Last month, weaver Estelle Bourdet upped sticks from her home in Kalmar on the Swedish coast to start a new life in the wilds of Jostedal, Norway with her partner Sebastian, a glacier guide and beekeeper. “We are now living in a little red house that Sebastian renovated,” says Estelle. “It’s in a valley close to some big glaciers and above the Sognefjord, which is Norway’s longest fjord.”
It’s a striking and endlessly inspiring landscape for the maker, who has forged a career creating one-off pieces from discarded materials – dyeing and weaving vibrant woven wall hangings, rugs and bags from vintage bed sheets, found fabrics and old climbing rope. “I’ve been collecting textiles and yarns since childhood,” she says of her long-held magpie tendencies. “I was drawn to weaving by hand because I found something that allows me to merge and assemble all kinds of memories with these collected materials. It’s a way of materialising and extending them into objects.”
Her new studio is a 30 minute cycle from her home, and is filled with tools and materials for making: shelves filled with colourful fabrics; vats for dyeing; vibrant spools of fabric and great snakes of climbing ropes awaiting their next use – a series of large rugs that use them as the weft. In pride of place sit her two precious floor looms and her green Swiss Bernina sewing machine. “They are trustful companions!”
For TOAST, Estelle has cherry-picked a trio of her favourite pieces. Firstly a modern bag, crafted from a single panel, hand-woven from rope, cotton threads and repurposed cotton rags. It’s then finished with a carabiner clip that opens to an internal drawstring cotton pouch. “I work in series,” explains Estelle, “which means that I’m making five to eight pieces in a row, as it is very time consuming to put up the warp threads on the loom. From a thread bobbin and a pile of rope to a finished bag with the cotton insert, would take me approximately two days.”
Also in her TOAST collection are two bold, intricately textured wall hangings, both made with repurposed climbing ropes woven with cotton and linen. “I like their chunkiness, their colour combinations and their size. They have their own character and look, they're almost like little creatures.” Climbing rope has become a core material for the artist. It has a ten year lifespan due to the fact that the polyamide fibres they are made from break down slowly over time. Most brands recommend rope retirement after a decade, even if it has never been used. By virtue of the sheer amount of rope in circulation and a number of mountaineering friends, she has a constant supply.
The nature of weaving means it is as much a physical labour as it is an art form. “I weave standing up so it can be tiring for my body. That’s why exercising and moving is also important to my practice, to keep up with the rhythm,” she explains. “I need to have a strong body to be able to stand behind the loom for several hours. We sometimes tend to forget that weaving can be a physically demanding craft – artisans are strong!”
Estelle is set for a busy summer as she juggles the crafting of her TOAST pieces with a series of weavings that will be shown at the Swiss Design Award in June, within the finalists’ exhibition. She’s also taking part in an exhibition project titled Women Design and Textile Design, which will be displayed at the Centre de design de l'UQÀM, in Montreal, Canada.
In the year to come, she has her eye set on taking the alchemy of hand dyeing further. “In 2021, I studied ecological gardening at Capellagården in Sweden,” she recalls., “My final project there was about natural dyeing. I made a colour archive of around 14 plants and the diverse nuances they could give. My vision is to one day grow my own pigments, experiment with them and continue that archive.”
The importance of reusing what others have discarded is front and centre of her mind. “I really enjoy collecting materials that have already been used for the wefts of my weavings. There are so many fabrics and objects that we throw away or see as obsolete – why not use them instead of new materials? It’s inspiring to think that I can give them a new purpose, it feels logical to me.”
In the meantime, Estelle is enveloping herself in her new surroundings. “This summer my plan is to enjoy some quality time with Sebastian and some friends here in these beautiful surroundings, outdoors in the mountains. And, of course, to weave.”
Interview by Vishaka Robinson.
Photographs by Suzie Howell, Emmi Roosling and courtesy of Estelle Bourdet.
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