Beautiful textiles for every day: the fabric of a life-long love

Adrienne Mulqueen of Adrienne’s Loom has been weaving since 1979. She loved it from the moment she threw her first weft, immediately feeling she wanted to do nothing else but weave. Life has taken her in different directions over the years but it has now allowed her to return to her looms. Adrienne is passionate about producing textiles that people will enjoy using – she’d really rather you didn’t tuck her creations away for “best”!


 

 
What do you make?
I weave fabric out of wool, silk, alpaca, cotton and linen. This can be lengths of cloth, blankets for beds, knees, babies and as throws; scarves and wraps; hand towels and kitchen or tea towels; floor rugs, table mats, table napkins and bags. Although I don’t sell them on my site I also spin and knit and dye wool and make small items like scarves, socks and gloves and use hand woven yarn in some of my blankets.

How did you get into your craft?
I was visiting a friend in Nelson in 1979 and discovered the Nelson School of Weaving. I had always wanted to weave but it had seemed something out of my reach until I visited the school and the weaving studios that were in Nelson at the time. I thought I could do this and so I enrolled for the course.
 
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I attended the school for 18 months but didn’t sit for any qualifications as there weren’t any on offer at the time. We were a pretty unruly class with everyone just wanting to “weave” and our very patient teacher, Anna Correa-Hunt, doing her best to train us in traditional German artisan style. I treasure everything I learnt from her and would love to go back and have that time over again. I also worked with Christine Keller, another German weaver in Dunedin in 2013 learning how to do production weaving.


 

 

 
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I have several looms and although I enjoy using them all my favourite remains my first one which was made to order by Ken Bartlett of Christchurch in 1980. It is a beautiful rimu, handmade 8 shaft countermarche loom and is a work of art, beautiful and easy to use and has never missed a beat. I also have a favourite flying shuttle, made in Germany, obviously very old and well worn in. It goes so well and smoothly and I can develop an efficient rhythm which enables me to weave easily and well. I so wish they could still make ones like that. My favourite part of the setting up of the loom is the threading of the heddles. I’m not quite sure why but somehow putting all those threads in order is very pleasant and I’m quite happy to spend as long as it takes to complete that particular job.

“I’m not sure what the textile equivalent saying is to “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” but it’s hard to keep the stash under control and find places to… well… stash it…”

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
Firstly you have to make the warp which are all the threads that run the length of your piece of fabric. The threads have to be all the same length and enough to cover the width. Maths plays an important part here as you have to calculate take up on the loom as it is woven and shrinkage when washed and wastage from being tied onto the loom (and therefore not usable for weaving). They have to be kept in order and evenly put onto the back beam of your loom. These are then threaded through the heddles which are on the shafts of the loom and which are then manipulated up or down to create the pattern. These threads are then pulled through a reed or beater which is a metal frame which both keeps the threads the correct distance apart, and together, and is used to beat the weft, which is the thread that goes across the fabric. The final part of the weaving is the throwing or placing of the thread or weft across all the threads and beating them into place. Once it is all woven and then cut off the loom, broken threads and mistakes need to be mended and then it is washed or shrunk or fulled if necessary, then cut and sewn. The actual “weaving” is only one part of this whole process.


 

 

 
What inspires you?
Often seeing old textiles in museums and clothing in countries that are still weaving their everyday clothing. Most have been hand woven and have lasted for many years and in some cases, centuries. Appreciating their beauty, durability and timelessness.

Colours are everywhere to be admired and inspired by; flowers, animals, birds, insects, forests, fish and art.
 
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I like that it takes time to weave fabric and so it has substance. I like the feel and the properties of the natural fibres I use, and knowing that the fabric will last a long time and be useful and at the same time beautiful. I find it hard to let go of things and so for example my clothing becomes familiar and I grow fond of it. I don’t like it when it wears out and I have to buy something new. So it suits me to have things that will last and I don’t have to replace too often. Often people say that my kitchen towels look too good to be used but I encourage them to use them as they will last and will in fact get better with use. Often beautiful textiles are kept in cupboards and only brought out for special occasions and maybe never until someone dies when they are handed on or down. I like to say use them everyday and enjoy having art in your kitchen and watch them age beautifully.
 
Describe your creative process:
Oh dear. I’m not sure I have one! In fact I think I would have to say I don’t. It would make life so much easier if I did. Sometimes I’m not sure if I will be able to come up with something that will work. I often have an idea but then it’s like starting at the beginning again and wondering how on earth I can achieve what I am imagining. I just have to have faith that it will happen but it’s not always easy to believe it. At other times as I’m finishing something I’ll know immediately how to explore a variation. Fits and starts, excitement and stress, joyous anticipation and ominous dread: it’s all there, lurking in the ether of my studio. It’s always so good when you start on something and it’s going well and you can see it’s going to work. Then it’s such a happy time to be working. I’m often very surprised and relieved when something turns out well.

At the moment I am deliberately working on trying to create towels that will bring to mind birds and because that’s new it has slowed me down. I’m sure once I have done a few and seen how they work out I’ll be more relaxed and productive. But, it is like taking a big gamble and working in the garden or making soup seems a safer bet.


 

 

 
Describe your workspace:
I have two work spaces. One is an old crib and the other is a rather lovely sleep-out which is also a shared family space. They are both full of light and have wonderful views over Portobello Bay. Often, I just don’t want to stop weaving and go down to our home. They are sometimes very messy and cluttered and sometimes very ordered and gorgeous looking. Sometimes you have much more than you need out, just to look at it and make decisions about what to use in any given project. Once I have a project on the loom I like to clean everything up and weave in peace and simplicity. The problem when you are working with fibre is that you keep seeing new and even more beautiful skeins and balls and you want it all. I’m not sure what the textile equivalent saying is to “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach” but it’s hard to keep the stash under control and find places to… well… stash it… and then remember that you have it so you can use it.
 
Five words that describe your mind:
Warped, woolly, fulled, complex and colourful.

“I like that it takes time to weave fabric and so it has substance.”

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Someone told me that my weaving reminded her of textiles that she had seen in Scandinavia. For me this was very high praise and gave me a real lift, a flush of pleasure and much encouragement.
 
What are you currently listening to? The Chills.
 
Recommend an album: Snow Bound.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
This is going to date me but I loved Anne of Green Gables. I liked her because she had spirit, courage, honesty and lots of resilience.
 
What are you reading now? Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.


 

 

 
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Rania Abuzeid. I have just finished reading her book, No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria. This is an incredibly courageous and candid book about what has happened and is happening in Syria. Rania is a journalist who smuggled herself into Syria over a period of seven years and followed various people as they struggled to continue to live their lives there. She lets them talk for themselves and so delivers to the reader a non biased and non judgemental view of all the different sections of the society. Her bravery and resilience is remarkable as are the people she introduces us to. She was born in New Zealand of Lebanese parents, bought up in Australia and lives in Lebanon now. Journalists like Rania, who are prepared to spend many years of their lives bringing us truthful news and the stark reality of the horror of what is going on in the world, exposing much that we can so easily overlook, deserve to be listened to and honoured.
 
A favourite quote:
Be kind to everyone you meet as often they are carrying a heavy burden.
 
Tell us about your pets:
We have always had cats who, apart from our first one, have just turned up and stayed. We had decided that when our last cat, the lovely Princess Tamil died we wouldn’t replace her, sadly realising that these gorgeous animals were in fact deadly predators. Unfortunately this happened earlier this year. We were wondering if we would be able to keep to our pledge but when we were gobsmacked by the sheer numbers of birds that suddenly appeared we realised we could. We now have birds flitting around singing and chattering that are our pets.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Believe in yourself and give it a go. Start small and let it grow naturally so you can’t lose anything and one step after the other will keep you and your business grounded and original.


 

 
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Handmade items are usually… unusual or different… so catch my eye. They are original and beautiful and mostly being sold by the person who has made them. When examining it or admiring and looking at it you get to interact with the maker so when you buy from them you are buying a bit of them, a memory and helping the craft and the maker to survive. In so doing our communities are strengthened and our footprint is decreased.

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
I am always very pleased and appreciative that someone has liked something I have made enough to want to have it. It’s a real compliment and it makes me want to keep weaving. It also makes me want to do the best I can so they won’t be disappointed.

“Often beautiful textiles are kept in cupboards and only brought out for special occasions… I like to say use them everyday and enjoy having art in your kitchen.”

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Some beautiful hand made soap made locally. Soap lasts me for ages and I love the smooth softness and the fresh aroma of the essential oils used. I always buy them and keep them with my clothes at first. When I need a new one I go rummaging and it’s like a treasure hunt.
 
What’s in store for the rest of 2020?
More and more weaving… maybe a small tapestry exploring a sculpture made by my late brother, Stephen.

Prize draw for Felt readers!

Adrienne has kindly offered a lovely prize for one lucky Felt reader of this cosy and stylish handwoven scarf (see below). Woven from a Touch Yarn 12 ply boućle yarn made up of 20% merino and 74% mohair produced in Otago, this scarf is silky soft, non-scratchy and incredibly warm, with a beautiful lustre. When you wear this you will be wearing a scarf that has not only been handwoven locally on a New Zealand hand-crafted loom: it is also woven from fibre that has been grown and produced here, and better still, it is 100% Otago made! It weighs 152gms and measures 17x180cms.

To be in to win this gorgeous piece leave us a comment telling us what you love about Adrienne’s story and her weaving. The draw closes at 5pm Monday 20 July and is open to New Zealand residents only.

21 thoughts on “Beautiful textiles for every day: the fabric of a life-long love

  1. I can attest to the fabrics Adrienne Mulqueen makes at her looms.
    The blankets are absolutely the best thing. Soft Light Warm. I personally found the lightness
    compared to the expernentially greater warmth soooooo good when I was in hospital after an operation and couldn’t tolerate any weight on me but liked being warm. As I didn’t have much strength I could fling it away and retrieve it back with so little effort. It was a great comfort and the staff commented on it loveliness. So I wasnt the heart patient in room whatever!!! But the lady with the blanket!!!
    I also have the 2 teatowels. I initially kept them for special settings But now use them for the purpose for which they were intended. We don’t use a dishwasher so have lots of teatowels and it is true that these towels just keep going and going. They dry the dishes properly and better than any others I have had. They also always look nice in the kitchen when I throw them over the dish rack if I can’t be bothered drying the dishes.
    It’s nice to have these Fabrics around.

    1. Ngā mihi, Clare,

      For those kind words and I am so pleased to hear that your blanket and kitchen towels have not only been very useful but have bought you pleasure. Beautiful textiles always make me feel happy as do fresh flowers. Even better to hear that time is proving them to be fit for purpose. Always good to hear that. And lastly, it’s great as time passes that they continue to be just as good and in fact, improving with age. Just like us!

  2. Lovely to scroll Facebook and stop on the picture of the loom, which reminds me of my lovely grandmother who was an avid spinner and weaver. Then a moment later to discover that it’s Adrienne, who delivered my little baby Sophie 10 years ago last week. (We lived in St Ronans Rd -to jog your memory, Adrienne). What special memories they are of our early days with one little person. We have three now and live in Motueka. Loved reading about your art form and creations, remembering you in your other role and am excited to one day unpack the loom I have under my bed (bought second hand) and learn to weave too! Warmly, team Madigan formerly of Dunedin and now of Motueka x

    1. A real thrill to hear from you Sarah. And I had no trouble remembering you either! Many happy memories of all those visits in your kitchen while we waited for and then got to know that lovely baby, Sophie. And then and you were the first person to introduce me to an iPod! I can still see it, just sitting in its cradle. The time will come for you to get that loom out. They are very patient and it’s good to have something special to look forward to when you have time for such things. The time will pass very quickly. Thanks for saying hello.
      Adrienne

  3. Lovely blog post and such a talented maker!
    Your pieces look so lovely and tactile, and I totally agree with not keeping things for best!
    I love reading through your history with this craft and how much of you you put into each piece.
    I am from Manchester where weaving was historically such a vital skill in the mills, and seeing looms set up always reminds me of my own history and where I come from.
    Thank you for sharing your work and thoughts, I’ve enjoyed reading them 🙂

    1. Hana,
      I would love to be able to visit a place like Manchester where mills were everywhere and textiles were created en masse. It makes me think of the industrial revolution where the traditional weavers tried to break the mechanical looms as they could see the end of their livelihoods coming. I’ve seen films of people working the looms and the spinning jennies and they had to move so quickly. The skills they had were a amazing. Repairing broken threads whilst everything was still moving at speed. It’s a luxury that we can retrace our steps back to the hand loom and keep all the developments and the memories of the whole industry alive. The good and the not so good. It’s good to be reminded of that so, thanks for taking us there. Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  4. What a lovely post to read! I can sense the love, care and total absorption that goes into each article, not to mention the talent.
    You have challenged me also, to not simply keep things ‘for best’, but to use and enjoy!
    Thank you.

    1. Jillian, you have just embarked on a wonderful journey. It’s very liberating to start putting those beautiful things out and you’ll find that they were made to be used and will
      last a lot longer than you anticipated. As they age and get worn they stay beautiful and become beloved. Just beware of the washing machine! Use delicate and gentle programmes and consider how dirty is this article and how often does it need washed and how long does it actually need to be washed for.

      All the best,

      Adrienne

  5. I love your comment “don’t tuck it away for best”. When we support local artisans, we buy their wares because we love it, are touched/moved by it, or, have a need for it.
    By proudly displaying and using or wearing these things, we continue to support our wonderfully talented artisans. Others are going to ask – where did you get that? And hopefully your business grows.
    Not only that, having beautiful, hand crafted, ware visible can inspire future generations to get involved and become a crafts person.
    Putting something away for good or ‘special occasions’ does little to help others, and means that the things we love are hidden away in a cupboard.
    Your weaving looks superb and I can imagine the feel given the fibres you use.
    Without a doubt you are an inspiring master weaver!

    1. Tanya,

      That’s all so true. It’s easy to take care when using our ‘best’ whether that’s wearing something or drinking tea or using a utensil and it makes the whole experience more enjoyable and because we are more mindful whilst in that process it makes it all more memorable. You’re right about the feel. Drying the dishes with the towels feels so nice. To begin with I too just looked at them! And then used one cautiously. After a while the whole family was using them all the time and it doesn’t feel quite right now if we use the machine made ones. You just have to avoid wiping cast iron frying pans and roasting dishes and teach everyone to wipe them off with the damp dishcloth instead. Sites like Felt are so good for facilitating so much inspiring window shopping. The more beauty we see the more we notice elsewhere. Keep looking! Adrienne

  6. The tea towels are amazing! The best drying towels I have ever used. I have washed mine several times and they are still like new.
    I love the photo of your loom room. What creativity happens in that rom 😊

  7. Lovely article and photos. I’m fortunate to have met Adrienne through her daughter. I’m inspired to get one of her tea towels and use it every day to honour the skill, effort and creativity that goes into them!

    1. Hi Diana,

      Great to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed reading the blog and I enjoyed hearing about you after your visit to the island. Lucky that we are free to move around New Zealand and see our world and our friends.
      Look forward to catching up with you sometime,

      Until then, all the best,
      Adrienne

    1. And that would be such a compliment. That’s the beauty of textiles, that they can be used for so many different purposes. I think that to begin with I only used the ones that weren’t so good…….. ones with mistakes ……until a visitor just grabbed one that was sitting on the table and used it for the dishes. I was about to say…no…..it’s too good…..and then I thought, well, that’s that then! And it was. Now we use them all.
      I have textiles that I have bought when travelling and I just look at them and then look at them some more. It’s a good way to use them as well. It’s important to nourish our inner selves with what brings us pleasure and joy.
      It’s great that there are sites like Felt where there is always so much to look at enjoy and learn about.

      Keep looking,

      Adrienne

  8. Your story reminds me of gazing across the bay from Portobello school as a child, and of the pottery and painting we did there. It’s a special place whose peace and creativity has stayed with me. I can imagine you looking out across the bay from your studio too Adrienne. The enduring landscape and the waves washing in resonate with with the slowness and rhythm of hand weaving. Time and care is embedded in your textiles which weather softly like the hills. I love the history and integrity of the objects you’re making.

    1. Kia Ora, Giselle,

      What lovely memories of your childhood and school days. I do look across the bay whilst at my loom, towards Port Chalmers. And when I am at my table I look across to Harbour Cone. My children also went to Portobello School and it’s nice to think they are in a long line of kindred spirits who have happy memories of the time spent there.
      And it’s true that the towels do weather, softly. Beautiful imagery.
      I hope you are now, also living somewhere equally poetic.
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and replying.

      Ngā mihi nui,

      Adrienne

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