NAME: Lesley Willcock

BACKGROUND:  Lesley and I first met (as she reminded me) at a shibori workshop that Kay Faulkner was leading at Chesham UK in December 2008. Lesley had only been weaving then for about 4 years but had just recently joined Complex Weavers and got a 32s loom – not bad for a newish weaver! We started off the way we have carried on – carrying my heavy 16S table loom between us in the disabled lift, we kept accidentally touching the walls (it was a large loom in a small space) which stopped the lift abruptly, causing fits of the giggles! Lesley is the excellent rep for the UK Complex Weavers membership, organising some brilliant study days. She also creates beautiful braids to use on her garments on both marudai and takedai, enjoys ply-split braiding and, more recently, tablet weaving.This is her story of how she found herself in the weaving world…. 


I grew up in a family where playing with yarn and fabric was considered perfectly normal behaviour. My grandma knitted and crocheted, my mum sewed and knitted, and by my early teens I was making most of my own clothes. 

Maybe as a reaction against this background, or a belief that it wasn’t the way to earn a living, my university degree was in Sociology and I started work in retailing as a graduate management trainee. A few years into work I had gravitated to a young fashion chain and was travelling the highways and byways visiting shops for a living. 

After about 12 years I wanted to be my own boss, so when I got the opportunity, I left to open a shop selling dress fabrics and operating a dressmaking service. As well as learning very fast about the fabrics I was buying and selling, I also returned to college to take my City and Guilds qualification in Fashion.

My first introduction to handweaving was meeting a local handweaver who designed beautiful tweeds which were then woven on industrial looms. We collaborated on a small exclusive collection of fabrics which she had woven up for me to sell in the shop. Visiting her studio to see her yarns and looms was a lightbulb moment for me … I wanted to try this!

Handweavers’ Studio was then in its original location in London, not far from where I lived so, for a 40th birthday present, I signed up to their  introductory course Loom I and II. I still remember the feeling as I sat at a loom and threw my first shuttle … it felt like coming home and I knew weaving was what I wanted to do.

As often happens, life then immediately threw me a curve ball so weaving had to go on the back burner while I moved out of London to renovate a wreck of a house where I had no space for a loom for many years. Fast forward 10 years, I had closed the shop and was satisfying my creative side with a made-to-measure dressmaking service for individual clients. 

Finally for my 50th birthday I got a loom and some yarn, dug out my lesson notes and finally started weaving. With my background it was pretty obvious that I would start by weaving for clothing as, to me, fabric was designed to be cut up and put back together again!

I started weaving on a 4 shaft floor loom, but soon realised that I wanted to move on to 8 shafts and then discovered multishaft weaving so took a giant leap to 32 shafts. Computers had been part of my working life for a long time and patience is not my strong suit so I swerved the idea of pegging dobby bars and dived straight into a computer assist dobby loom.

My weaving education has been very ad hoc as I felt the time was wrong to embark on a lengthy structured weaving course so instead attended short workshops as the opportunity arose. As a result I have studied with a wide variety of tutors since I started weaving but the ones who had the greatest impact have been those who opened the window on the opportunities available with multishaft weaving. I will be eternally grateful to Bonnie Inouye, Alice Schlein and Ingrid Boesel in particular who taught me computer design techniques for multishaft looms. 

More recently I have studied with Laura Thomas who opened my eyes to design methods which are rather less weave structure based and rather more design directed. As a result I’m learning to be more adventurous and experimental and have started weaving wall hangings as now my designs and yarns used are not always appropriate for garments. 

My biggest regret was not discovering weaving earlier in my life as I realise that the more I learn about weaving the more I appreciate there is still so much more to learn!

Images: Main: The Woods; From top: Kaleidoscope – waistcoat with takadai trim; Setting Fire to the Rain – scarf; Water; Northern Lights – scarf.

NEXT TIME: Jennifer Moore