MEET THE MAKER
Weaver Emily Mackey talks us through how she makes each of her handcra!ed creations
Inspired by her bucolic surroundings and impressive family tree, the British weaver creates handmade blankets, cushions and rugs from her back-garden studio
When Emily Mackey decided that she wanted to be an artist, it wasn’t weaving but painting that enticed her the most. ‘ I loved painting, it was what made sense to me,’ she explains. ‘ But I knew that I needed to explore other options.’ She ! rst laid eyes on a loom during a visit to Middlesex University, where students on the Constructed Textiles course were running an interactive weaving workshop. ‘I immediately felt like I was at home,’ she smiles and, unsurprisingly, it was the only university course that she applied for. Today, she weaves stylish pieces from her backgarden studio – each one as intricate as it is beautiful.
What’s your background?
I come from quite a large multicultural and multiracial family line: from sheikhs and barons, to farmers, lacemakers, painters, humanists, poets and horse grooms. As I’ve lived in so many places, I can’t really tell you where I’m from. Identity and exploration inform much of my work, along with the stories passed down through my family. My main discipline is weaving, but I also embroider, paint, illustrate and work with photography. I love to make things with my hands and to see something develop right in front of me.
How did you get into weaving?
A "er completing a degree in Constructed Textiles at
Middlesex University, I bought my own loom and started to work on private commissions. It hasn’t been an easy career path and, at times, I’ve had to supplement my income with other jobs. I o!en wonder where I might have ended up if I’d followed other routes, but weaving and creating is where my heart is.
What inspires your designs?
Nature and my environment, mostly. Whether it’s trees toughing it out in crowded cityscapes, luminous orange lichen on roo!ops, rock faces, skyscrapers, mountain slopes or roads. Sometimes I turn to poetry, stories or memories, and the images and colours they evoke. There’s an endless supply of inspiration when you start looking for it.
What is your process?
The "rst stage is designing, planning, calculating ‘ends per inch’ and sampling. I work out yarns and proportions according to what my chosen theme is based on, and then try it out. It either works beautifully, or takes some tweaking to get to the next stage. Then I make the warp using a warping mill, which keeps all of the threads of yarn in a speci "c order, so that once they are wound onto the loom there are no tangles. Once the warp is threaded through heddles, the ends are guided through a reed that’s made up of evenly spaced gaps, like a closed comb, with a speci "c number of gaps per inch, depending on the thickness of yarn I’m using versus the density of fabric required. I then weave the fabric, using the "rst bit to troubleshoot and
! x any issues. Once I’ve woven the length I need, I’ll cut it o" the loom then quality check it, repairing any missed ends that might have passed by unnoticed during the weaving. Depending on the yarn composition, I may give it a light press before making it up into the ! nished piece.
Describe your studio for us
My workshop arrived as a basic #at-pack shed, which I put together in my back garden with the help of my father and some friends. I then insulated it, clad the outside, painted it and gave it power. I was able to change the dimensions to !t in all of my equipment and choose the position of the long windows. It’s lovely – when I work in there I feel like I’m in the wilderness.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently making up my Bedford blanket design into a large rug. I’ve had to adapt it for heavy use with linen warp instead of ! ne wool, customdyed rug wool and natural Swaledale rug yarn. It’s been fun to sample it and try to get as close to the blanket fabric as possible.
What are your future plans?
I have some collaborative projects planned for next year with Ma$hew Paré of Petrel Furniture, which will involve both weaving and hand embroidery. Now that my child has started school, and time is on my side again, I’m going to see where the wind takes me. See more of Emily’s designs at emilymackey.com.
Emily’s workshop is beautifully light and airy, with her old-fashioned looms sitting in the centre. ‘I’m lucky to have my own private workshop – it’s a sacred space for me,’ she explains. BELOW Emily’s Bedford cord and sateen heavy winter blanket costs £1,800.
Emily’s woven designs often echo the natural elements that surround her. ‘It’s the things that stand out to me in whatever environment I’m in, whether that’s urban or wild,’ she says.BELOW RIGHT Winter Tree cushion, £50.50.