Words by Rosie Cattrell
An ancient romance of wool and wood, passed down through generations into the hands of a Weaver.
On the wild and salty frontier of Penwith, settled amongst sea thrift and ancient folklore, busy hands are at work weaving a story of landscape and heritage, of tide and tor. These skilful hands belong to Rachel Weaver and Eric Henry, partners in life and in their much-loved business, Henry Weaver Designs. With the age-old craft in her very name, Rachel seems to have been born for the trade, and hails from the rugged landscape that is Penwith. With her main occupation as an organic gardener, and having trained in conservation, time spent in the wilds of Cornwall is a fond and familiar occurrence for Rachel, a practise that would lend itself well to a new creative venture, as she so kindly explains:
“I’ve always been interested in traditional craft. Weaver is in my name, I suppose that might have something to do with why I found this passion for it. I began playing around with a little frame loom a couple of years ago, and Eric was outraged at how inefficient it was, he really wanted to make something that we could do more with. So, he decided to build us a loom in the spring of 2020, which was actually during the first lockdown. I was continuing to work due to the nature of my gardening, but his career changed and he found himself with some time and energy to focus on creating a project. So, we built our first loom.”
With an extensive background in traditional sailing, and originating in Northern Ireland, Eric has a wealth of experience with traditional rigged ships, and found himself channelling his talents into something completely new in a labour of love and exploration. Built entirely by hand, and designed by Eric himself, the pair began a journey into unknown territory, as Rachel so fondly reflects: “We just picked up everything we know from our own research from books and videos, doing our own trial and error, working together on things.
Two heads are better than one, and through that we’ve managed to get a really nice grasp of the trade ourselves. Neither of us have got any training in weaving at all, we’re completely self-taught in all we know. Eric’s very much our engineer. He’s got a mind that can just pull apart problems and find solutions for them quite quickly, and through that he designed and built our looms and tweaked them so that they’re running as they are now. We both weave, but I do the majority of the creative weaving myself and I tend to find our suppliers and build our customer relations, alongside our website and all the photography. Together we complement each other’s strengths, it’s quite symbiotic.”
From excited beginnings learning their trade on a loom made from pallet wood and string, honing their talents and producing their very first hand-woven scarves, Eric has put his skills to the test once again to create the masterpiece of a floor loom that the pair use now. Built entirely from sustainably sourced redwood with a little bit of re-claimed oak, with hand-welded components precisely for purpose, the loom has a strange and beautiful familiarity to it. “There’s lots of little rope works and little blocks, it really does feel a bit like a very small ship. It’s got a lot of components that you’d probably be familiar with, if you knew about traditional boats, like an anchor winch,” explains Rachel. “It’s very beautiful, with lovely curves and sweeping lines, and has been likened to something you might see in an elaborate home, there’s an art deco feel to it. It definitely bears a lot of similarities with traditional vessels and little ships.”
With the support of a local merchant, Rachel and Eric decided to use good quality British wool from the outset, and began to weave the most enchantingly unique scarves. “It was important for us to be stocking really good quality wool, knowing that the animal welfare standards were there and there’s traceability aspect to it, with completely natural fibres,” explains Rachel. “We realised that we were making something of a quality that people were really enjoying, and so we started to gather a little support from our local community. We’re pulling in all of our inspiration from the environment, living completely on the coast, in the countryside, each piece is completely nature inspired, land and sea. That really spoke to people, a Cornish narrative people could connect with it.”
Having spent her life living by the sea, and now finding herself continuing to explore the borders of the land with their right-hand border collie, Bran, Rachel draws enormous inspiration from the natural world: “I’ve always lived very close to the coast, so it feels like the salt runs through my veins. When you have always lived and breathed life by the ocean like this, it forms an enormous part of your world. The seasons and nature definitely play an important role in what we do. The Kingfisher Scarf I named because I sighted a kingfisher that week and I just felt drawn to those colours and I wanted to bring them into life.
The Sea Pinks Scarf just sings of those spring and summer flowers and sea thrift that we see on the coast here. We just bring in a lot of the colours of the land and seascapes around us, so there’s a definite blue theme inspired by the ocean in all of its moods, and a lot of inspiration is taken from Cornwall, the myths, the folklore, the heritage, the minerals that surround us, the granite, the serpentine, the quartz. So, it’s all about nature and botany, flora and fauna. The patterns in nature as well we try and reflect in what we do. One of the scarves is called Morveren after the Cornish word for mermaid, and in that pattern you can really see the shapes of scalloped shells and mermaid tails, fish scales almost. And with our Owl Scarf, I literally saw an owl fly in very close on a dog walk that morning, and I just decided I was going to pick out those colours and started weaving our first blanket scarf that day. It’s quite exciting to bring to life some ideas and add something more to our range as well. We’ve now starting to weave blanket scarves and add that to our range, and it’s just fantastic to be able to offer a little bit more and get excited about what we can do with that sort of width of fabric.”
After careful preparations, Rachel will sit down to weave, and after about eight hours the end product is truly something to behold. “Weaving is very melodic and meditative, it’s very systematic. It’s nice to just immerse yourself into it fully, and when you’ve finished a scarf that you’re ready to cut off the loom and you’re presented with the end result, there’s something magic in that feeling. We hope to give enjoyment to the wearer, whoever they may be, by creating a medium to explore the natural environment through a beautiful, unique textile.” More recently, Henry Weaver Desgins’ journey has unfurled into in-house botanical dying of their yarn, to bring a beautiful physicality of the Cornish landscape into their products.
Based on traditional twill designs, and using hand-picked British wool from merchants in Yorkshire and Cornwall, each scarf is created with a quality in mind to last a lifetime and longer: “We weave a lot of magic and charm and love into our scarves and what we make. We like to think they’re kind of heirloom pieces that are going to be handed down through the generations. One of the things that inspired me initially was a scarf that was my grandmother’s, a chevron pattern in red and black. It’s so beautiful, it really spoke to me and felt so intrinsically Cornish. It was my grandmother’s scarf, then it was my mother’s and now it’s mine. That sort of pattern really stayed with me and I wanted to incorporate that. You can see a resemblance in the first scarf that we wove, the Cairn Gloose Scarf, named after one of the rocky outcrops down in St Just where I grew up, inspired by the heather and that sort of form and colour that you get down the cliffs there. My grandfather, who was also called Eric, built my grandmother Cardellie a loom when they were very much younger. It all seems to have started a long time ago, and I like to think it was a kind of romance between wool and wood, and it’s all happening again a few generations down the line.”
Henry Weaver Designs is entirely people powered, and has recently been awarded SAS Plastic Free Champion status. With Cornwall at the very heart of it all, the couple are seeking to forge long-term connections with local sheep and alpaca farmers, to find a new way to weave a Cornish narrative.
In a charming happenstance that has a ring of destiny about it, Rachel and Eric have found a way to speak their surroundings and communicate the landscapes that they call home. The magic of Cornish heritage and the ancient, natural beauty of the land is woven into each scarf to be worn for years to come and passed down through generations.