Woolacombe Weavers – 1938 North Devon Journal

The girl weavers of Woolacombe find their craft slimming.

 “Weaving exercises so many muscles,” explained grey-eyed brunette Miss R. Woollan. 

“You are always moving legs and arms. Glade here almost fades away when we are working at full winter pressure.” 

She had nodded at her partner, Eton-cropped, curly haired Miss Glade. The partners met at Reading University. The speaker was studying design there, hoping later to take a job in London; Miss Glade was doing craft work. When the latter went to Woolacombe, Miss Woollan joined her for  holidays. That was ten years ago, she stayed to become partner in the little weaving business that her friend had just opened.

Now the friends run their own little bungalow. Together they plan the budgeting, Miss Glade gardens while her friend rides on the golden sands for that is Miss Woollan’s chief hobby. From June until September they open their little shop, doing their weaving in the early mornings and evenings. When Woolacombe’s population shrinks from several thousand to something like 800 they give the whole of their time to work in their bungalow studio.

Miss Woollan is the “dressmaker.” She fashions skirts and designs colour schemes as well. Jumpers are knitted to match these skirts. Four or five local girls knit for the partners, and some of the work is sent as far afield as Yorkshire. Several knitters work without patterns. Miss Woollan sends them a sketch; back comes the complete jumper days later.

People are no longer content to go forth in shapeless tweeds and woollens, I learned from Miss Woollan. “Tweeds are sent away for pressing and shrinking, because the modern wearer will not tolerate skits that go baggy.” She told me. “ There are some women of course, who insist on buying their tweed just as it comes from the loom. They like the smell of it, but three weeks wear shows their folly. 

It soon loses all shape.” Riding coats and house coats, these are popular new ideas with the buyers of hand woven tweeds.  “The things people demanded ten years ago they would not look at today,” stressed Miss Woollan. 

“Women have a far better sense of colour and design now.”

She is no advocate of vegetable dyes. “ We have tried them, but it is impossible to repeat dyes exactly, and people dislike buying something and finding they cannot match it later on,” she continued. “ We use ordinary wool for our weaving and Scottish oil thread for the weft (cross thread).

Local girls are slow to take interest in weaving. It was the only women’s craft I could discover in Woolacombe. Why I imagined you’d have long waiting lists of would be students,” I exclaimed incredulously. Miss Glade smiled. “People here live for the summer visitors,” she told me. “When the season closes, they want a rest and a holiday. After the New Year, they ‘spring clean’ against the next summer.

Even the weavers forgo summer holidays for the visitors sake. They usually manage a few days at Christmas, they told me in contended chorus. Then they tour the country in their baby car. “ We never miss the British Industries Fair of course, “ they added. That is where they find new ideas for the next season.

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