Weaver Jason Collingwood has been designing and weaving rugs for 24 years. The son of the late Peter Collingwood, a weaver of world renown, Jason has also built a solid reputation as a well-respected weaver, and his work is featured in The Tate Modern Gallery in the UK. As a young man he reluctantly abandoned his dream of becoming a pop star and, through an enterprise allowance scheme, became a rug weaver in his father’s studio at Nayland, not far from Colchester in the Suffolk country side.
Speaking at a Craftsouth INFORM session on a visit to Adelaide in March 2011, Jason explained the realities of life as a rug weaver. Four months of the year are spent teaching and eight months weaving. Jason accepts commissions and the best market for his rugs is America, where he says there is a real appreciation for the handmade object.
Although he says he doesn’t call it a proper job, he outlined the commitment needed to be a rug weaver. Not only is it a matter of hard work, he says, but discipline and determination are required. It helps to be a specialist and to make only one type of thing—rugs—but within that ambit to be flexible. Jason’s rugs are bespoke, a unique selling point. The client may choose the design, the colours and the size. Compromise is occasionally required to meet a particular client’s needs and in the interests of business he chooses not to be precious about his sense of design. Flexibility is balanced with repetition, however, and some of his designs have been woven upwards of 250 times.
Marketing hand-woven rugs is not a simple process. He spoke about pricing his rugs to include the cost of his materials, his studio rent and utilities, and a living wage, and he made the important point to market the product selectively. The price point of the item attracts the market. Appearances at even prestigious craft fairs may not produce an immediate return. Clients would appear to need a weaver to demonstrate commitment to their craft before placing their orders. He acknowledges the benefit of the Internet as a means of promoting his work and showcasing his rugs.
The technique for Jason’s rugs is based on shaft switching, a process developed in conjunction with his father which “combines the speed of normal block weaving with the freedom of design formerly possible only with pick up”. (1) A series of levers are manipulated to change the threading to allow for the development of his hallmark geometric patterns. Two shafts are threaded normally and two shafts carry the designs—the pattern manipulation is engineered for these two shafts. On a good day of weaving the warp will advance every 45 to 50 minutes.
The weft is 80% wool and 20% nylon and for reasons of speed and efficiency he generally works in 2 colours only though of course colour gradations are formed by varying combinations of these 2 colours. Where wider rugs are required he weaves them in sections and joins them together off the loom. This requires an exquisitely straight selvedge and close attention to matching any patterns exactly.
The designs are simple and curves are implied. Because of the nature of the weave, the rugs are reversible. He sketches his designs on graph paper before the weaving process commences. His most popular design is rug # 82. The rugs are displayed in his virtual gallery which can be accessed at http://www.rugweaver.co.uk/
(1) Collingwood, Peter 1990 Rug Weaving Techniques – beyond the basics BT Batsford London, p. 104 The technical aspects of shaft switching are described in detail with illustrative diagrams of the process on pages 104-117.
Jason Collingwood has written a booklet on the block weave technique and a video is also available.