In her South London studio, textile artist Catarina Riccabona shares her journey to weaving, her sustainability philosophy and looking beyond colour to fabric structure. Her sunlit studio is largely taken up by her loom and there are shelves above the door full of cardboard boxes, containing the vast collection of vintage and hand dyed yarns that she has gathered throughout her years of making. During our conversation, Catarina is working on a bespoke commission of four wall panels.
What was your route into weaving?
It’s a second career for me, before I moved to London I did translation back in Austria. All I wanted to do was change from an office based job to standing up, using my hands and being more playful and creative. I studied BA Textile Design at Central Saint Martins and it was such an education. Once I found textiles, I was drawn to weaving in particular.
How do you go about planning a work?
It’s very spontaneous so it’s difficult to give a satisfying answer. I don’t really sketch, I don’t like the medium. I do sometimes work out proportions with pencil and paper but only if I’m already in an idea and I want to make sure that it works. For throws in particular, I’m confident enough to do it in my imagination. I’m more relaxed about the composition for throws as they are designed to be folded or draped over a bed, it’s different to a flat design, like a wall hanging, where the composition must be much more precise. For colour, I just pull out yarns and they are like my paint box.
Where do you look for colour combinations to create palettes?
I go through the world and as soon as I notice a combination anywhere, I’ll take a photo for reference. This acts as a starting point but because I don’t buy yarns in specific colours I will work out a pleasing combination based on that idea using what I already have. I’ve always been drawn to natural palettes, especially with linen and hemp. I work with colour by just arranging, looking, adding and taking away yarns until eventually I have a line up of spools along my windowsill and I’m ready to start. If it’s a commission, I might have a starting point such as a specific range of colours or it might be based on an existing piece.
Are each of your pieces one of a kind?
Yes they are. I have made pairs or limited editions but I see them as a family, they have an alikeness but they are also standalone pieces. This is partly for practical reasons because I use vintage and waste yarns, so they are not always repeatable. It’s also the beauty of hand weaving in that I have total freedom and I love that if I run out of yarn I can just stop and make more. In production weaving, everything is already calculated in quantities that I find very daunting - you have yarns in tonnes - I prefer the human scale, I like when I can still relate to it.
You have built up a collection of yarn, where have you found them?
For the weft, I use a mix of vintage, waste and naturally dyed yarns. I get my naturally dyed yarns from independent suppliers who not only dye all the yarns by hand but grow and forage the plants that are used to dye with. Collecting vintage yarns started with my family. One of my grandmothers was really known as the knitter in the family, she had knitted a jumper for everyone. When she passed away, she had an enormous stash of yarn for an amateur knitter that I brought over to London. When I briefly lived in Luxembourg, people knew I was weaving and would just bring me yarn. One woman gave me so much from herself and her mother who had passed, from a barn packed with big plastic rubbish bags full of yarn - I’d never seen anything like it! I’ve still got some of it but have woven through much of it. That was just luck.
Environmental responsibility is very important to you, how does this impact your work?
I feel that if I want to base my entire life on an activity, I want to be proud of it. In the beginning people bought my work because they liked my aesthetic, it was not about my philosophy, but now as people look for better options I see that it’s both.
In my throws, all of my warps are completely undyed, whether natural hemp or the fleece colour of alpaca, so immediately 50% of the piece already has very good credentials. Then the weft is low impact as well because the yarns are second hand, plant dyed or recycled. With wall hangings, I sometimes have to use raffia or paper that has been industrially dyed, however I know that I’m making something that fully biodegrades. There are always problems to solve but the key is to keep informed and always seek better solutions.
I also reuse so much. You can’t weave right to the very end of the warp, so you usually have about a meter of waste yarn which is cut off. I never throw those pieces away, whether fabric or paper yarn, everything gets recycled. I reuse it in the weft, which also explains the knots that often appear in my work. They are from the process of reintegrating waste back into the work.
Are you inspired by any other artists or weavers?
I mean the obvious one is probably Anni Albers, who is a famous Bauhaus weaver. I came across her while I was studying and at the time there were very few images available to me of her work and any that I found were black and white. So my first contact with her wasn’t actually inspiring visually but was more her writing. She has two famous books ‘On Weaving’ and ‘On Designing’, and I liked her systematic approach. One expression really stuck with me where she says that if you’re a weaver and you’re true to your medium, you can play with colour but you can paint if you play with colour - if you’re a weaver you must understand the actual structure and work with the structure of the fabric. I do think about the weave structure and how various structures together can look interesting or become impactful. For me, it is this endless play that is at the heart of why I do it.
Explore works by Catarina Riccabona below and enquire for bespoke commissions by emailing [email protected].