A spontaneous trip to Bristol – unusual for team Loom Shed, but tends to pay dividends when we can do it. Being confined to school hours means that the trip was short, but sweet and how fabulous to see textiles take over three floors of an art gallery!

Threads encompasses many different textile skills, by 21 artists tackling many different subjects, each one thought provoking and questioning. The subtitle of Breathing Stories into Materials, for me, has echoes of our hands working while we think, imbuing our materials with our thoughts. Many times have I unrolled a warp, noticed a particular colour interaction or texture and been reminded of the music I was listening to or stewing over a particular issue. Our hands do not create in isolation, our thoughts impact our making. 

Scale ranged from the enormous Ground by Alice Kettle to the small, Variations of a Stitched Cube by Richard Mc Vetis. Both were equally captivating and did exactly what textiles do best: look stunning when viewed as a whole, but utterly absorbing when viewed up close examining every stitch or thread. 

Ground. stitch and life jacket material on printed canvas. 2018. Alice Kettle

Variations of a Stitched Cube. hand embroidery, cotton on wool, modelling foam. 2017. Richard McVetis

The wrapping of books in ‘African’ batik or ‘Ankara’ cloth bearing the names of artists active in Britain highlighted the distinctive and important cultural identity from West and Central Africa. This work by Yinka Shonibare is part of a larger series highlighting and celebrating contributions made by immigrants to Britain.

The British Library Collection (Artists) AP. 237 Hardback books, dutch wax printed cotton textile, gold foiled names, white painted wooden shelves and index cards in presentation box. 2019  Yinka Shonibare


Liz and I with our passion for craft and the hand made were both made instantly happier by the hand stitched paper bags and the story of lockdown making and make do and mend. The work raised questions of sustainablity and the value we place on the mundane. Also the value of making and the repetative action of stitch while our brains are tussling with worries. 

Left: Mended Sweet Bag. paper bag and wool. 2021 Celia Pym

Right: Mended Bread Bag. paper bag and wool. 2022 Celia Pym

The Burden II ‘My Trousseau, was really evocative for me. The personal connection the artist had with the unseen objects combined with the unseen human carrying the bundle was quite moving. This was also linked in with the image in my mind of people travelling / fleeing with their bundles of belongings wrapped in a sheet or blanket. I really wanted to cradle these pieces and feel the substance of them.

The Burden II ‘My Trousseau’. Leather, cotton thread, acrylic paint. 2017-2023 Esna Su

Wound Frames No.3 and No.4. mixed yarn, wood, grip tape. 2022 Will Cruickshank

Seeing work by Will Cruickshank again still elicited that slight inhale of ‘what happens if they all get tangled,’ which is probably a weavers reaction in to that many threads all lined up so perfectly. We are delighted Will is joining us for a talk about his work on 9th December

Spectrum Spindle No.8. mixed yarn, wood. 2023 Will Cruickshank

Sacrament, digital jacquard weaving, optical fibre. 2020 Monika Zaltauskaite- Grasiene

Sacrament was a joy to two weavers who like to anaylse the technical. I kept moving from close to far from the piece to try to work out what was an actual, physical drape in the weaving and what was woven in. It was jacquard woven with optical fibres and the images was of a cathedral draped in a tarpaulin while work was carried out underneath. It was utterly bewitching, both from a technical perspective, but also from wondering what was the surface veiled?

Detail of Sacrament

Viento 2, linen, gesso, acrylic, Japanese paper, gold leaf. 2014 Olga de Amaral

 Liz was particularly drawn to the striking use of gold leaf, and how the detail and colour changed as Viento 2 moved from top to bottom – capturing different layers of materials and interlacements – the layers of time taken to make the work

These untitled weavings were part of an installation entitled ‘Nil. Nargis. Blue. Bring in the tide with your moon’. Also exhibited were a charpai made with woven cord; various threads, a pile of indigo dyed thread, weaving paraphernalia and the articles worn during the film shown in the same space.

This film showed the artist with a backstrap loom at the waters edge, warp anchored by stones. At intervals the artist moves the stones in and out of the the water. The backdrop is the beautiful landscape of Coulport in Scotland where nuclear submarines are kept. It is this knowledge, coupled with the awareness of the violence involved in textile production that makes this installation gently discomforting.


Untitled II Jute, jute cotton, natural and hand dyed (natural indigo) linen threads, plastic and industrial ropes. 2019-2020 Raisa Kabir

Untitled I Flax, linen, unspun flax, cotton and industrial rope. 2019-2020 Raisa Kabir

We also really loved the wall of samples of different textile crafts and again with our interest in hand made skills and crafts we would have loved to see more of these. There were many exhibits that I wanted to touch too. How does knitted leather feel when impregnated with acrylic paint? How is that made? It is stitched? Is it woven? How does that join with that?

The big stories of slavery, freedom, migration and environmental concerns went hand in hand with the personal and intimate, present in each and every piece, large or small. There is evidence of the makers hand and thoughts. And that is something that textiles always does well – provide a common language and gesture of comfort that words alone cannot.

If you can make it to Bristol before the 1st October, its well worth a visit to the Arnolfini. Lunch in the cafe is recommended too! 

Louise and Liz