Part Four Contextual Studies, Project 1, Stage 2 – An in-depth study

For this stage of the project I need to extend my research into my choice of one of the designers on the list. I have chosen Ethel Mairet for a number of reasons.

  1. I am ashamed to say that I knew little about her when I started this project. This is probably due to me mainly being an embroiderer and never having been very interested in weaving before starting with the OCA.
  2. I am becoming quite interested lately in natural dye processes. I have not yet found time to investigate this but it is something I would like to learn more about.
  3. During the first stage of this project I found out that having lived and worked at Chipping Camden (Not far from my Grandparents former home in Chipping Norton) she moved to Ditchling (Not far from my Mother’s home in East Sussex) and set up her weaving business there.
  4. I share the love of some of her influences; namely eastern textiles such as those found in India. As well as William Morris who she seems to quote regularly in her correspondence.

My first task was to find some or any books relating to her as I needed to extend my research beyond the internet. this proved impossible via my local libraries so after a call out to fellow students on the OCA textiles Facebook group I was directed towards the library at the UCA in Farnham. I had no idea that as an affiliated college we could join this valuable resource! I spent a good few hours researching in the library and managed to find and borrow a copy of ‘A weavers Life’ by Margot Coatts which I found very useful amongst some other more general books on the Arts & Crafts movement and weaving.

I then took a trip to the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham who house a collection of Ethel Mairet’s work and source material. I had found that had a lot of images of this collection on their reference site. I spent some time looking at one of her ‘travel logs’ from a trip to Yugoslavia. It was a fascinating insight into  the country at that time, as well as detailing some of the items she collected there. I also bought a postcard which shows a hand-woven textile piece that she collected from Bengal. It is part of the ‘Ethel Mairet Source Collection’ held at the centre.

With some more research on the internet I was armed with a reasonable starting point for the essay!

Ethel Mairet 1872 – 1952

Ethel Mairet is described in our course material as “A pioneer in the revival of hand-loom weaving and vegetable dyeing”. She is remembered as a teacher and prolific author of books on weaving and dyeing who revived then inspired others in traditional weaving and dyeing techniques as well as inspiring innovation in weaving in her pupils.

Ethel Mary Partridge was born in Barnstable Devon in 1872. Her father was a dispensing chemist. She had a younger brother and sister called Frederick James and Maud respectively. Barnstable at the time was becoming a centre for the Arts & Crafts movement with several artists working locally. There is some evidence that she showed an artistic flair at a young age; “The fragmentary evidence shows that Ethel Mary received a prize at Barnstable School of Art in 1891” (Margot Coatts 1983:11). Her brother Frederick James also showed artistic talent and became a successful silver smith eventually becoming part of the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Campden.

Ethel taught art and during the 1890’s studied the piano forte and was awarded a Royal academy of Music teacher’s diploma in 1899. She became a governess in London then in Bonn in Germany.

By 1902 she had returned to England and had met her first Husband Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy whilst fossil hunting. He was a geologist and botanist and they were married in June 1902. In 1903 they travelled to Ceylon where he was to carry out a survey of the islands minerals. Whilst in Ceylon Ethel taught embroidery and researched and studied the country’s traditional stitches. She also became interested in the woven cloth used as a background for the embroidery. It was here that an in depth interest in indigenous art and craft began and the couple undertook detailed research on local village art and craft traditions which was published under Mr Coomaraswamy’s name on their return to England. Over the next few years many articles and papers were written by the Coomaraswamys about traditional arts, crafts and dress. Ethel herself also wrote articles for The Dress Review including ones on vegetable dyeing and embroidery.

On their return to England in 1907 they moved into the Norman Chapel in Broad Campden. It had been recently renovated in part by draftsman Philip Mairet; with his employer and the Coomaraswamys’ friend C R Ashbee. Ethel began experimenting with dyeing and weaving during this period and they began to publish their own pamphlets and books on their studies. During a trip to India in 1910 – 11 Ananda Coomaraswamy decided to live permanently in India and the marriage was over. The chapel was sold and Ethel moved to a bungalow that was built for her, probably to her design as bungalows were not common in England at this time. Broadleys at Saunton Sands, was again drafted by Philip Mairet under her instruction and it was him she would later marry in May 1913.

She lived at Broadleys for around a year and kept it as a holiday home for her family to use until 1931. In the winter of 1912/13 she found The Thatched House in Shottery near Stratford upon Avon which had previously been run as a tapestry studio, and set up her first weaving workshop. It is likely that the looms were in place already.

“Apart from some rudimentary lessons in Ceylon and the British Isles, Ethel Mairet              was self-taught as a weaver, spinner and dyer. Her knowledge of technique was                    elementary, but her sense of colour and yarn quality were reasonably highly                          developed thanks to her experience in embroidery and her critical eye.” (Coatts,                    1983:41)

Eventually she employed several assistants and apprentices at Shottery, Being in favour of the apprentice system rather than the Guild ideal which was becoming more popular. Some of her apprentices later went on to start their own workshops and to train others.

The Mairets made their first trip to Ditchling in 1916 “With its strong overtones of the old guild of handicraft days, this was the kind of society which the Mairets would have wished to join and it was Philip Mairet’s good fortune to be offered a job on Pepler’s farm.” (Coatts 1983:46).

Gospels in Ditchling was designed and built to house the Mairets and the weaving and dyeing rooms. It was completed in late 1920. Again Ethel employed many apprentices and assistants with the aim of expanding and passing on the knowledge of traditional weaving and dyeing which were both crafts that had all but died out in England prior to this renaissance.

From 1926 Ethel Mairet started to teach short courses at Ditchling on natural dyeing which she called ‘Dye weeks’ and she added to the Gospels’ equipment and looms as and when others came up. Some were purchased from the Haslemere weaving studios. The style of weaving at Gospels was simple and materials led. Her fabrics were influenced by the yarns she was using rather than a pre-planned design and items were sold through private galleries and selling exhibitions.

Ethel continued to travel and visited many countries including Yugoslavia, Finland and Denmark where she collected and purchased items to sell in England. These trips undoubtedly influenced the work at Gospels as well, and several European weavers worked at the workshop each leaving their mark. One such weaver and a firm favourite of Ethel’s was Marianne Straub.

Marianne Straub was a Swiss designer born in 1909, who had studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich and Bradford Technical College. She briefly worked at Gospels and remained friendly with Ethel from then on. She travelled with Ethel to Europe and introduced Ethel to an array of European designers and weavers including those of the Bauhaus. Marianne Straub eventually became a consultant designer for the Rural Industries Bureau in Wales and head designer at Helios. “In 1951 Straub was actively involved in the festival of Britain and provided fabrics for the regatta restaurant, at the festival’s South Bank site in London.” (University of Brighton, 2012) She taught in later life at many UK art colleges. She also published a book: Hand weaving and Cloth Design in 1977.

In 1930 the Mairets’ marriage ended when Philip set up home with a former business contact, Mrs Norsworthy and Ethel focussed on exhibiting and selling the workshop’s work via small galleries and exhibitions in London and other areas. She ran a small shop in Brighton between 1935 and 1945 where she sold small items often purchased from abroad to sell on. She also continued to write and teach. Between 1931 and 1949 she published several books: There were nine editions of the dye book in total, Hand Weaving Today, Hand-Weaving and education and Hand-Weaving Notes For Teachers. She also continued the short courses at Gospels.

The war curtailed production at the workshop due to a lack of materials. She had very few weavers working there and sadly the decline was never reversed. She did however continue to take on apprentices, the last one being Peter Collingwood OBE. ”He thought she had accepted him as a pupil because she was intrigued that a man wanted to weave, even though she once called him “the dullest man I have ever met”.” (Hardwick, 2008) Peter Collingwood was born in 1922 and had begun working with Ethel Mairet after his time in National Service where he had originally learnt to weave. He was at Ditchling for six months before moving on to work for Barbara Sawyer and Alastair Morton then working in his own right producing innovative and exciting experimental weaving methods. He also wrote five books, carrying on the tradition of passing on knowledge to the following generations.

Ethel died in 1952 aged 80 leaving a great educational legacy and a large collection of source material for future textile artists.


Coatts, Margot (1983) A Weaver’s Life Ethel Mairet 1872 – 1952. London: Crafts Council

Hardwick, Roger (2008) ‘Peter Collingwood and innovative master weaver, author and teacher with a global reputation’ In: the Guardian [Online] At:

University of Brighton 2012 ‘Dr Marianne Straub’ In: University of Brighton [online] at:


All At:


About Julie Hooker

Having recently returned to my roots in Surrey, I am currently studying a BA Hons degree with the OCA. My work is often inspired by the local countryside in the beautiful Surrey Hills area and the wild rugged nature of the North Cornish coast. Steam engines and abandoned industrial history are also recent themes. A free machine embroiderer and felt maker; I like to explore the use of natural, found materials to create my art, whether that be as raw materials to stitch or weave with or as a material with which to produce dye or print with. Previously, I completed City and Guilds parts 1 & 2 Creative Embroidery at the East Berkshire College in Windsor in 2007. I was also awarded first place in the wearable art section of the National Quilt Championships 2008 and 2009 held annually at Sandown Park.
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