The Quest For an Heirloom

Pamela Magee is a weaver who understands the value of authenticity, has a driving passion, and the technical expertise to craft beautiful wool and cotton heirloom blankets. I was fortunate enough to speak to Pamela recently when she explained how she set up her bespoke textile company in a remote corner of British Columbia and shared some of her hopes for the future.


 

A chance encounter on the Costa Del Sol, Spain, between a retired Yorkshire weaver and a pharmacist from the Sunshine Coast, seems an unlikely starting point for a relationship that has blossomed into a unique friendship centred around a quest and a craft. Meeting Howard Winpenny, a retired weaving sampler and loom mechanic, enabled Pamela Magee to carry out her search for unwanted and abandoned European looms. 

The studio and hand looms she had previously encountered had limitations and were slow and tedious so she was drawn to the history and romance of these ancient beasts. Together they searched the length and breadth of the British Isles until they finally located an abandoned Charlesworth loom built in 1905 and a Dobcross Loom from 1936. They were disused and in pieces but this was to be a labour of love and preparations were made for these machines to be shipped across the world where Magee and Winpenny nursed them to a fine working standard. “ It was a combination of my admiration for archaic technical invention and the steampunk magic of watching thread made into cloth by a massive machine. I watched the loom and fell in love,” said Magee. They are not fast and have their restrictions but these workhorses are now maintained by annual visits from Winpenny and by Magee herself who served as his apprentice.The looms are part of Magee’s industrial loom collection, housed in her cavernous studio workshop in Roberts Creek.

 Magee works alone on her blankets using ethically sourced, ringspun, unbleached and dyed organic cotton from a farmer’s cooperative in Texas and British lamb’s wool spun and twisted in the heart of Yorkshire mill country to create heirloom blankets with the perfect combination of warmth and softness.There is an elegance to the looms and the blankets that are crafted on them, the high quality is evident by their selvedge edge. The patterns are traditional herringbone and twill but the combinations of colour and thread are infinite, creating variations by contrasting warps and weft or a two colour weft. 

 The colours of the fibres Magee uses in her work come from nature but are  most importantly, true to the history of the looms. The looms were originally used for tartans so the colours found in her blankets echo the rural areas where the designs originated. Perhaps the oranges, charcoal and blues of the Sunshine Coast could inspire her to create a Roberts Creek tartan, she said with a wry smile .

Currently Magee is working on a project with  Emily Carr University of Art and Design to create a Field School that would enable six students to achieve a ‘weaving ticket’, understand weaving designs and create contemporary textile patterns and Magee will naturally assist with the execution to create their blankets using her industrial looms. In this way Magee is able to share her expertise with the fashion industry passing on the baton to a new generation. Magee would like to see  a Canadian textile company that produces no pollution in its manufacturing, offers a decent living wage and can at the same time reclaim its corner in the fashion industry. This certainly would be an enduring legacy that along with her heirloom blankets could last many lifetimes.

Macgee Cloth Company, Hanbury Road, Roberts Creek is open Sundays 1 till 4.

For more information visit macgeecloth.com.