The Joy of Silks


Chinese silk jacket

I have a lifelong obsession with silk .  I thing it started when my father came back from China in 1948 with a little embroidered black silk jacket that fitted me as a two year old!  I still have it, now framed, a precious family heirloom.


TheLyon silksre is also my cupboard full of silk samples given to me in Lyon by the sister of a retired silk merchant. These scraps are a constant feature in my Woven Memories work.  Some have handwritten on them the name of a designer. The incredible virtuosity of silk is amazing to me. Taffeta, chiffon, satin, organza and crepe de Chine all feature in my collection! There is something unique and wonderful about the way silk catches the light too, always intensifying the glorious colours.




I am about to embark on a project called The Joy of Silks at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney. I will be weaving in the foyer of the centre on Tuesday 9th, Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th August from 10.00am to 4.00pm each day. I will be weaving with  scarves and ties in pinks and greens donated from far and wide, now torn or cut up ready to work with.

silk in balls 1

My weave design has gone through a number of iterations and I have finally settled on an approach which will show off the silks rather than hide them.  The weaving will become  a long banner to be hung at Lifehouse at the end of the project.

silk weaving 2

I will also be keeping a record of the donated scarves and ties in a book I’m using to record the development of the project – a copy of my book will be given to Lifehouse.


HOW TO GET INVOLVED If you would like to contribute a scarf or tie to the project from your own collection or from a family member, do some weaving,  or just come to have a look please do!  I would love to meet you!

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, 119 – 143 Missendon Road, Camperdown, NSW 2050


Stories from Lyon – the garbage bag of silk

Lyon image

A garbage bag of silk scraps was the beginning of new directions in my weaving practice.  Quite by chance I was given this bag during my first visit to Lyon eleven years ago.    This first trip was instigated by my daughter – she was visiting a friend.   What would I do?  Well, I researched and discovered Lyon was the major silk weaving city in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Their textile museum is unparalleled, both for the collection on display and the research archives:  .  I also found a textile artists’ network LaTrame de Soi , still as inspiring as ever!   Their President at the time, Inger Kristensen welcomed me and hosted me in so many ways over the next few years.

Early on Inger took me to visit the wonderful Atelier de Soierie  – still in operation.  There I met Emilie Moussiere who was hand painting exquisite velvet scarves as her ‘day job’.   She was an aspiring textile artist and jacquard weaver.  Just as I was about to leave I asked about scraps.  Were there any leftovers, bits of silk perhaps?  Emilie hurried away.  I think I imagined I would get a small handful if I was lucky.  But she came back with an enormous black garbage bag packed tightly with silk pieces.


The bag also contained many more wonderful and mysterious scraps: fake fur with stitched embroidery on the back, gold netting, lace and little pom poms.Non-silk scraps

I have been weaving on and off from my garbage bag ever since.  As I look again into my stash I realise it continues to offer riches and delights.  I use these silk scraps from Lyon in my Woven Memories work by inter-weaving them with the precious fabrics and clothes others bring to me.  Neck pieces, scarves and brooches often have elements from my garbage bag.  This was the beginning of my weaving with fabric scraps.


Eleven years on I still feel like I have a magical source of wonder that continues to inspire me and my textiles – thanks to Inger and Emilie.  You can see Emilie’s textile work at


Weaving meaning


What do you do with a scrap of fur from a loved dog that has died? My friend Anni had a beautiful dog called Lambchop.  She was my dog Nina’s best friend.  Lambchop even taught Nina how to pull down packets of biscuits from the higher shelves in the pantry she couldn’t reach herself.  They were a team.

When Lambchop died Anni was distraught.   As I was leaving Anni’s house soon after Lambchop’s death Nina went and sat beside her, staring at me intently.  Nina seemed to realise just how deep Anni’s grief was.  I felt sure she was telling me she had decided to stay with Anni and look after her – and she did for a few days. Maybe they were sharing their mutual loss.

Lambchop had lovely white wiry fur – she was part White Highland Terrier. Knowing Lambchop was not long for this world Anni had kept some small pieces of her fur. These would become a small tangible reminder to touch after she’d gone.  When I found out I suggested I could weave a scarf for Anni with the bits of fur in it.


It was a long time coming because I felt such a burden of responsibility to design a scarf that would honour such a special pet. But suddenly I had an idea.  Two elements came together in my mind at once: Anni spends part of each year in Greece and she wears blue most of the time.  So I would create a blue and white scarf referencing Greece and it’s weaving heritage of flokati rugs.

Always my first step with these things is going to my yarn stash, and it’s quite a stash.  Some yarns I’ve had for over 30 years.  I store them in boxes, labelled by colour, under the spare bed. I like to pile them up and play with combinations before finalising the design.  Once I have refined the yarn choice then I get weaving.

Yarns for blog post

There are memories for me in these yarns too, leftovers from past projects, gleanings from rubbish tips and factory discards. The vibrant blue cones are favourite, rescued years ago from a rubbish tip, the mid-blue loom ends from a baby rug for my daughter – now 31. For Anni’s scarf the loopy white mohair, a great discovery in Paris last year at Malhia Kent , went perfectly with Lambchop’s fur. I didn’t consult Anni on the design.  I felt confident it would suit her and that she would like and wear the final product.

Once I had decided on the yarns the weaving was fast. Here is Anni’s scarf just off the loom prior to finishing. You can clearly see the little puffs of Lambchop’s fur in the weave against the blue.  They are firmly secured so there is no danger they will be lost.


Anni loves and wears her scarf!  These little slivers of fur are now part of the future, offering reminders of love, special times, and the happiness of Lambchop. This will happen again and again, each time Anni wears her scarf. What all this means to me is the possibility of creating joy, joy from something that might have stayed in a little paper envelope in a drawer, or continued to gather dust on a shelf.

The Woven Memories Process

2014-08-26 16.31.56

Woven Memories works with your old fabrics, clothes, scarves, jumpers and precious family clothes no-one wears anymore.  They are often items that hold special memories or are very beautiful or were worn by a much loved family member who has died.  The process involves weaving a future for them, literally and metaphorically.  It’s possible to make an incredible range of new items from old through hand weaving.   I will be writing about my experiences as I cut into fabrics and clothes, unravel yarns from old jumpers and interweave memories into a new future for precious garments and fabrics.


Baby rug with a grandmother’s old red dress

The way I work is to collaborate with the person who brings me fabrics and clothes they want to preserve but change.  We talk through the meaning and stories  their textiles hold and decide together what they will become: a throw rug, scarf, neckpiece, table mat etc – options are pretty endless.  I’ll be showing pieces here and describing possibilities.  I really look forward to your comments and, if this appeals to you, the chance to work with you and recreate something unique for your future.