The London Loom is a workshop space that is every wannabe-weavers fantasy. Filled to the brim with materials, you can warp and weft until your heart’s content. The project was started by two friends Francesca Kletz and Brooke Dennis, who believe that craft is all about working in collaboration. Jade French finds out more…
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourselves and what inspired ‘The London Loom’?
We are Francesca and Brooke and we’ve been running our business The London Loom for about 8 months now, 6 months actually in business in our studio teaching workshops. The London Loom is a space for textiles beginners of all ages and skill levels to explore the craft of weaving on simple floor looms. Our customers mostly come to make ‘freestyle’ cloth but we also host a range of other alternative craft classes.
We started The London Loom for a few reasons but the main reason was that we couldn’t find what we were looking for in London. I (Francesca) had been to Japan to visit my sister and had taken a day class at a weaving studio in Tokyo, I looked for something similar to do at home and couldn’t find anything – Brooke and I had started working on our own host of craft classes that we thought were more sustainable, educational and substantial than what we had been doing or taking elsewhere and we thought that we could use the model of the Japanese weaving studio as a catalyst to do the other things we wanted to do.
You work with the public and run lots of workshops – why and how do you think crafting brings people together?
We have always wanted our studio to be a place where there was no rule about who were you creating next to. It’s really inspiring to have a child sitting next to an adult or just two people from a completely different place or time in their life making something side-by-side. Our customers always end up talking to each other and looking over at each other’s colour choices for inspiration. I think that working in collaboration with other people is always beneficial, especially creatively.
I worked in education for a while before we started The London Loom and I could never get over how little my students were encouraged to explore working with their hands or to learn across academic curriculums. I think that crafting brings people together for lots of different reasons – maybe because you’re failing and learning in unison with someone else, sometimes the best way to overcome something you don’t understand or find intimidating is to share that learning experience with someone else.
I think that often we are taught to compete and not learn together – our freestyle weaving classes aren’t about getting something right or being the best, it’s about learning about textiles and fibres and picking colours and textures that make you happy.
What’s your motivation for working in such a collaborative way?
I think that I have always struggled with learning in a very academic or oratory environment where you listen and take notes. I need to touch things; I think that both Brooke and I are extremely kinaesthetic in how we tackle making. We always knew we didn’t want people to come to our studio to listen to us talking, well they do listen to us talking, lots and lots of rubbish, but no lecturing. We learn so much from our customers, regardless of age or background – people come to weave and we see colour combinations that we wouldn’t have thought of and hear stories about people’s lives and have fascinating conversations with people we may otherwise never have met. This is the only way we could imagine running our studio.
Why were you drawn to the process of weaving?
We both love to knit and sew and we spend hours hunting for interesting fabric. We were looking for some way of making more interesting cloth to work with for our own projects and then once we started on the looms we found their therapeutic rhythm addictive. There’s endless opportunity to combine fibres and colours in a way that there isn’t with other yarn crafts.
You both seem to use a ‘freestyle loom’ practice from time in Japan and New Zealand respectively – could you tell us a bit more about this form and why you’re attracted to it?
We call what we do ‘freestyle weaving’ because once you know how to use the loom you are free to use whatever combination of yarns and colours you want. We found that when we were working in previous craft teaching jobs or education that there was always a cap on what was allowed or what materials students and customers had access to. Our first vision for the space was to have our big colourful yarn wall and lots of materials for our customers to play with. Whenever anyone comes into the studio they are drawn completely to the yarn wall. To have so much choice and to be free to do what you want with it is so important to us, we are more interested in our customers being mesmerised with colours and creative freedom than what their end result is, the freestyle nature of what we do gives customers an escape for the hours that they’re with us and less focus on the end goal, it’s about the time spent in the studio.
“As women who work with fibres and textiles, we are constantly infantilised by an assumption that crafts are twee and unimportant”
Do you think there’s anything inherently political about making craft?
There definitely can be. I can’t deny that I spent a good portion of my 20s making embroideries of vulvas and reading books like The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker and closely following the career of Tracey Emin. I think that all art and design is a product of its zeitgeist, creatives are reactionary beings and I think that craft is just a practical medium of art – we create because we have to and if that creativity results in woodwork or a knitted garment it is no less impactful or poignant than a painting or sculpture. Colour for example is where we express ourselves in the studio and there is great relevance in what makes you feel safe or calm or empowered.
I’m a big fan of your BYOB take on the evening class in general – how does this cheeky twist on crafting help to empower attendees? Is it important for adults to take time to have fun? (I’m thinking particularly of the ‘Embroider your Member’ evening… and the physicality involved in the Poi Making)
We think that it is just really important to take time for yourself. Making something with your hands is really good for you as well and we just want to combine the two things to make evenings where people can create and meet other people that also want to express themselves through craft or learn the skills to do that. It’s BYOB because we’re adults and we can choose what we want to drink and it’s in the evening and people want to relax. Also, some people find learning a new skill daunting and if they want to have a beer while they’re doing it then why not, that is empowerment!
I love that you designate the London Loom as ‘not twee’ – do you think crafts in general are resigned to being cutesy? Does it take something away from the power of craft?
As women who work with fibres and textiles we are constantly infantilised by an assumption that crafts are twee and unimportant. There is a huge market for twee and cutesy crafts and I know lots of workshops that subscribe to that and do well and make their customers very happy, they are also run by smart women who know their audience. But we’re not their audience and we want to do things differently.
I hate that crafts are often advertised in a way that people think women like – rose buds and tea parties and cupcakes, because we love craft but we like Ru Paul and Missy Elliott and beer. Our aspirational projects are not about how to make the best fascinator, we want to weave with wire and make scarves that light up or teach people how to embroider Sarah Silverman punchlines. 91% of our followers are women between the age of 24 – 45 and I find it hard to believe that all of them are queuing up for the newest line of Cath Kidston purses.
We have inspiring, smart and powerful women in our studio every day, we aren’t talking about soap operas or baby names, we’re chatting flaws in the education system, moon-cups and business – let’s not forget that behind every twee studio is a powerhouse of a business mind and the things we’ve learnt from knitting pattern designers and hen party coordinators is incredible.
Finally – what’s your favourite material to work with, and why?
We both like natural products, anything wool, silk or cotton is where we’re at. We have a lot of neon pink mohair in the studio and that’s basically the dream.