Weaving: A Necessary Art

Hannah Smeds-Davies

The woven tradition is one of the oldest contributors to human culture. Records show that technically intricate and visually creative structures had been developed in civilisations eight thousand years ago.

The inventions during the industrial revolution of metal and powered machinery as well as the computer revolution has meant that woven products have been able to keep pace with modern concepts and technology. Astonishingly one is still able today to create new forms of construction and visual ingenuity that make weaving as vital and interesting a contribution to technological and visual culture as it was eight thousand years ago.


Hannah at her loom Photo by David Clarke

It is this combination of heritage and modernity that has inspired me in my career as both designer of woven products for industry and in the area of hand weaving as objects of fine art.

My own family origins are from West Finland where Swedish speaking settlers established farming communities and trading in the then Viking world.

Weaving has always been an integral part of this culture and I grew up in villages where there were always members of families that were hand weaving, both as art and as an integral contribution to necessary household and clothing textiles for the family.

When I arrived in Britain nearly forty years ago and living in the South of England it was not easy to pursue my career as textile designer and weaver and it took me many years with a combination of teaching in art and design colleges and persisting in trying to introduce modern and innovative designs to British industry, not always an easy process.

As the years went by and I established a reputation for providing design work that was both cost effective, beautiful and seemed to sustain sales. This success prompted companies in the woven industries in Yorkshire and Lancashire to demand more of my work. This eventually resulted in me commuting from the South of England where I then still lived to Yorkshire and Lancashire on a weekly basis. In the late eighties we decided as a family to move to the Dales which we had learned to love and admire and start a new life for ourselves in this inspiring environment. We have never regretted this dramatic change in our lives and the landscape of the dales and the way of life is now an integral part of my creative development. The sixteenth century farmstead in which we live is now the centre of a thriving art and design movement with studios, workshops and regular exhibitions of modern arts and crafts during the summer time.

As well as designing for industry I am producing new concepts of art weaving and construction. This together with my considerable interest in colour forms part of numerous recent works that involves the interpretation of the regional landscape in three dimensional sculptures. These highly complex weaves enable me to portray aspects and details of the landscape such as running and falling water, grass moorlands, fallen leaves, distant views and changing skies. Weaving is by its very nature a complex and time consuming process. Many of my recent works involve the invention of new techniques and construction. For example I have recently woven a series of free hanging sculptures, which involves the flat weaving of the design in twelve layers which when taken from the loom unfolds into a multifaceted highly coloured and textured 3-dimensional sculpture. These are then hung in a large glass cylinder which can be placed on a surface enabling the viewer to walk around the object.

I have also woven a series of flat, textured weaves to which I have added multicoloured embroidery which in part combines traditional Scandinavian folk techniques with modern patterning and colour. These abstract weaves give a sense of colour and geometry that are very calming and when hung in a room can be viewed to provide a contemplative atmosphere.

Few people realise the sheer time it takes to produce a complex weave from the design idea through to selecting yarns and colours, threading the warp on the loom, often involving thousands of threads, through to the weaving, finishing off and presentation. It is rare that I can charge the true financial value of the many hours of work and experience that has gone into these objects.

Together with my husband who is also a designer and painter we hope that we are a contribution to the ongoing cultural development of the Dales in which we live.

For more information regarding the work and exhibitions of Hannah Smeds-Davies and Maiden Bridge Gallery please contact 01524 61463.


Maiden Bridge Photo by David Davies