March 2017

April 5, 2017

In January and early February I went on a textile trip to Laos. This is the continuing report on that trip from last month. For this report, I continue to discuss the textiles that we came across based on the areas that we visited. Last month I began with Phonsavan.

Textiles in the Luang Prabang area.

Luang Prabang, the northern capital of Laos is a hub for textiles. Local and more distant ethnic groups sell their wares here in markets, villages and galleries/shops. In addition both traditional cloth both new and old as well as more contemporary designs can be found.



The Hmong are known for their wonderful batik textiles in combination with applique and embroidery. We braved a local village where we saw women and young girls stitching. These are very high powered saleswomen.

Ock Pop Tok. They have both a gallery and a “Living Crafts Centre”. Both display contemporary textiles. The Living Craft Centre also has information on textile production including silk production and natural dyes. There are also weavers and batik dyers producing product for the gallery. The following images show yarn and batik drying, and some contemporary weaving.

In addition there are facilities for people to attend a workshop. I took advantage of weaving a supplementary weft recipe. I did not need to pick up the pattern nor thread the loom. Yes, all I had to do was decide what colour weft threads I wanted to use and weave for a couple of hours


Weavers use the long box loom with a vertical storage unit. String loops are used to store the patterns. The stored pattern is transferred to behind the shafts and put back on a sword to select the pattern for the supplementary weft designs. Many string loops can be used to store very complicated patterns. My pattern only used 40 loops. Several hundred loops can be used in a complicated pattern.


One doesn’t need language to communicate with weaving. That’s my completed weaving hot off the loom.

And a closer look.


In addition to the pattern being used as a single supplementary weft it may also be used as a discontinuous supplementary weft for brocade.

On my last trip to Laos and Thailand in 2015 I fully documented how these looms worked.

There are several places that sell textiles. There are local markets of course but here are some shops/galleries/organisations that impressed me.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum have some great displays of various aspects of textile production and a shop selling textiles.


Gallery Asiama is run by Linda Mackintosh and exhibits traditional cloth. As well as having many beautiful old textiles, there were a couple of “funery wraps”. These wraps are quite different to anything else I had seen from a weaving structure perspective either on this trip or the previous one. I was told that the technique is no longer being done and were produced in NE Laos and NW Vietnam.


The technique is either two tie woven as “bricks” or three tie to achieve several colour areas. I saw both examples. The designs were large in scale. These were also found in another gallery exhibiting antique silverware and textiles where they were referred to as “banners”.

Ma Teˊ Sai is run by an Australian who supports weaving in the villages and sells in her gallery. While the techniques are traditional her designs and applications are for the western taste.

Caruso Lao is a gallery selling contemporary Lao textiles, wood carving and turning and silver smithing.

Textiles in Pakse and Boloven Plateau


In a village just outside of Pakse we saw mat mi or weft ikat being woven. They used a box loom with only 2 shafts for plain weave fabric. The vertical storage is not used here.


An ethnic village has been set up outside of Pakse that is aimed at the tourists wishing for an overview of traditional crafts from the Atapu region. Each area was represented by a house with representatives from that area often demonstrating or selling their crafts.

There were various warp faced textiles for sale which were woven on back strap looms. Some of these included that woven by the Katu. I loved the warp faced stripe combinations.


A Katu village. The weavers here use beads on the weft. The yarn may be naturally dyed cotton however I also saw some commercially dyed in brighter colours. Sometimes synthetic yarn is also used.

The process for weaving with beads on the weft.


As well as many older women, I was delighted to see this young girl weaving with beads. While her design is simpler, the basic technique can be seen. The back strap loom is set up with as a combination of warp stripes to create an overall pattern and to enhance the pattern of the beads. There is only one weft thread. This has many beads threaded on it. The shuttle is to the left.


When the beads are required they are counted off and woven in the approximate position. The weft is beaten.


Then the beads are placed in the correct position according to the pattern before being beaten into place.

Here’s a movie of the full process.


The Dream Home supports women who were victims of human trafficking.

20 (600 x 400)

Pakse Souveni had some exquisite mat mi.

Textiles along the Mekong River south of Pakse.

We saw no weaving being done. In fact there was very little weaving being worn. Life here revolves around farming and fishing. Of note we did see some fishing nets and baskets being made; all useful for this lifestyle.

Textiles in Savannaket area

Laha Nam Village produces mat mi in natural dyes. We participated in a dyeing workshop here.


The ethnic minority group of the Phu Tai originally came from northern Vietnam. They brought indigo and cotton weaving to the area many generations ago. Around 1975 weaving and dyeing stopped because of competition from Thailand. In 1989 -90 when Laos reopened after the war, a government company was set up to encourage people to work again. The company is no longer working with the villagers and instead they have been encouraged to form cooperatives to weave and sell their produce.


Cotton is raised on the banks of the Mekong and processed in the village.

There are several cooperatives in this village and over 200 weavers. The one we visited has 22 weavers. Details of the dyeing workshop will follow in another blog.

Here’s some examples weaving that was produced.

We visited another mat mi village in this area. They were producing yardage of a standard size: 75 x 160cm. This was using commercially spun cotton/rayon on a synthetic warp. It was also typified by two weft rows of mat mi alternating with 2 rows of solid colour. The designs were quite contemporary. We bought in what appeared to be the communal shop where the weavers bought the yarn and then brought back finished product for sale probably to an established buyer.

Textiles in Vientiane Area

Carol Cassidy is a western entrepreneur working with the Laotian weavers to created contemporary designs based on tradition. I have visited Carol whenever I have been in Vientiane. As well as being the driving force behind the gallery and studio, she is also engaged as a consultant in Cambodia and Myanmar. She is very much aware of what is happening in textiles in Vientiane, nationally and in SE Asia. She employs several weavers on the gallery site.


Nikone has a gallery and usually an attached workshop. Unfortunately the weaving workshop was closed due to flooding. She has also developed a range of textiles for sale in Europe and Japan. It is exciting to see that her daughter is becoming involved in the business and catering towards the Lao wedding market. This fabric woven with an ondule or fan reed was one of the treasures I found in the gallery.


Phaeng Mai- gallery and weaving studio. There are some delightful contemporary woven fabrics in the gallery. It was great to return to Phaeng Mai where I had studied last year.


Magic Lao Carpets is the first and only carpet making business in Laos. The carpets are hand knotted and are stunning. As well as seeing the finished product, we were able to see all the stages that go into weaving them.


Each carpet is worked on by a team of young girls. They work from printed graphs.

The silk is hand knotted around the warp. Note the line to check the pattern. Then they are beaten in.


The pile is trimmed with shears regularly.

There are several other galleries. Mulberries, which I had visited in Phonsavan, also has a gallery in Vientiane.

Some interesting bits and pieces and overall impressions.


This is how convenient a loom can be to set up. A weaver arrives with the warp all threaded through the heddles. All that needs to be done to weave is to put it on the loom, attach treadles and suspend shafts.



Often the very long warps (up to 90 m) for the supplementary weft weaving is loosely coiled in a bag and suspended from the back of the loom. In this case the warp has been wound on a board. This will result in even tension across the full width of this loom. Note that this warp board is tied onto the loom and not permanently fixed.


Bamboo stretchers are usually used. They are placed under the weaving, out of the way. You can tell on this weaving how frequently it has been moved. They are very useful when weaving weft ikat to keep the ikat consistently aligned.

Textile production form a part of daily life. Looms are found under the houses. Here chickens roost on the loom with the most complicated mat mi.

Many communities that are close to the Thai border have been impacted by the death of the Thai king. This is a year of morning. This has affected the sale of textiles for use in ceremonies including weddings. The village of Laha Nam has had a major downturn in indigo mat mi production. It has also resulted in an upturn in entertainment offered on the Laos side of the border with weekend tourism increasing.

It is sometimes difficult to identify which ethnic group is producing which cloth. At one gallery we were told that it comes from “the north”. This may be because a middle man/woman is involved in buying the cloth or that they are directing villages into producing cloth of a particular style because it is popular and readily saleable.

The issue of copyright is seen as a major one by many galleries. The best galleries aim at staying one step ahead of the competition. There are no laws that protect copyright.

How prevalent is handwoven fabric in today’s society? In general daily life women are the only ones who wear traditional dress in the form of the sinh or skirt. Along one road, I surveyed how many women were wearing the sinh as opposed to western dress. In this instance it was about even. It does however depend on where one is. Remote villages are more likely to retain traditional cloth and certain ethnic groups seem to value it more than others. Areas where there are government or public jobs often require women to wear the sinh as a uniform. School uniforms require the sinh to be worn though it is a commercially woven version.


I thought this market we stopped at along the road between Savannaket and Vientiane provided an insight. On one side of the aisle was a shop selling western clothes while directly opposite was one selling the sinh.


The one area that still has high regard for traditional textiles and dress is the wedding industry. This will be the only time that men wear traditional dress. The cloth here exhibits a high standard of exclusiveness and workmanship.

We heard that the generation of Laos and International women who had dedicated their lives to promoting weaving either traditional or contemporary were approaching retirement with a lack of young blood coming through. This must impact on the future of weaving and textile production in Laos.




I saw these two panels in the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum. They reflect the diverse attitudes in ethnic minority groups as to the value of traditional textiles.

The government will play a vital role in the future of textiles. It was very evident that Laos is undergoing great development with financial partnerships with China, Thailand and Vietnam. This is creating new jobs which pay so much more than textile rates. The rate of growth was extremely evident in Vientiane with high rise buildings appearing and in the proliferation of petrol stations along major roads.

The issue of the survival of traditional crafts in contemporary society is not new. As Laos moves into this new era of economic growth and the impact of the popularity of western dress increases, I hope that the knowledge and skills of those working with textiles will continue to be appreciated and for them to have a place for their work.


Coming: I will document the stages of mat mi, the indigo dyeing workshop we participated in and eventually a report on the textile experience in Cambodia.




February 2017 Part 2

March 2, 2017

In this post, I separate what is going on in the studio and my trip to Laos and Cambodia. Both are so different that they deserve their own space.

Two days after my arrival home from the trip to Laos and Cambodia, I held another Linen and Lace workshop in the studio. Four weavers attended. We explore many lace weaves (Canvas weaves, Spot Bronson, Bronson Lace, Swedish Lace, Huck). Nine warps were woven off so they went home with quite a collection. The following are some images taken over the five days.



Four weavers with some of the warps being cut off.


Experimenting with finishing using a modified mangling process: glass bottles filled with cold water. A marble rolling pin on a tile or a piece of glass would be a preferred option.

Then two days later I had Joan, a weaver from Hawaii who combined a tourist trip to Australia with an opportunity to weave in my studio. She decided to explore weaving on a draw loom. But first, there was a minor problem. I had a warp on this loom. It had only been there for about nine months waiting for me to eventually get around to weaving it. There’s nothing like someone wanting to weave on a loom to get you to actually weave. This warp was designed to explore 4 shaft ground weaves. Using just 4 shafts how many basic structures can be woven? But before I show what I wove, I’ll outline the parameters that I’d set. The design was to be basically the same with only variation being in the frame in one corner. I wanted to have a fairly restricted design so that I didn’t spend too much time thinking and moving around pattern shafts (time was of the essence after all). Yet to prevent boredom I allowed myself a small restricted area to play in. You will see the overall standard design with variation.

How many structures can be done on 4 shafts? This many!


Let’s take a closer look. There’s a 1/3 and 3/1 combination. The direction of the twill line is the same.


There’s a 1/3 and 3/1 twill with opposite directions. This is a very common effect employed in 8 shaft twill blocks.


Instead of straight twills, how about warp and weft faced broken twills?


In the High Court judges’ robes I employed “network drafting” of warp faced straight twill with weft faced broken twill. Here I repeat the effect on a draw loom.


Moving away from twills, a three end lace weave is possible. This followed very nicely from the previous week’s Linen and Lace.


A standard 4 shaft straight threading can also be used for pick up Summer and Winter (2 tie unit weave).


And of course 4 shafts can also be used for doubleweave. Normally the sett would be twice as dense and alternate colours would be used. Instead here I have compensated by using alternate colours in thicker yarns. Obviously by the size of the same I ran out of time before Joan arrived.


Joan got to pull cords and look at how the loom worked before even getting to wind a warp and thread by playing on the tail end of my warp.

Joan had come with a prepared design based on a photograph of a tiled floor. After planning her project/s, drafting her design, and winding the warp prior to learning about setting up the loom, she got to weave that design. The next challenge was to alter the set up of the pattern shafts to interpret a new design. This one was a simple modification.

This image shows both her first and second design.



The last challenge required her to use as many pattern shafts as possible threaded individually with the exclusion of a border and design a motif across the full width. She enjoyed the freedom of dropping off all the pattern shafts, rearranging them in a different configuration to allow for total freedom of pattern design. The following images shows Joan cutting off her warp and the different patterns she had designed and woven.



This is what I love about drawloom weaving: the freedom of developing “block” designs using the pattern shafts of a drawloom. The design potential is so much greater than what can be achieved on any multi-shaft loom (even one with the most number of shafts available on a computer assist loom). The only other loom that has greater potential is a jacquard. It however involves computers. This is the “slow food” equivalent of weaving where there is a much greater “hands on” experience.


February 2017 Part 1.

March 2, 2017


I am going to write 2 bogs for February. One will be on weaving in the studio (Part 2) while this will be the start of more to come.

I have just returned from an amazing textile research trip to Laos and Cambodia. Some was self- directed but there was also an organised textile tour. Over the next few months, I will be assimilating and reporting on aspects of this trip. There is a lot to take in and I have barely unpacked, so only a very brief taster will be shared here. It will be the start of things to come.

First up let me say that it has been just 2 years since I was in the north of Laos at Luang Prabang and 1 year since I was in Vientiane. There have been big changes connected with “progress”. One of note was the number of brand new fuel station along the roads. It felt like every kilometre there was one. Is this a sign of investment and even a raise in living standards? How has this impacted in particular on textiles? What has happened in the time that I was last here? These are some of the issues I will be considering later in addition to where I found textiles and the mechanics of various aspects of weaving.


The pink line outlines this trip. The orange on in 2015

First a brief overview of where I went. I started off in Ponsovan, then drove to Luang Prabang. Trood Newman joined me on this leg. At Luang Prabang we joined the Textile Tour, organised in a fashion by Intentionally Different. The two experts who absolutely made this trip were Valerie Kirk who has been travelling here for many years and has a wealth of textile knowledge to share and Jit, our local tour guide. From Luang Prabang we flew to Pakse. Using Pakse as a base we explored the area working our way down to Kong Island at the most southern part of Laos. Driving north we passed through Savannakhet to Vientiane where the tour finished. From there Trood and another friend, Libby Hepburn, and I explored the area around Siem Reap.

I am going to structure my report based on the areas that we visited before looking at in-depth aspects of weaving. Well that’s the plan.

Weaving in Ponsovan.

This area was heavily bombed in the Vietnam War and is often referred to as the “Secret War” as often the world didn’t recognise that Laos was a casualty in that conflict. Even now there are many unexploded ordinances (UXO). This has had the impact of much of the buildings needing to be rebuilt. Farming has been restricted because of the uncertainty when it comes to expanding farms and even digging in existing ones. There is a sense of ‘newness’ overlying tradition while at the same time progress being held in check because of the uxo’s and the community being kept poor. UNESCO is involved in clearing uxo. Land that was cleared needs to be re-cleared as more uxo become exposed. Tourism centres around the Plain of Jars. In a cultural sense, the actual jars are amazing. They are large stone jars. Why are they here? What were they used for? What significance in the development of culture did they have? They are awe inspiring. The shapes and forms and how they sit in the landscape are certainly a focus for contemplation. Even the fact that they survived the extensive bombing that happened in this area is a amazing.



I was keen to visit Mulberries after my previous trip in 2015 where I came across the organisation in Luang Prabang. Mulberries was set up by Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong is a centre that focuses on the development of a sericulture industry. In 2015, I was aware that she developed this industry that involved the whole community and wanted to follow up on this project. Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong had because of her involvement in strengthening the position of women in the community been presented as an applicant for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is what I saw.

We drove to the centre on the outskirts of Xiengkhouang and met by a guide. This is the place where obviously the focus is on growing the mulberry trees and the raising of silk worms. We were shown all stages of silk production: reeling, skein winding, dyeing and weaving. It was disappointing that there were not many people working there when we visited. There were a couple of workers using skeining equipment while the dyers were off at a wedding and there were only 4 weavers at work. I wondered if some of the work that could be done off site (winding the silk from cocoon to skein, weaving and finishing) was being done off site and whether this centre apart from the silk worm/silk growing aspect was more of a collection/distribution centre. The weaving produced is sold in the gallery on site and in Vientiane. The retail outlet in Luang Prabang is now closed. In Vientiane, we visited the gallery and met with Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong. An interesting comment that she made was that the organisation was diversifying into soya production to support their community. I must admit that after the visit to the Centre, I felt that the strength of the textile production as to what I had remembered was not as great. More will be noted of Mulberries when we get to Vientiane.


Mulberries grows 5 varieties of silk worms with several of these being cross breeds.


Silk being reeled from cocoons.


This equipment allows for many skeins to be prepared.


One of the four weavers. She is using a vertical storage system with sticks. There was a loom set up with string looms to store pattern but it had a few cobwebs and was obviously not currently being used. I understand that bamboo sticks are preferred though when the space becomes too cramped to use these, they move to the loops instead.  All four weavers were using sticks. The weavers are from the Black Tai, Red Tai and Lao Phuan ethnic groups.


A close up look at what is being woven.


The gallery at Mulberries (Ponsovan)

Next: Luang Prabang.

The High Court of Australia Judges’ Robes

January 4, 2017

This is a special blog. Normally I wait till the end of the month and post. This however is an extra one that documents a remarkable project and a career highlight.

Over the past few months, if you have been following my posts you will know that I have been involved in weaving for the new robes for the Judges of The High Court of Australia. The posts I have made have documented what has happened after the announcement was made. Prior to that we were unable to discuss what was happening, so I had not been able to post progress of this project. The following document also appears on my website.

On the 4th October 2016 the High Court of Australia announced that their judges were wearing new robes. What made these remarkable is that each robe is custom made. A particularly distinctive feature of the new robes is the use of a unique handwoven element, designed to integrate practically and symbolically within the robe.

The robes were designed by Bill Haycock. Margaret Adam created the pattern and cut the robes while Saffron Firkins did the sewing. The sleeves were designed and hand woven by myself. All are based in Queensland.

This is the story of the development and production of this project. It is mainly from my perspective but there are also excerpts written by both Bill and Margaret. I am delighted that they were willing to contribute to this as it will give an insight into the project as a whole.

October 2014. In retrospect the project began then. I had occasion to meet with Bill Haycock in Brisbane domestic airport. The purpose was to see whether I would be interested in working on a commission. He was interested in the potential of hand weaving. Why the airport? At the time, I was commuting between home and Mittagong where I was in charge of the weaving studio at Sturt for two years and the airport terminal was a mutually convenient location. At that stage I had absolutely no idea what the commission was to be and many months passed till I eventually found out.

Bill Haycock, a theatre designer with an international reputation, had by this time already designed new robes for the other two Australian Courts: Australia’s Federal Court and the Federal Magistrate’s Court (now renamed as The Federal Circuit Court). He was approached to design the vey pinnacle of the Australia Court system: The High Court of Australia.

Bill: Since the previous experiences had been so good – both creatively challenging and professionally satisfying I willingly agreed but, since I was already busy with shows and there was no fixed deadline, it took quite some time to absorb the brief, research and develop my thinking to even preliminary designs.

One of the best decisions I made came out of the realisation that the numbers needed were relatively small. There can only ever be a maximum of seven judges on the High Court so even with spare robes and initial prototypes (‘toiles’) and a projection forward of potential new robes we’d initially be creating only about ten robes.

This opened the possibility of using unique hand weaving as part of the design. I met with the very experienced weaver Kay Faulkner in mid October, 2014 and although at that early stage I wasn’t at liberty to say who the client actually was she came on board to advise and be involved in developing hand-woven sections for the new robes. I again turned to Margaret Adam who I’d worked with so successfully on all my previous robes, to see if again she’d cut and organise the sewing of toiles (sample robes to develop and fine tune the designs).

Mid 2015 I finally heard from Bill and discovered what the project was. I must admit that I was, to put it mildly, thrilled to learn what I was about to be involved in.

Bill had by this time been in contact with all the Judges to elucidate their thoughts on design both with the practicalities and the overall impression that they required. From that he developed his design concept.

Bill: The Federal Court robes combined a series of seven equal vertical tucks. Seven symbolically denotes the various Australian states and territories – the same as the larger star under the Union Jack on the Australian flag. This was to represent equality under the law no matter where in Australia you were and a series of horizontal tucks graduating in size from smaller at top (to give more detail ‘above the bench’ and potentially in close-up on television) to wider at the hem represented the scale of Australia as the world’s largest island as well as the breadth of judicial jurisdiction. This symbolism was developed differently for the High Court robes as two sections of hand weaving placed at each sleeve end in a graduating ripple pattern  ( finer to thicker, positive to negative – wool on silk/ silk on wool ) representing again Australia’s vastness as surrounded by sand beaches with internal deserts as well. The High Court’s function as the ultimate court of appeal and decision making also fed into this symbolism as a ‘helicopter view’ of both landscape and law. Further to this the handwoven sleeve ends and back detail incorporates a pair of triangles culminating at the same point referring to this peak/ ultimate facet of the Court’s power.

I prefer such design symbolism to be embedded within the make-up of the robe rather than being ‘applied’ and after much trial and error and a lot of sketches was happy with these linked but developed aspects of the existing symbolism from the other Federal Court robes into these new and quite different ‘T’ shaped robes.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock

Mid to late 2015. There were many meetings with both Bill and Margaret. This was the time that we had to resolve Bill’s design concept into both a workable design for the pattern and for me to interpret it into a woven structure. These meetings were also time when we bonded as a team. I know that I came away from that first meeting when the three of us met for the first time thinking that this is going to be a great project to work on. The three of us just “clicked”. It was very professional, highly efficient and yet very relaxed. It was also very much three experts coming together, each valuing what the other does. And let’s not forget it was a pretty wonderful commission to be working on. The only thing we couldn’t do was talk about it to our friends.

I sampled for types of fabrics and yarn combinations. I sourced yarn. I sampled for how to achieve “ripples” and scale. There are just so many variations that can be achieved. The whole focus though was on how to achieve a design that would be visible from a distance. Specifics about the design were resolved when the three of us met. The fabric also had to work in with the commercial fabric that would be used for the rest of the gown. Finally the actual style of weaving and yarns were finalised.

The sleeves were to be woven in wool and silk to obtain maximum contrast in lustre enabling the greatest potential for a black on black pattern to be seen from a distance. Wool (2/28) was to be used for the warp logically because it is less expensive as a yarn and to acquire (local as opposed to international). The weft chosen was 2/60 silk. The structure we chose was a networked twill but combining a weft faced straight twill (maximizes lustre of the silk) and a warp faced broken twill to maximize the flatness of the wool.

Now came many hours developing the actual weaving draft. Prior to now, I had been working on the basic concept. Now I had Bill draw to scale what he envisaged. It was from this that weaving draft specifics were developed. Thank heavens for the internet and weaving programs that can be scaled down to enable us both to see how the weave pattern would fit into the same scale of sleeve pattern.


Photo courtesy Bill Haycock


One of the drafts that were considered. Bill had a cut out template that could sit over the weaving image.

And don’t forget, in the meantime Margaret was also busy working with Bill on pattern for the robes and how to fit this all together. Before I have Margaret tell her story, it is important to provide some background on how both she and Saffron became involved in the project. Margaret: It was one of those being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time stories when I first met Bill. We were both working on a show at the Queensland Theatre Company and a mutual friend, designer Maria Cleary, introduced us and Bill asked me if I would like to make judges’ robes. That was 16 or 17 years ago. I also met Saffron Firkins on that day.

Margaret on the robe design: My first role is to take the sketches and brief from Bill and make the first pattern and robe. Bill and I then meet (with the robe) and start looking at the finer details of lines and textures and shapes (such as a neckline or the point position at the back of the robe). I very much enjoy working with Bill. He lets me make all kinds of suggestions… but best of all …he makes all final decisions. I then start sourcing and purchasing the materials needed… which included talking with Kay about the lengths and widths of the hand woven pieces needed.

And then eventually the day arrived, and we were given the go ahead to start production for the first toile and I put on the first warp; enough for one set of sleeves. The design worked. The yarn worked. The pattern worked.

The sleeves are 75 cm wide when finished. That means I have to weave wider. Often when you thread a loom there is a basic repeat that you thread over and over for the full width. There are 1380 warp threads to be threaded before weaving even starts. Unlike many weaving patterns there is no pattern repeat in the threading. It is constantly changing. No threading mistakes please! I don’t want to rethread.  That’s what gives the wide and narrow ripples across the width. The weaving sequence also changes. The pattern repeat is 150 cm long or if you like when I weave, each of the 2,100 rows that I throw a shuttle for is also constantly changing. That’s what enables the ripples to go from wide at one hem of the sleeves to narrow at the other end. The fabric is hand woven on a 24 shaft computer assist loom. That’s what enables the complexity of the pattern.


The warp has been wound onto the loon and threading begins.


Weaving commences


Weaving progresses


The first of the sleeve pair is woven. Here it is being cut off the loom.

Margaret had started on the construction of the gown. She now had the handwoven fabric to work with. This was her first experience of working with handwoven fabric.

Margaret: What a treat it was to work with such beautiful fabrics…mind you…it took me an hour to check and then check again before I cut into Kay’s fabrics.

Early/mid 2016. Finally the first toile was complete and ready to be presented to the judges. It was an exciting and yet “hold your breath, hope they like it” time and then came the wonderful moment that we were given the go ahead. I remember the meeting where we all came together to celebrate after Bill had been to Canberra to present the proposed new robe.

At around this time it also became evident that the female Judges required a neck piece that would fill in the top of the gown in much the same way that a man’s collar would. There were currently three female High Court Judges. The fabric for this is based on elements of the gown. It has a rippled effect but in a smaller scale regular repeated design. This fabric is in cream 2/60 silk. This more simplified design is woven on 16 shafts. Margaret designed a fitted insert that sits inside the gown.


Detail of neck piece fabric.


Neck piece inside gown. Photo courtesy Margaret Adam

June 2016. The pressure is on to have the fabric woven so that Margaret can construct the gowns for a September deadline and prior to my overseas trip to USA/Canada. I had to weave enough fabric for the seven High Court Judges robes and for three collar inserts. I now have two designated High Court looms.


Fabric being stored on the loom as it is being woven.


Fabric just off the loom.


Cream silk finished for collar inserts.

Meanwhile Margaret starts production. This is when Saffron and I start working together. I went to Canberra and met each of the judges and came back to my workroom to make the individual patterns, and cut each robe. I can sew ….but I am nowhere near the quality of the machining that Saffron gives us…each robe has 7 box pleats spaced 5 mm apart…that’s 49 pleats in total. Each robe also had 25 metres of silk binding and piping….and far too many hand stitching hours to guess!


Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.


Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.

Then came the announcement that we were waiting for.

Tuesday 4th October, Bill has the go ahead to announce: I’m pleased to be able to finally say, without embargo, that as of this afternoon’s sitting the High Court of Australia are wearing new robes.

Finally we can celebrate this amazing project. We can also talk about it. Until this moment it has been kept totally under wraps. The media picks up on our achievement with articles being published Australia wide and even a very early morning interview on 612 ABC radio.

Bill hears from the Judges. Bill: The great feedback so far has been how much lighter, more comfortable, cooler and more stylish they are than their predecessors while matching the required gravitas and remaining as flattering but subtle foils to emphasise the faces and hands of the individual judges wearing them.


October- December. I weave! The commission is for a total of 20 sleeves, enough for current and medium term needs. It is interesting to note that since the launch, the original Chief Justice has retired. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel is Australia’s new Chief Justice and the first woman to hold that position. This has of course resulted in a vacancy and the need for a new robe. I also need to weave more fabric for the collar inserts. Each female Judge requires three and again more for projected needs. What will happen when all the fabrics are used up and if I cannot weave them? The future viability for the continuance of the design is maintained as The High Court has acquired the copyright to my designs.


This is the very last row of weaving.

14th December. All finished weaving. We all get to celebrate my finish with a Grand Cutting Off Ceremony. Bill, Margaret and Saffron (and children) all experience weaving on the sleeve warp.


Bill Haycock weaves.


Margaret Adam weaves.


Saffron Firkins weaves.


Then it is finally cut off. We celebrate!

The final step is to wash and iron the fabric and prepare for delivery.


The full length of one set of sleeves. Note the progression of narrow ripples at one end to wide at the other. How much of the fabric length and width will be used depends on the size of the individual judge.


Detail of robe. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.


Front view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.


Back view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.

All photos unless otherwise credited: Kay Faulkner.

December 2016

December 31, 2016


This month is all about what has been happening in the studio.

Jennie worked on a doublewidth waffle weave towel in Bendigo cotton. Many weavers are content to weave double width as plain weave or twill with the aim to achieve an invisible fold line. This was a great challenge with an additional challenge to the norm. Jennie took a conventional 8 shaft waffle weave, and converted it to a 16 shaft draft. Waffle weave has long floats in a diagonal progression that after washing creates deep cells. These long floats without careful management will draw in at different rates at the fold making a real mess down the centre of the fabric. What did she do? She spaced the warp in the reed at a more open sett for the fold and used a weighted fishing line to keep the folded edge rigid. Check out the end result and you can’t see where the folded edge was during weaving. It’s a great result Jennie.


Jennie cutting off her weaving. Note the two layers. The piece of paper separates the layers so that she can knot the ends independently to allow for the fabric to be opened full width.


Here it is opened out full width. The fold can barely be seen and will disappear totally after laundering.


Jennie examines the laundered cloth. Note that the fabric is now very three dimensional. It has also shrunk in size considerably.

Sally is currently working on a series of three rag rugs. They are of different lengths for different locations. Her aim is to explore different effects with all three being totally different. So far she has woven two. Along the way she has discovered the Fibonacci series; a mathematical method of using different proportions to achieve visual balance.


Rug #1.


 Rug #2 is totally different.

I finally got to weave off the last double weave challenge which has been on the loom for several months. This challenge follows on from work initiated several months ago on parallel threadings and was to compliment student work over several months in the studio. The basic challenge: to design a table runner that uses doubleweave as panels to have the end effect of pattern bands on a plain weave background. The first runner has an additional pattern of wrapping (West Timor style) in the centre to compliment the doubleweave panels.


The challenge for the second runner: to achieve a different effect. In this one some threads were taken from the doubleweave bands and rethreaded to add a colour stripe and supplementary warp either side of the doubleweave bands. I liked both sides so have bound the hem to make it reversible.


Both runners together with the reverse side of the second one also shown.



The last of the High Court judge’s commission of the robe sleeves.

This month had the Grand Cutting Off Ceremony when all who had been involved in the project came to the studio to celebrate the final warp of the commission. Everyone had a “go” at weaving, even Saffron’s children. Here they all are:


Bill Haycock: designer


Margaret Adam: pattern maker and cutter


Saffron: sewer


And children.


Then we all posed together before I officially cut it off. We had a grand celebration!

 Soon to come: My intention is to put together the full story. You have perhaps followed the story since the announcement by The High Court. This has been such a significant project that I would like to also report on what went on in the stages prior to this.

 Don’t forget to check out the year’s studio classes. There is one vacancy in the Linen and Lace Class to be held 6-10th February.



November 2016

December 3, 2016

The accolades continue for the High Court Judges new robes. The ABC has picked up on it and ran a feature.…new-robes-for-australian-highcourt/8023708

Bill, Margaret and I got up very early to be in at the ABC studio for a 5.30 am radio interview.

I have also appeared in the local paper, The Bayside Bulletin and on page 2.


Maggie came from Townsville for a week’s tuition in double weave. She has a 4 shaft loom at home so we focussed on weaving double weave and related techniques on just 4 shafts. As she was familiar with double width, we started with that, refining technique and exploring variations before moving onto all manner of other double weave techniques. Here are some of her experiments.




At the same time that Maggie was in the studio, I also put on a 4 shaft double weave warp. I wanted to show that you don’t need a lot of shafts to weave a complex pattern. This pattern uses just 4 shafts.


After weaving the first runner, the challenge was to remove some of one layer creating a different look.


And to prove that it really did come from the same warp, here they are hot off the loom.


Sally is officially my Tartan Queen. Her latest warp provided 2 twill scarves (seen last month), 1 plain weave scarf and several kerchiefs in her tartan. After weaving the twill scarves, she cut them off and resleyed to complete the rest of the plain weave items.


GOMA, The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane is turning 10. To celebrate this milestone, the gallery commissioned a sculpture by Judy Watson of a giant fish net. This sculpture sits beautifully at the entrance to GOMA. It was intriguing to watch people approach this very tactile sculpture and realise that the net was actually bronze.


“Sugar Spin: you, me, art and everything” marks ten years of GOMA, inviting us into a playful space of excess, colour and abundance. Drawing together more than 250 works, the exhibition celebrates the creative depth and diversity of the Collection writes the exhibition curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow. Artlines (QAGOMA publication) Issue 4, 2016. I am yet to explore the full exhibition and can’t wait to see what is included, but I have spent time in just one small section: Heard by Nick Cave. To mark the start of festivities, those attending could experience Heard as a performance as well as a static exhibition. Heard by Nick Cave (USA) (2012) is currently proposed for collection through the QAG/GOMA Foundation. I have long been aware of Nick Cave’s work and to consider that we will have a whole series here in Brisbane is quite amazing to contemplate.

October 2016

November 6, 2016


This has been pretty much my focus for this month. Here I am throwing the shuttle to weave the next row. I have spent many hours continuing to weave black wool and silk for the High Court judge’s robes. You’ll see more later on.


A different view: At the back of the loom, the top section shows how much warp is left to weave while underneath is the woven fabric. The actual weaving happens on the other side of the loom.

The Gold Coast weavers had another very successful 2 day workshop. This time it was held at their club rooms. This group of weavers is very active and keen to learn new techniques.



This workshop focused on finger manipulated techniques. This topic was more inclusive for this group. Those with rigid heddles/knitter’s looms were able to participate as well as shaft loom weavers.

These techniques as the students found out can be used for an entire project or just used to add an accent to another piece of hand weaving. Here are some of their results.


Sally continues to weave tartan. This time she had put on a very long warp. First she wove two more twill scarves.


Then she resleyed to achieve a sett appropriate for plain weave, dropped off some of the outside warp threads to achieve the width she wanted and then wove some kerchiefs and another scarf. These are hot off the loom today. She has managed to use the majority of the silk she had dyed. Now all she has to do is finish them all off. She’s promised to bring back her collection when they are totally finished.


More on the High Court judges robes.


Finally I have thrown the last row in the weaving of the black wool and silk for the sleeves. There is now enough for their immediate and short term future needs. Thank heavens the pattern was constantly changing. One pattern repeat is 150cm long. In the fullness of time there will be a Grand Cutting Off Ceremony. I am planning for all who were involved in the project to be here. Then I will need to spend time finishing the fabric ready to be handed over. So while I might have finished weaving, I can’t say I’m finished yet.

The media has picked up on the fact that Australia has new High Court judges’ robes. A number of newspapers have reported on the new robes. The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article in their paper, a longer version on line and this film on Bill Haycock as the designer. While the film doesn’t mention any of Margaret’s or my involvement, it does show detail of the new robes and what they used to weave. You will have to watch through the advertisement to get to the film. I’m unsure how long this will be available.

However is a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald article: the whole page.


And a close up of the words.


This black fabric has been all consuming. However I do need to get busy on other fronts.

I am about to launch the next 6 months’ 5 day studio program. Here is advanced notice of the overview. Full details will be found under “My School”.

5-9th December Special/Open project

6-10 February   Linen and Lace

13-17th March   Beginning Weaving.

27-31st March    Beyond the Basics.

24-28th April       Parallels and networks.

29th May – 2nd June    Handwoven Rugs.

12-16th June.      Special/ Open Project

Classes are also available as 5 days over a 3 week period. Topics vary according to student requirements.

Studio access is also available for individuals or groups. This allows for independent or supervised projects.

Remember you do not have to bring looms or equipment.