Re­work­ing wool as the most modern of ma­te­ri­als

Emily Brooks meets the de­sign­ers trans­form­ing the most tra­di­tional of ma­te­ri­als into a cut­tingedge, tech­ni­cal prod­uct

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Wool is the safe choice when it comes to in­te­ri­ors. Nat­u­ral, strong, warm and breath­able, it’s hard to fault on the per­for­mance front and it brings a touch of lux­ury to a room at rel­a­tively lit­tle cost.

But it needn’t be safe when it comes to the de­sign it­self. Wool can be as cut­ting-edge and con­tem­po­rary as it is tra­di­tional. Scratchy tweed and tar­tan blan­kets are a world away from the graphic modern fab­rics cre­ated by young de­sign­ers. Wool is in­creas­ingly the fo­cus of new prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and tech­ni­cal ad­vances.

Rug de­signer and maker Esti Barnes re­cently un­veiled one such break­through in the Chelsea show­room of her brand Topfloor. Can­Can is a pure white rug that uses a new prod­uct de­vel­oped by Wools of New Zealand. Called Glacial, the wool is as white as it gets with­out re­sort­ing to fi­bre-dam­ag­ing bleach­ing (the process is a se­cret, but it hap­pens at the scour­ing stage, when the wool is washed to re­move dirt and ex­tract lano­lin).

Barnes is known for her sculp­tural rugs and Can­Can is no ex­cep­tion: tak­ing its in­spi­ra­tion from a wed­ding gown, it spreads out in un­du­lat­ing ruf­fles around its perime­ter. It is quite other-worldly. Such three-di­men­sion­al­ity would not be pos­si­ble us­ing an­other ma­te­rial, says Barnes. She is a huge fan of wool for its hard-wear­ing prop­er­ties and its lus­tre, which is much more sub­tle than silk (cur­rently the more fash­ion­able ma­te­rial for rugs).

“Wool is for­ever; ev­ery­thing else is a trend,” she says. Blind­ingly white rugs are not for ev­ery home, but Barnes says that when Glacial is dyed, the colours come up truer, too; she’s de­vel­oped a com­pan­ion rug, FanFan, in dark­est black, to il­lus­trate the point.

The Cam­paign for Wool launches its an­nual Wool Week to­day, and the mes­sage this year is to pro­mote wool as a ma­te­rial for the modern world. From its use as a per­for­mance fab­ric in cloth­ing for ex­treme con­di­tions to its abil­ity in bed­ding to help us sleep bet­ter, wool’s uses are noth­ing if not di­verse. Tak­ing over a large space on Lon­don’s Baker Street un­til Oc­to­ber 15, a show called Wool Fu­sion will high­light th­ese prac­ti­cal uses, but there is plenty to de­light the eye as well. “There are so many won­der­ful prod­ucts be­ing made with wool,” says Ara­bella McNie, the cu­ra­tor of Wool Fu­sion. “Top of my re­cent finds are rugs by Adam Blen­cowe and Marine Duroselle, where the pat­tern is pro­duced by nee­dles punch­ing wool on to a flatweave plain rug; the fin­ished tex­ture is quite unique. I am also a big fan of the work of Jule Waibel, whose steam-pleated felt designs are beau­ti­fully sculp­tural.”

Brid­gette Kelly, in­te­rior tex­tiles di­rec­tor at the Cam­paign for Wool, says that wool ap­peals to our de­sire for au­then­tic ma­te­ri­als with a story to tell. “Ev­ery year, the in­ter­est in prove­nance and sus­tain­abil­ity grows stronger, and the in­dus­try is re­spond­ing,” she says. She points to Brock­way Car­pets’ rarebreed sheep range and York­shire­based spin­ner Lax­tons, which de­vel­oped Sheep­soft, a fully Bri­tish yarn for knit­ting made from finer cross­bred wools for a softer touch.

Small, in­de­pen­dent tex­tile de­sign­ers are also ex­plor­ing wool’s pos­si­bil­i­ties, with less fash­ion­able tech­niques such as needle­point see­ing a re­turn. Some prod­ucts are small-scale and hand­made, such as Christa­bel Bal­four’s wo­ven rugs and ta­pes­tries, made on her hand­loom in south-east Lon­don; oth­ers make a virtue of their Bri­tish­ness, such as Anna-Lisa Smith’s cush­ions and rugs, de­signed and made in York­shire.

“It is won­der­ful to see young de­sign­ers look­ing at clas­sic weaves such as the Welsh dou­ble­cloth designs and reimag­in­ing them in very con­tem­po­rary colours,” says McNie. Jenny Wing­field is one ex­am­ple: her com­pany, Flock, has just launched its first wool range, a dou­ble­cloth with a bold graphic pat­tern called Blocks. It’s wo­ven by Scotland’s Bute Fab­rics us­ing wool from the backs of York­shire sheep; Wing­field is proud of the “Bri­tish-made” stamp, but more im­por­tantly, its qual­ity.

“Wool is such a nice ma­te­rial to work with,” Wing­field says. “It’s strong, it dyes re­ally well, it can be warm­ing but also cool­ing. I’m re­ally pleased with this cloth – the weav­ing has re­tained all the de­tail of the sharp, an­gu­lar pat­tern, and the beau­ti­ful tex­ture adds an­other di­men­sion.”

And it’s not just for bring­ing a deeper, more lux­u­ri­ous look to a room. “Wool is def­i­nitely a ma­te­rial that you could use in a richer in­te­rior, but it can also be re­ally light and fresh and, there­fore, re­ally modern, which is what we’ve tried to do with it,” Wing­field adds. “I re­ally hope we can keep work­ing with wool, be­cause it is amaz­ing.”

Scratchy tweed and tar­tan blan­kets are a world away from th­ese fab­rics

GAME OF CONES Jule Waibel’s Un­folded Cones seat; Multiblock cush­ion and throw in mus­tard yel­low from Bronte by Moon; Shadow cush­ion from Me­lanie Porter

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