Sitting in Holly Berry’s home come loft studio on Morocco Street near Borough Market is like being on a film set. The bare brick walls are hung with colourful prints and sketches, old biscuit tins are piled up on cluttered shelves, no doubt filled with all kinds of vintage treasures. The room is dominated by her two hand looms – one is a working antique that she inherited from a museum. Her main loom sits atop a large circular table and is threaded with an acid spectrum of coral, burnt orange, magenta, turquoise, violet and pale grey yarns. When I visit, it has three part-woven scarves on it, lying taught and proud, and looking absolutely stunning. We sit with the huge barn-style windows wide open, surrounded by tins of bright cotton reels, rustic leather-bound swatch books, guides to UK sheep breeds and overspilling baskets of wool so soft you could use them as pillows. I never want to leave.
Holly hand weaves blankets, scarves, shawls and wraps using high quality yarns. She only went into production with her luxury blankets a year ago, but they are now stocked in Liberty London. She’s not shy about telling me that it’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to her. Oh and if that wasn’t stupendous enough, she’s about to open a craft cafe in New Cross Gate. LULR has a crush.
How did you become a weaver?
Before I learnt to weave I was accepted onto a masters in design studies at St Martin’s College, which was multi-disciplinary. I was planning to focus on sustainability, which is what my background is in, but I couldn’t weave on the course, so I used the funds I saved to go into production instead. I learnt to weave a few years ago, using traditional practices, then last year did a residency in the Shetlands, where I learnt more about the historic craft.
Where are your blankets produced?
I have everything made in the UK by British mills. I’m working with a mill in Scotland at the moment. But there’s also one in Lancashire and one in Wales that I want to work with. I love being able to promote traditional UK manufacturing with the work I do.
What are you obsessed with at the moment?
I can’t stop reading about sheep farming! I’ve met a man at the British Wool Board who is letting me choose a sheep breed that he will find and then turn its wool into a cone of yarn for me. One day, I’d love to get my own sheep herd and produce something from their wool. I want to do it in London, by buying an old car park and turning it into a farm. There are so many sites where people have started building and haven’t had the money to continue. I’d love to buy a bit of land and have a farm on it, and start making my own London cloth.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Most of my inspiration comes from rural areas. Every year I go to a coastal town called Ullapool in Scotland with my mum, and I love all the natural colours and textures up there, like lichens on stone. Next year, I’ll have three different ranges using 100% British wool. One will be a menswear range of scarves, which will have a mainly red and grey palate, and for this I was inspired by the Shetlands. The landscape is very bleak but every now and then it’s punctuated with these strong dashes of red from a phone box, a post box or a cattle grid. They are like lifelines after miles of nothing.
Do you feel there is a large crafting community in London?
I do. Eighteen months ago I started a programme with the Crafts Council called Hot House, where they bring together emerging makers, and we’ve all really stuck together. We’re putting on an exhibition together for Design Week in Ealing. Even just around the area I live, there’s the patchworker on the other side of the park, and a rug maker who lives below her. There are so many craft shops on Bermondsey Street selling hand made stuff. It’s a very supportive world. All the weavers I’ve met share their contacts and their suppliers, which would rarely happen in other trades. It’s a small industry, so I guess the bigger it gets the better we’ll all do.
How did Liberty come to stock you?
Every year Liberty does an open call for new designers, so I approached them and had to do a three-minute pitch. It went really well. When I applied to do the Hot House course, you had to write down what your crazy ambition would be, and mine was being stocked in Liberty – I’m still in shock.
Why would you rather be based in London that in the countryside, where your craft originates?
It’s a fine balance with me. I’m from Yorkshire and I go to Scotland a lot, so I have my rural retreats. I find my imagination really comes to life in the countryside and I’m hit with inspiration all the time. But I feel so much more excited in London. There are so many things to interact with, and I think by being here it’s easier to make my dreams and ambitions to come true.
Talk to us about the craft cafe
It’s a joint project between me and my boyfriend and it’s going to be called The Cottage. We’re a cottage industry, and when we were coming up with the idea we were we really inspired by Andy Warhol and his 1960s Factory as an iconic place where artists met and made work. We wanted to create something similar, but without the dark undertones that the Factory had. So we thought about what the opposite to factory is, and came up with The Cottage.
My boyfriend is a designer and furniture maker, so we wanted somewhere that we could showcase our work, without it being intimidating or snobbish. We’re going to sell coffee and grow carrots, courgettes and beetroot to make cakes with. It’s going to be a space where people can come and hang out, work and also see how we work, so we can educate in a non-patronising way about the craft of making and manufacturing using British materials.
Tell us a secret
All my blankets have secret messages woven into them using Morse code – this one I’m holding says love.
Watch this space for an exclusive look round The Cottage before it opens later this year.