call in on each other. Whether you want feedback on a new design or advice on couriering a parcel to Japan, there’s usually someone here who can help.

What sort of wool do you use?

I love yarns that are ‘fleece dyed’ which means that the wool is coloured before it’s spun, then fleece from different batches is blended together during the spinning process. This gives a variety of different tones within each thread, which creates a lovely subtlety and depth of colour. When the yarn is spun first and then dyed the colour is much flatter.

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard yarns

Decorator's Notebook meets Eleanor Pritchard lamp

Interview with weave designer Eleanor Pritchard by Decorator's Notebook

Tell us a little more about your approach to colour…

I have quite an instinctive approach to colour. I love trying different combinations and responding to what works. I always use a little white in all my designs as I find it lifts the pattern and makes the other colours clearer and more vibrant. I like adding bright and unexpected accents in my palette, and often mix these with ‘grubby’ or chalky shades. I don’t use very sweet, sugary pinks for example. One of the nice things about my business growing is that I’m now able to order enough yarn to have some colours dyed to order. I work with a company in Aberdeen who have revived some of the colour recipes in their archives for me.

Can you explain the inspiration behind a few of your blanket designs?

Easterly’ is a vibrant yellow blanket with a graphic pattern inspired by the wind direction arrows on weather forecast maps, while ‘Northerly’ has the same pattern but in shades of sage, grey and white. These three – ‘405 Line’, ‘625 Line’ and ‘525 Line’ – are all based on the shape of old television screens and the names come from the number of scanning lines per inch in the original black and white, colour and American sets. ‘Signal’ was inspired by the pulse of sound waves and ‘Quail’s Egg’ is a real old favourite, with a small-scale pattern that gives a speckled effect from a distance.

Eleanor Pritchard blankets by Decorator's Notebook

{Photographs and video © Joe John for Decorator’s Notebook}

Find Eleanor’s vibrant ‘Easterly‘ and ‘635 Line‘ blankets at Decorator’s Notebook (free next day UK delivery) and visit her website for her other designs. You can also visit Eleanor’s studio yourself during Cockpit Art’s open studios twice a year – click here for forthcoming dates.

Eleanor Pritchard blankets at Decorator's Notebook UK shop

Decorator's Notebook Shop www decoratorsnotebook.co.uk

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Comments

  1. Jess says

    I love her designs something to save up for. My family is from Wales and I have a small little blue and white tapestry blanket that when I took to uni everyone thought was from Mexico! A gap year purchase ha!
    There used to be a lot of cottage industry weaving at home in Wales not just in the mills. I guess on the type of small looms she uses for her test pieces. I have some welsh tweed fabric made by a great aunt which I made into cushions. My uncle has an entire suit which apparently in his words is thick enough to stand up by itself.

  2. says

    Hi Jess – we have Welsh heritage too so that’s perhaps another reason I adore these blankets so much. I really like how Eleanor blends contemporary patterns and traditional methods – the very best of modern design and history. A Welsh blanket can last for decades and I love the idea of people passing them down from generation to generation.

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