Weaving Project at Calverley Old Hall

Agnis Smallwood

From my first visit to Calverley Old Hall, I was instantly intrigued by the many different spaces, structures, blocked off doorways, materials, textures and colours that can be found everywhere. There was so much to see and understand visually, which was then matched with learning about the complex history of the site. 

Calverley Old Hall weaving 1a and 1b.jpgThe derelict walls of Calverley Old Hall.

My name is Agnis Smallwood and I am a Designer, Maker, Researcher and Educator specialising in weaving. I live in Leeds and work across Yorkshire. I am passionate about creating opportunities which enable participants to explore traditional craft techniques like weaving for themselves. 

The weaving project which I developed and designed with The Landmark Trust has taken inspiration from Calverley Old Hall. This resulted in a project that has encouraged local participants to come and learn more about the building as well as design and then ultimately weave a series of wall hangings, that will go on permanent display within the new community room which will be a dedicated space for the community of Calverley to use. 

This project began in 2020 with a series of mini workshops where participants were able to tour the site, visit the solar, the great hall and the chapel. We were looking out for things that inspired us and could ultimately inspire some small individual weaving samples. These taster workshops informed the direction that this larger community weaving project would become. 

In Autumn 2022, six design groups joined myself and Hannah, the Project Engagement Officer for Calverley Old Hall, at the site to have a hard hat tour or look through photos. We also had the opportunity to look at some of the archeology discovered which included old wooden bobbins still with yarn wrapped around them! Through a series of different activities, each group carefully considered what elements of the physical buildings and its history they wished to convey through their design and how this could be translated through the weave structure and the colours chosen. 

Calverley Old Hall weaving blog Image 6  600 x 400.jpgCalverley Old Hall brickwork and subsequent design inspiration.

One of the design groups involved were a local group called Sew Together and in their own words this was what they wanted to capture of Calverley Old Hall: "From the vibrant colours in the kingfisher wallpaper to the orange brickwork, the old worn building is looking forward to a bright future. Light to dark tones of green merge their way from the outside to the inside of the stonework."

Calverley Old Hall weaving blog Image 2 600 x 400.jpgA weaving design in progress on a traditional loom.

Each of the six design groups left the weavers some notes about what had inspired them as well as some guidance about the yarns they wished to be used within each piece. This information as well as the looms were then set up within the Weaving Shed at Sunny Bank Mills, in neighbouring Farsley. 

Calverley Old Hall weaving 3 and 4.jpgThe workshop and guidance information at Sunny Bank Mills.

Over the course of two weeks, 20 workshops with over 100 participants came to contribute to the project. This included the initial six design groups, local residents, community members and local art and craft groups in Calverley and Farsley including, Millside Community Centre in Bradford, Cactus Crew members, Leeds U3A, Archive Volunteers from Sunny Bank Mills, and students from both the Leeds and Bradford campuses of Pinc College. 

Each weaving session began with an introduction to Calverley Old Hall and how to use the looms. No set amount of weaving had to be produced, rather, each piece grew organically on the looms as different participants contributed their woven section. All contributions have been valued equally and ultimately six long pieces of fabric created. In total, 126 people were involved in this project, with the majority never having used a loom or woven before. Each person who has contributed will be represented through a wrapped circular disc, reflecting the makers marks found on the timber in the solar at Calverley Old Hall.  

Calverley Old Hall weaving 5.jpgTwo circular makers marks found in the timber.

This project has been a joyful reminder, after the previous challenging years for us all, of what can be achieved when people come together around a creative project and work on an outcome together. Everyone will be able to view the wall hangings in person in Spring 2024 when the work will be installed in the community room. I can’t wait until each individual is able to find their own personal contribution and see how they join within the hangings as a whole. The wall hangings will be able to be viewed and enjoyed by visitors within the space for years to come. 


Photos © Agnis Smallwood