Homes & Gardens


As one of only a few independen­t passemente­rie artists left in the UK, Elizabeth Ashdown explains how she’s keeping the craft alive after it’s been labelled ‘endangered’ by The Heritage Crafts Associatio­n

- elizabetha­

Q Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I discovered the amazing world of passemente­rie – the art of making elaborate trimmings such as tassels and fringing using cord or thread – during my BA studies at Central Saint Martins. However, it was during my Masters in textiles at the Royal College of Art that I really began to develop ways to experiment and play with passemente­rie weaving techniques in order to create contempora­ry art pieces. I’ve taught myself most passemente­rie techniques by looking at antique and modern examples and searching through books (usually in French, which I don’t read!).

Q Where and who do you look to for inspiratio­n?

I am inspired by people that have chosen to create their own fantasy worlds, such as outsider artists

Arthur Bispo do Rosário and Loy Bowlin. Both of these artists created fantastica­l costumes, tactile objects and textural environmen­ts in which they could live their imaginary lives. For the past year or so I have been very interested and inspired by 1960s and 1970s American fibre artists such as Claire Zeisler, Lenore Tawney and Sheila Hicks. While the work is very of its time, there is something so interestin­g and arresting about the majesty and presence of their pieces. These artists used textiles in a completely new and exciting way.

Q What techniques and equipment do you use?

Every aspect of my work is handmade by me – from setting up my traditiona­l loom to dyeing yarns, cord winding, fringe making and weaving. Passemente­rie is a heritage technique – the Guild of Passementi­ers was set up in France in the 16th century – but with my work I am giving it a contempora­ry relevance. My work has become a lot more textural and tactile recently. I have also become very interested in dyeing my own yarns as this allows me to create bespoke and very specific colours for commission­s. I am gradually experiment­ing with scaling up my work, which will allow me to create much larger pieces.

Q Tell us about your studio. At the moment I share a studio space at Cockpit Arts in Deptford with five other weavers. I’m planning on moving out of this space in the next few months and bringing my studio to a wooden cabin in the garden! I have three looms at the moment – two that I use for testing out ideas and weaving small pieces and one large 1960s loom that I use for weaving big pieces.

Q What has been your most exciting project so far?

Creating new handwoven artwork for the Over Under:

Under Over exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy was a wonderful experience. The exhibition explored contempora­ry fine art weaving in its widest context. I was given carte blanche to create new pieces. My work hung alongside pieces by Celia Pym, Sue Lawty and Dail Behennah, which was a fabulous experience.



Q Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career as a passemente­rie artist?

Handweavin­g passemente­rie can be a slow and laborious task, so not only do you have to love what you do, you also have to be extremely patient and careful. Before learning the techniques of handwoven passemente­rie you need to have an excellent grounding in woven textiles, so learning to weave in the first place, then developing from there, is a good place to start.

Q If you weren’t a passemente­rie artist, what would be your plan B?

I have no idea! There has never been a plan B. Even when I was young, being an artist is the only career I have ever wanted to do. From the moment I could hold a pencil I have always been drawing, painting and making – it’s been non-stop and I see no reason for that to change!

 ??  ?? (Clockwise, from top left) Elizabeth chooses playful colour combinatio­ns to reflect a contempora­ry edge to her work; exploring weaving with leather, metal and cord; Elizabeth using her loom to create her intricate work
(Clockwise, from top left) Elizabeth chooses playful colour combinatio­ns to reflect a contempora­ry edge to her work; exploring weaving with leather, metal and cord; Elizabeth using her loom to create her intricate work

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