An UnSpun Commission… or The Story of a Loom

Hand woven

A year ago I bought a loom on eBay. A huge two metre wide second-hand floor loom that I had no idea how to use. It arrived in pieces on the back of a lorry eventually …

Made by a long-running Finnish family brand, a vintage Toika model from the 70s that seemed to have been in storage for years. Its last warp still attached, every knot still intact. Carefully taken apart and stacked loose inside the back of van down in middle England, then dropped off at a haulage depot in Glasgow. At this point I pleaded for someone to shrink wrap it all to a pallet lest a piece was lost in the next stages of its journey to me.

Awful winter weather delayed the Inverness leg and then it sat in a Highland depot for another few weeks until, many phone calls later, the loom (and an enormous pieces of off-cut carpet – but that is another story!) arrived with us negotiating the twists and slightly treacherous turns for big vehicles up the hill.

In pieces on the unfinished blue plywood floor of my newly designated loom space in what was an old office, a tangle of strings and knots with a beautifully photographed (on a beautiful pebble beach no less) original instruction manual.

And so I put it together. Re-connecting intuitively the bits that were made for each other, referring finally to the manual for the more complicated hanging of the jacks, harnesses, lams and treadles, re-using the old knotted system which was in full working order. Over the months I have replaced some parts with fresh knots and string but the bulk of the structure remains, created by I wonder who (and what they made) so many decades ago.

Very quickly I knew I wanted to make rugs. And I began to rack my brains for a way to use local raw fleece I had come by without sending it away to a mill for very costly processing. As an experiment I tried using the wool in its raw state (aware of the old practice of peg loom rugs) and fell upon a technique and result I was surprisingly pleased with. And so I started practicing and making. A slow process.

A year later, I am happy enough with what I am making, its quality, provenance and purpose that I am keen to continue – this year I plan a seasonal collection based on the Celtic lunar festivals, solstices & equinoxes. And I made a website that now sits waiting for me to get on with things. It really is a slow process though. Three to four inches per hour is as good as it gets. This is because I shape and card the wool as I go. I am not working with pre-processed materials and nor would I want to. Pulling and teasing the raw wool into a workable, usable weft is what makes this process so special to me.

Last year a friend’s acquaintance, who had seen one of my rugs at said friend’s house, got in touch to ask if she could commission me to make her a wall hanging in the style of my rugs. Using the fleece from her flock of pedigree Shetland sheep in Wester Ross to decorate her minimalist white walls. I was delighted, of course! And since visiting to show me her fleece and to discuss the project she has also commissioned a much more delicate piece I had made from linen, spun Applecross Gotland wool and local fleece on my little Rigid Heddle loom – this is in the photo above. A wonderful and exciting turn of events for me.

So here I am with my first two commissions, a stronger idea of the direction I want to take my rugs, and now wall hangings, in and full of excitement about what lies ahead. Most of my raw wool work to date is on Instagram @unspunrugs and my ready and waiting website is