Image: Laura Thomas, Loose Threads, 2020. Cotton and silk threads with a scattering of real pearls encased in resin. Photo by Diana Oliveira.
It’s day 2 of this year’s Digital Craft Festival and the weekend of talks, interviews, workshops and demonstrations celebrating over 150 contemporary makers from around the world is in full swing. We jumped at the chance to interview award-winning and internationally renowned weaver Laura Thomas about her work, inspiration and design process. Laura, whose artworks can be found in the permanent collections of the V&A, The National Wool Museum, and the Crafts Study Centre will be taking part in a live Q&A with Louise Jones-Williams (Director, Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre) and discussing her ability to push the boundaries of woven textiles.
Laura, where did your interest in weaving and woven textiles begin?
Even though I didn’t arrive at the notion of weaving as a possible creative specialism until I started my BA Textiles, it seems the innate curiosity and interest was there from a young age. I have very distinct early childhood memories of lying in bed carefully examining the Welsh blankets covering me. I would turn them over, puzzled at why they looked different on the reverse to the face. I understood knitting and embroidery, but had no concept of weaving at that point. Nevertheless I would trace the journey of a thread through the honeycomb or double cloth weave wondering how it got there. When I finally had my first chance to weave on a handloom in university it was an absolute lightbulb moment – I knew that I’d found my specialism and that there was a lifetime of ideas to explore in front of me.
Image: Laura Thomas, Void, 2020. Handwoven and cut linen leno structure on brass rod.
Your work displays incredible breadth and a multi-faceted approach to woven textiles - what inspires you and where do you draw influence?
What inspires me is the very desire to keep making something I’ve not made before. I like to surprise the viewer, and to challenge what people think a weaver produces. I’m interested in the perfection of woven / unwoven lines in space. I’m captivated by horizon lines whether that be looking at a hillscape or seascape and so am often drawing upon these to distil into my work. Ann Sutton has been a huge inspiration and influence throughout my studies and career. From firstly discovering her books in my college library, and to then having the eye-opening joy of spending time with her as a visiting tutor when I was at the RCA. Upon graduation I then had the privilege to be one of the founding Weave Design Research Fellows of her eponymous Ann Sutton Foundation which gave me huge confidence to create the diverse career I have now. The breadth of her practice allowed me to aspire to work in a similar challenging and multifaceted vein.
What is your design and thought process when you are making personal projects or commissions?
Even if the outcome is an artwork, rather than a functional utilitarian cloth, I always think like a designer. I have to fully understand the brief even if it’s a self-determined project, and ensure that the outcome fulfils the aims and objectives. That might sound rather overly practical, but I think weavers relish these sorts of boundaries in which to frame their thoughts. I’ll challenge those boundaries, but I’ll always answer the brief. Colour, scale and the choice of materials are always the starting point, which I’ll explore through watercolour sketches, yarn wraps and digital design work, before moving into the making process.
Image: Laura Thomas, Private London Garden Commission, 2019. Silk, cotton, Lurex and linen threads laminated in toughened UV-stable glass, inlaid into a raised bed in North London garden.
Do you have a favourite project you have worked on?
I have truly enjoyed every project I have worked on — no two have ever been the same, and with each commission I’ve always taken a further step forwards with my practice. The London Garden project in 2019 was a particularly interesting commission, as it was very much a collaborative process between the client (also a weaver) and I. She had bought a piece of my work at Origin, the Crafts Council show back in 2008 and had followed my career ever since. She had the idea to inlay some glass panels into her garden, and loved the idea of this being one of my Loose Threads compositions. The colour palette was carefully designed to echo the flowers in the garden. The resulting installation has incredible visual impact.
You deliver many workshops in schools and for community groups - is there a particular message you always aim to convey when teaching?
I encourage a playful, questioning and experimental approach. I aim to support my learner to trust their intuition and to embrace creative curiosity and risk taking…. And to just thoroughly enjoy the immersive process.
The Q&A in conversation event with Laura will take place on Sunday 28 March, 12.30 - 13.30 (GMT). Laura is also exhibiting her work throughout the online festival. View her work, and the work of countless other master crafters on the Digital Craft Centre website.