Aubusson Placement at West Dean Tapestry Studio

Margaret Rawlinson is currently studying at the Lycée Professionnel Jean Jaures in Aubusson, France on the CAP Art du tapis et de la tapisserie de lisse formation. The course, which has 10 students, is designed to develop an individual’s skill in tapestry weaving and to prepare them for potential employment in a professional tapestry workshop. As part of the professional practice element of the course, Margaret was required to find a placement in a working tapestry studio. Margaret contacted West Dean to see if it was possible to spend a month working within the professional studio on a project of her own. This provided an excellent opportunity for everyone to share knowledge and ideas, as well as learning about the techniques and practices employed by different studios.

Margaret briefly reflects on her visit to West Dean below:

‘Don’t panic’, was the first thing that sprang to mind, ‘I’m only here to weave’. Which is the reason why a 51-year old, living and working in France, came to stay at West Dean College for just under a month. It is as part of my professional weaving studies on a low warp loom at the Lycée Jean Jaurès in Aubusson, France, a UNESCO heritage site. It was my choice to spend my placement here at West Dean College in the professional Tapestry Studio. The reasons being no available places for all ten of the students on placement in and around Aubusson, and the decline of the large manufacturers of Tapestries in Aubusson as a whole, once one of the main centres of weaving dating from the 1300’s and probably beyond. My background is varied, but too much time was spent working in electronic factories before I left the UK. After nine years of running my own business in France, and then domestic cleaning work, the old knees were starting to play up. I saw a poster at the local unemployment office advertising a years course to be a weaver, I had to fight for a position on the ten person course, French not being my first language. If I passed most of my nine exams, I could attain a certificate to say that I was competent weaver, even as we know it takes about seven years of weaving before you are acknowledged as a weaver in Aubusson. It has been a one-off experience being here at West Dean. I have learnt much more than I had first envisaged, not just in weaving terms and techniques, but the contacts that I have made and the shared knowledge that people have freely donated. I had the good fortune to take two extra courses generously donated by the family of Joyce Mary Harding. It has helped to loosen up my mind to the approach to art and its construction, and the mysterious world of the high warp looms favoured by many weavers. It was a clever course, run by Pat Taylor, which I enjoyed very much. I leave this college in the knowledge that I will continue to weave, not just to retrain to help find a job, but to weave for the sheer joy and the buzz that it gives me and, as I have found out, many others too. I thank Alison Baxter for organising all the background details of the stay and the additional courses, as well as Philip Sanderson and Katherine Swailes for their time and humour. My stay here has far excelled my brief. Thank you.