28 November 1997


A clothes show with a difference visits venues in Yorkshire

and, as Tessa Gates found, the fabrics are all hand-woven

A VILLAGE hall does not seem the obvious place to visit in search of truly bespoke clothing but if Mary Walker is holding one of her clothes shows there, that is what you will find.

Mary spins and dyes wool and weaves it into wonderful cloth in a range of weights and textures. These can be made into styles she shows in her collection or to suit her customers preferences.

"People can have an original exclusive or we can match up a jacket to an existing wool garment – whatever they want. We can provide very individual clothes tailored to measure," says Mary, who finds it easier to take her clothes show out to a wider audience than to have customers call at her home, although people still come to her through recommendation.

Mary lives with her husband, Fred, a former farm manager, in Nosterfield, North Yorkshire, where they keep a few Jerseys on their smallholding. Mary has been weaving since 1984. "It was a natural progression from my hobby of spinning," she explains. "I dont really like knitted hand-spun wool, and when I did a textile design course in Harrogate I realised the direction I was going in.

"I completed the course in two years and just wish I had done it earlier. I have always been interested in textiles but when you have children the family comes first," says Mary, who has two daughters and five grandchildren.

&#42 Local fleeces

She uses fleece from local flocks for her home-spun yarn – and has plenty of breeds to choose from. She favours Teeswaters, Bluefaced Leicesters, Suffolks, Shetlands and Jacobs and colours the yarn she produces with natural and commercial dyes. "It is amazing what colours fit together when you use natural dyes," she says.

Some of her fabrics will be made completely from her own spun yarn. Others will be a mix of commercial and homespun and she chooses the combinations that make the material a pleasure to wear.

"Using hand-spun for the warp or the weft makes a softer material," she says.

She can produce a fine close-woven cloth, heavier weights, interesting textures and patterns, and takes a pleasure in doing so. "Weaving became such an interest I wanted to do more," she says with an enthusiasm that leads her to experiment with colour and texture. Often her home-spun is woven with botany wool or silk for materials with a wonderful "handle". Coarse, hairy fabrics are not in her portfolio.

Her range of clothes includes easy-to-wear waistcoats for men and women (£59), body warmers and popovers (£89), car coats (£185) and classic ladies suits (from £235).

"I have a good tailoress, Caroline Robson, who will make made-to-measure clothes from my fabrics in about four to six weeks," says Mary, "or people can order material to make up themselves."

Suiting costs about £35/m and a lot of work goes into each length of cloth (about 6.40m (7yd). To make it she will have spent two weeks dying and spinning and about three days weaving at one of two looms in a front room of her cottage.

&#42 Fitting it in

Quite how she fits everything in is a mystery. As well as her Yorkshire Dales Hand-woven Fabrics enterprise which involves giving talks and organising her clothes shows in addition to making the fabrics, Mary works as a health care assistant.

"Both Fred and I are supposed to be retired but he has spent the past two months stonewalling," says Mary. And neither of them looks set to slow up for quite a while yet.

Ñ Inquiries (01677-470386).

Left: Marys friend Janet in Cinnamon. This suit (£235) is made from hand-spun and botany wool dyed with onion skins. Above: This pretty short striped top (£59) with a natural edge sleeve, is made from hand-spun Masham wool dyed with logwood and cochineal. Stuart Smith, another of Marys friends, wears a botany wool and silk waistcoat (£56).

Left: Janet in an easy to wear popover(£89) made from hand-spun wool coloured with natural dyes – alconette, onion skins and privet. Above: Stuart models a waistcoat (£56) made from hand-spun Jacob wool and botany wool.

Above: Peacock suit (£235) has a short jacket in blues and gold and the skirt is plain blue. Right: Janet in Nutmeg (£235) a brown botany wool suit with fringed wrapover skirt and fringe detail to the jacket pockets.

Mary at one of her two looms. She took up weaving as a natural progression from spinning and enjoys creating interesting textures.

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