Made in Britain
Handwoven textile designer Rhian Wyman uses traditional skills to produce throws in contemporary colourways, inspired by the natural environment
We visit Rhian Wyman’s studio and discover the art of weaving
It comes as no surprise to discover that Rhian Wyman’s favourite colour is green. Its myriad tones, from vivid lime to deep forest hues, surround her at every direction she turns outside her studio, set in a valley in the Forest of Dean, and subliminally weave their way into the beautifully soft and tactile throws that she crafts on her loom. That day’s weft will often be inspired by nature’s spontaneous colour combinations that she spots on her morning dog walk in the wooded hillside rising up behind her home in the village of Longhope. No two weaves are ever the same, and the seasonal changes in forest and dale are reflected in the patterns and colourways of her designs, from white apple blossom or yellow buttercups, to bluebell and heather hues. ‘I feel most relaxed when I’m outside and there are so many tones and patterns to see. I love choosing colours and find it endlessly exciting how certain ones make others pop and you then see them in a completely different way,’ Rhian enthuses. ‘It may be the same collection I am weaving – the same warp and pattern – but every day I get to design, putting different colours through the weft, experimenting with various proportions or combinations – I can’t wait to see how each blanket will look.’
Her 1960s wooden Dobby loom takes pride of place in the middle of the studio, which occupies the upper floor of an old stone barn opposite her childhood home. Cones of yarn sourced from a mill in Yorkshire fill every corner, and the deep, bold colours of a Heather throw drying on a tenter frame contrast with the aged grey stone walls and weathered wooden floorboards.
The hand weaving process is a gradual and constant journey of activity, from winding a bobbin to throwing the flying shuttle through the latticework of warp threads. There is a tranquillity and meditative quality to its repetitive, rhythmic
actions, but each weave is a new journey; every individual beat of the loom, pushing the weft down into the design, of a different evenness, adding to the uniqueness of each throw.
It was her mother’s Welsh blankets, passed down through generations, that inspired Rhian’s interest in weaving throws. ‘If the fabric could talk, just think of the stories it would tell… I am creating something that could end up being an heirloom, too, which is a lovely thought. I take the traditional designs of Welsh blankets and adapt them, adding a modern spin with my colour placement,’ she says.
After graduating with a degree in Textile Design from Hereford College of Art in 2014, Rhian secured internships with several designer makers, which culminated in her becoming a weaving assistant for Sioni Rhys Handweavers in Abergavenny. There, under the guidance of weaver Stuart Neale, she learned the invaluable skills and techniques to create Welsh blankets. ‘There are less hands-on skills being taught in schools now, so it’s not as usual for the younger generation to learn crafts such as weaving,’ she explains. ‘It was Stuart who convinced me to get my own loom, and for about a year I worked on commissions for him. I didn’t have any design input, but I got to learn and practice all of the different types of weave, and discover the quirks and mechanics of my loom.’
Forever adding ideas for patterns and colourways with strokes of watercolour in the pages of her sketchbook, Rhian eventually took the plunge in 2017 to develop and design her own woven products. Her first collection, Lichen, was inspired by the coastal colours and textures of this yellow ancient organism creeping over grey veined sea rocks on the Isle of Coll, where she has visited on family holidays since a child. This was followed by her Moss, Heather and Midnight designs.
It is a time-intensive and meticulous process to produce each throw, calling on many skills of the weaver. With every stage done by hand, from winding on the warp, setting up the loom, weaving and darning, to finishing using the traditional method of stomping in the bath - ‘a bit like a human washing machine’ - and then sewing on the labels, each one is imbued with Rhian’s DNA.
‘The loom can take four days to set up ready for weaving a run of throws from a collection; just winding the warp, walking up and down, takes a day,’ she explains, ‘and it will then take about a day to weave a throw. I’ll usually have two or three tones of a colour in the warp, which helps to produce the variety in the resulting weave. I quite like an element of repetition in the colours and designs, but it is not until a throw is on the tenter frame – to stretch and shape it – that I get to stand back and admire my work and see the true magic of the colours pushed through it together. Each blanket seems to have its own personality. Every one is my favourite.’