New Ashgate Gallery champions the best of contemporary art and craft providing an unparalleled resource in Farnham, Surrey and beyond
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Art Shop of the Year 2020 | Art Gallery of the Year 2021 -The Corporate Livewire South England Prestige Awards
206 x 24 cms
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Nell Swift is a weaver in natural fibres utilising antique and custom-made hand looms. Nell weaves sea and mountain, coast and Peak. The smallest things captivate, raindrops on rock pools and windows, ripples in the sand, moss on walls, cobblestones. Her weaves capture movement, pattern and texture to create textiles embedded with underlying codes and a significance of place, time and memory. Nell weave garments and textiles for the home exclusively in natural fibres from an environmental perspective, producing the least impactful fabrics.
Fleeting memories are the foundation of her practice- reminiscent of synesthesia, feeling the sun and wind and smelling the sea air. Often Nell dreams her weaves - and slowly the idea comes into focus and Nell has all the elements she need to begin. Place is significant for her practice- being surrounded by fields full of sheep, wool is her favourite versatile- and renewable- fibres. Wool presents the ideal solution to the massive environmental and social impact of fast fashion and fibres derived from oil and plastic. Nell is fascinated by the fibreshed movement, which seeks to link land reclamation, farming, spinning, weaving and garment production together in small community networks. This linking of beginnings to endings, inputs to outputs that creates connections between people and preserves skills and creates local small-scale production that is her driver .Nell is motivated by a need to de-scale production levels, produce and value quality fabrics, repair what we have and see fabrics for their technical and artistic value.
Nell was brought up in a household of makers, and as an only child, spent lots of time alone, just following her imagination and making. Her mum taught her to sew on a machine at five and developed a fascination with fabrics from Japan and Sweden. The pursuit of the perfect fabric led her to wanting to learn to weave- making little cardboard looms as a child.
Weaving is ancient. There are hundreds of thousands of drafts, offering infinite combinations of pattern, colour and texture. It's not possible to weave everything in a lifetime. This bottomless quality is what appeals to Nell- with her academic background in archaeology- one never knows everything so there is always something to learn, a new experience to be had.
Nell began using a four shaft loom made by John and George Maxwell. They lived and worked in a commune in Suffolk set up by Eric Gill the sculptor and artist. It is approximately 100 years old and was restored by Nell and her partner. Researching the loom and its history really tapped into Nell's archaeology-specialist in the historical period and utopian communities. I had no idea when I got it that there'd be so much history in a loom, but it's our oldest technology. Nell currently weaves on a custom made floor loom by her partner, Tim.
Nell is the custodian of beautiful bespoke loom from Sweden that belonged to one of our greatest weavers. Barbara Mullins and her mother Gwen ran a weaving workshop and school- they were known as the Graffham Weavers. Their work is in the V&A and Gwen taught the finest 20th century rug weaver, Peter Collingwood. Her loom was owned by Barbara- Nell tracked down hours of audio recordings of Barbara talking about her life and work. Gwen went on to found the Craft Council- they were two remarkable women whose story needs to be more widely known. In future Nell wants to build a weaving shed and get Barbara's loom weaving again. It feels fitting that it should be working again and Nell feel the responsibility profoundly.
Currently Nell sells her work privately and through Instagram and Folksy, and in person at curated sales. Nell enjoys exhibiting her work, particularly in the context of other artists, as I am fascinated with how her work reacts to and with other works. Nell shares a sense of community with her fellow artisans and believes passionately that collective endeavour is the way forward.
New Ashgate Gallery
Waggon Yard, Farnham GU9 7PS