Title: Return of the weave
Pages: 34 - 37
Author: Margaret Duckett
Text: Return of the weave
For years, interest in furnishing textiles has been concentrated on printed designs. The work of Tamesa Fabrics haschanged all this, giving woven fabrics a standingand therefore an interestthey have not had for some time. Margaret Duckett reports.
Tamesa Fabrics was founded in October1964 by Isabel Tisdall, to produce "very special weaves," which at that time were noticeably scarce in the work of British manufacturers. Mrs Tisdall had spent the previous seven years at Edinburgh Weavers as chief stylist and, knowing the field, saw no likely rivals for her new venture: practically all the exotic and original weaves available were imports.
Four years later, specialisation in a small exclusive collection of designs has given Tamesa Fabrics a well-earned reputation, both at home and abroad. Orders from overseas are such that part of the operation has moved directly into Europe: a selection of the fabrics are now made on the Continent, to avoid the Common Market Tariff, and are dispatched direct to European countries.
To provide her collection of exclusive fabrics, Mrs Tisdall relies on a handful of picked weavers. She has spent most of her career with fabrics, and so in starting her own firm was able to draw on vital contacts within the textile industry; her days as a fashion reporter with Vogue have given her a well-established flare for talent-spotting. From the beginning, Warner & Sons Ltd of Braintree have woven all her fabrics, and Tamesa now uses between 15 and 20 Dobby looms full-time, and one or two Jacquard looms. Most manufacturers are not prepared to take on the trouble and economics of producing short runs of fabric, but Tamesa can do special orders of 120 yards or more, and keep a loom aside for such jobs.
Isabel Tisdall is a purist, who prefers plain tactile fabrics, and loathes gimmickry. She refuses to comply to the pressure of producing annual ranges, a practice which the rest of the trade accepts as the norm. Her taste is for subtle and sophisticated colour combinations, and reserved richness in texture and sheen. Most of Tamesa's weaves are designed by Marianne Straub, an outstanding Swiss weaver, who trained and has always worked in this country.
Echo Check is a cotton and spun rayon weave that is part of a checked, plain, and striped co-ordinated range. Like most of the Tamesa weaves, it is designed by Marianne Straub. It comes in five colourways and costs 52s a yard (all prices are approximate).
Tamesa likes to work slowly and selectively, with a particular project in mind, and, when possible, to know the actual building the fabric is intended for. Before a job goes ahead, experimental samples are passed from factory to client until colour, texture, and weight meet the client's approval. A recent example of this process is Stripeline, a linen sheer chosen by Denys Lasdun for the library building et the University of East Anglia. In its original colouring, the stripes in the fabric over-emphasised verticals already well-defined in the structure of the building - so the fabric was duly altered both in colour and weave.
Melon, by Frank Davies, is worsted and nylon. An upholstery fabric, it can also be used for curtaining. It costs 72s.
Coppelia, above, a rich wool worsted by Marianne Straub, comes in eight colourways. It costs 54s a yard and is 48/50 inches wide.
Stripeline,left and top,is a pure linen sheer imported exclusively by Tamesa in this colourway. It costs 88s and is used in the library at the University of East Anglia. Lumina, above, is another linen sheer, and costs 28s 6d a yard. Both come in a 50/52 inch width (one cannot guarantee constant widths for weaves).
The special service Tamesa offers is further extended by the firm's willingness to piece-dye some fabrics in the range to specific colours. According to where they are going to be used, sheers can be permanently fireproofed, fabrics for walls can be made dirt and water resistant, other fabrics can be made crush resistant.
A selling point which makes certain ranges especially suited for use in large buildings where a unifying colour is required, is the availability of the same weave in different weights or colour combinations. The intellectual attraction of complementary co-ordination has a functional use in defining different blocks in universities, and can provide variety within a room. For instance, the grey/white colouring of Echo Stripe and Echo Check comprises a quartet of fabrics in peat check on white, white check on peat, plain peat, and plain white. This fabric is now a top export to Sweden, Holland, and Italy. Jo Pattrick has used the white and beige version extensively in the officers' rooms in the QE2, and the Echo Stripe version is used in York University library.
A new co-ordinated range which has met with enormous success, is the Venus, Aries, and Leo range, providing three different weights: for curtains, bedspreads and upholstery. These are all-wool fabrics developed to comply with fire regulations for public rooms but, unlike many translations of wool, the closeness of the weave and the fineness of the worsted thread gives them an unexpected silky sheen.
Tamesa's newest all-woollen fabric, Coppelia, has the same closeness of weave of former designs, but with a ribbon of open herringbone which runs across it in a giant chevron. The fabric's oriental richness and sense of occasion give itan obvious potential as cinema or stage curtaining.
Although wool has the advantage of being inherently fireproof, its price is often prohibitive. For this reason, Tamesa has also concentrated on linen and cotton weaves, with highly original results. These generally represent an improvement in colour over competitors; plain weaves are often brash in colour, or simply very ordinary. Tamesa's Octave is a pure linen which is pre-shrunk and can be piece-dyed, and it is stocked in four unusually beautiful colours, biscuit/pink, orange/red, ochre, and a natural off-white/ beige (it is significant that Tamesa colours cannot be simply described).
Tamesa's cotton weaves, developed with the university market in mind, have also mitigated the old image of dreary repps in primary colours. Colour is often a matter of costing, and a good dye can increase the cost of a fabric by three shillings or more a yard, but Mrs Tisdall believes people find the unusual colours worth the expense.
Isabel Tisdall has always been sceptical about using synthetic fibres, yet one of her firm's top sellers is Tamesa Star, which is 100-per cent spun rayon of a variety special to Tamesa. This rayon "fancy yarn" is produced by just one spinner in this country; itssource is a carefully guarded firm's secret. The rayon's bubbly vivacity is used to advantage in several wool, linen and cotton mixtures. Tamesa Star is often mistaken for silk and, in the present world shortage of silk yarn, Dennis Lennon is one designer who has been glad to locate it: for the first-class restaurant in the QE2.
Cicero, a jacquard in cotton and spun rayon designed by Tamesa Studios, comes in bronze/ green, yellow, blue, or green. It is 48/50 inches wide and costs 74s a yard. The excellent colour quality of Tamesa cottons is the result of using high-performance dyes.
Tamesa's concentration on contract work has naturally accelerated overseas orders (the record order so far has been for the Jordanian Youth and Sports Organisation, where 3,000 yards of the Jacquard Claudius is being used). Sales to America, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy are rapidly increasing (very recently all stock of a handwoven silk Othello, at £12 a yard, has been bought by an American importer). The company now also imports some exclusive sheers and very beautiful wall coverings from Belgium, which can be glued directly to walls with a special adhesive. Contact with Europe bred the notion of making Tamesa fabrics on the Continent, and since August, a number of fabrics are woven on the Continent, and shipped direct, though invoiced from London.
Where does Tamesa go from here ? Keeping tight control on quality and functional performance will continue to determine the size of the range, although the possible yardage output is unlimited. Maintaining the firm's reputation for unusual weaves keeps Tamesa on its toes for new designs.
Detailed descriptions of the fabrics themselves are relatively insignificant to Tamesa's contribution to British weaving as a whole. It has helped to revise a traditional image, synthesising the sophisticated possibilities of hand-weaving with modern factory professionalism without losing the richness of the former. Fabric samples at Tamesa's Bourne Street showroom are never represented in mean two-inch squares: each weave is shown off in a full length size, to do tribute to its qualities and the care which went into its development.
Visor, a 100-per cent cotton designed by Marianne Straub, comes in colourways of bronze, peat, or beige. It costs 42s a yard and is 48/50 inches wide. Jon Bannenberg used the bronze colourway in his designs for the de luxe cabins in the QE2.
Centaur is a natural-coloured linen fabric which can be dyed to any colour. It has a crush-resistant finish and costs 34s a yard.
Vertical is an imported linen sheer in a single colourway: black and white. It costs 34s a yard and is 50/52 inches wide.
Lucca is a linen wall covering in white or natural. The price ranges from 55s to 69s according to width.