Sheep to seat, fleece to floor: an interview with Ella Doran

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Sheep to Seat, Fleece to Floor is a project with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and award-winning designer Ella Doran, sharing the journey of British wool. 

Using wool from the sheep which graze the historic landscape of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), going from shearing to scouring, spinning to weaving through to design and product development, the project results in a display of bespoke furniture, furnishings and prints, all going on show in an exhibition at the Park from June 15 – September 15 2019.

A celebration of local products, suppliers and processes, the exhibition highlights the importance of the circular economy in reducing waste and sustaining livelihoods and traditions.

We worked very closely with Ella to create a jacquard wool fabric featuring her Waterlake design, which is inspired by the movement of water and flora on the YSP estate. The fabric is upholstered on a custom-made chair created by British designer Julian Mayor and manufactured by Coakley & Cox, using wood from one of the YSP’s naturally storm-felled oaks. The chair is available to buy in two colorways, motivated by the hues found within the landscape. 

Ahead of the exhibition opening, we caught up with Ella on the project.

British wool...

Can you tell us about the Waterlake project and how it came about?

The exhibition celebrates the Park’s resources, its beauty, and the joy of creativity and collaboration. I originally created the ‘Waterlake’ design for YSP back in 2017 to celebrate 40 years of ‘Art Without Walls’, inspired by the movement of the lake with its birdlife. Now, this new project has transformed Waterlake into a jacquard woven textile, inspiring a whole collection of objects and artworks using the wool, taken from the sheep that graze there.

The weaving process

How did Camira get involved in the production of the fabric?

Hayley Barrett was the best teacher I could ask for, learning how the weaving process works from CAD to machine, at an industrial scale. Understanding the complexity of translating my design into a woven textile has been an exciting learning curve, aided by computer software! Once I had really grasped the scale – a decision governed by the number of hooks – we decided to go for a large scale (1,200 hooks) for the hangings and smaller (600 hooks) for the upholstery.

How do you feel about the finished fabric?

I feel very happy with the results and I think it’s really interesting to see the pattern translated into a woven textile. I like the tension created by a free-flowing pattern, constructed using the structure of the warp and weft.


Textile possibilities

Can you explain a bit about your relationship with Camira?

Camira has been a brilliant firm to work with. The quality and attention to detail is superb and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work on this fabric with them. It has opened my eyes to the possibilities of textiles in contract and commercial settings, and I would like to do more of it!
What has been your favorite part of the project?

At the time of writing, I have a couple of weeks to go before the set-up of the show. I enjoy the pressure of a deadline and also having all the materials at my fingertips. Now that the jacquard weave has been made, we have divided it up for use on the furniture pieces, hangings and some blankets too – and I have been busy creating other exciting pieces using the excess wool which I have loved, things like tapestries, knitted pieces, kits for weaving and a few other surprises! 

How important do you think it is for local businesses to collaborate?

Personally, I think it’s important we all try and collaborate as much as possible to network and support each other’s businesses. This project was born from my desire to connect industries in an artistic setting, and celebrate craftsmanship, innovation, design and...the sheep!

I believe we have achieved that and I have all my sponsors and collaborators (from Farmer Platt to Atlantic Yarns, Alternative Flooring. Kniterate and Laxtons), Campaign for Wool and British Wool to thank for that! I hope the show is a success in terms of vision, numbers and interest.

Sheep to seat, fleece to floor will be open from 15 June – 15 September 2019 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. For more information, click here.