What a great day our Weavers of Wales day was! All four speakers shared their practice so generously and we were left feeling inspired. Each weaver had their own way of working with woven fabric, creating distinctly different fabrics, but there were many shared experiences too.

This blog has been kindly written by writer, curator and weaver living in North Wales; Professor Helen Rees Leahy. These are her reflections of the day, illustrated by images either taken from our screen during the talk or supplied by the artists themselves. Helen has just written an essay to accompany Laura Thomas’s forthcoming exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre entitled Woven Unwoven, opening 30 September 2023.


The final Loom Shed event before the summer break was a day of talks entitled Weavers of Wales (8 July 2023). The four weavers representing their country (by either birth or adoption) were Laura Thomas, Sue Hiley Harris, Llio James and Anna Pritchard. They are a remarkable quartet of creative makers, each running a successful studio and each extending the aesthetic and practical possibilities of weaving today. Taking turns, they discussed their practice, their sources of inspiration and the contexts that shape their work.

Starting the day, Laura Thomas described some of her recent projects both on and off the loom. Laura is well known for her body of work under the title Resonate, which explores poetry of yarn by encapsulating patterns of loose (and occasionally woven) threads within resin or glass. Her presentation illustrated the range of her sustained enquiry into the possibilities of thread held in stasis – on different scales and in diverse settings. On the loom, Laura’s work is similarly focussed on the vitality of yarn: for example, her open weave structures have a structural integrity and resilience that belies their apparent fragility

Sue Hiley Harris introduced her practice by taking us on a photographic tour of her studio in Brecon: part work space, part storeroom, part display gallery and part cabinet of curiosities. She described the room as ‘organised chaos’, but like all intensely creative spaces, it looked simply beautiful. This is the base where, in recent years, she has been weaving sculptures: three dimensional objects that are wrought from the structure of weave and are frequently rooted in her connection to landscape. Her process is both exploratory and multi disciplinary. She continually experiments with materials and techniques, bringing weaving into dialogue with painting, sculpture and jewellery.

Llio James’  practice is also profoundly rooted in place, as well as in the cultural history of Wales. Her work emerges from the weaving traditions of the woollen mills that delineated its textile geography for centuries, while being unmistakably contemporary. Llio’s distinctive aesthetic – her colour palette and her skill in pattern design – resonates with her weaving heritage, but is entirely her own. And by working with some of the few remaining woollen mills in Wales, she is contributing to the survival of the industry. Her loom now lives in her Cardiff studio, not far from the Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru (Wales Millennium Centre) which showcases a major recent commission of her work.

Anna Pritchard concluded the day by describing her creative journey from her farm and studio at the foot of the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia). The history and landscape of this place is central to her practice and identity as a weaver: the shapes of sheep’s horns and their clipped ears, shepherds’ crooks, and slate fences appear as abstract patterns in her designs. For many years, Anna did not own a loom of her own, but in 2022 she took possession of a George Wood dobby loom that had belonged to the weaver, Alison Morton. It was awarded to her by the Theo Moorman Trust for Weavers, following a retrospective exhibition of Morton’s work at Ruthin Craft Centre. Anna’s previous experience of weaving on a dobby loom – and her long-held desire to own one –  convinced the Theo Moorman trustees that she was the right person to open a new chapter in the life of this wonderful loom.

Inevitably, each weaver’s relationship with her loom was a recurring throughout the day. While Anna is getting to know her loom, Sue has recently returned to hers, having largely worked away from it for the past few years. Yet even when weavers like Sue and Laura work off the loom, the loom itself is more than a physical presence in the studio. It remains the technical foundation and creative core of their identity as weavers … who are also designers, artists and sculptors.

While each of these weaver works in her own style and on her own terms, being based in a  small country means that they share connections and common experiences. All four have been supported at different times by the cultural infrastructure of Wales, including Arts Council Wales and the National Eisteddfod. There is a distinctively Welsh national network of galleries that exhibit functional and non-functional textiles  – including Ruthin Craft Centre, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Craft in the Bay, Oriel Myrddin, Oriel Davies and MOMA Wales. Together these spaces comprise a lively ecology of curatorial interest and expertise. Some of the speakers also commented that belonging to organisations and collectives –  such as Makers Guild Wales, Design Nation, the Welsh Group and 56 Group Wales – can help to mitigate the isolation of the individual practitioner by building connections and opportunities.

Sustaining a professional practice as an independent weaver is not easy, and all four Weavers from Wales discussed the challenges of combining the creative and business aspects of their work. At the end of this generous and inspiring day, it was clear there was one key attribute that they each had in common: namely, the determination and courage to design, create and weave on their own, very individual terms.

Helen Rees Leahy