Wool is the new cool fibre. It's honest, robust, luxurious and versatile. It's a catwalk favourite and a designer's dream — as easily accepting of the latest digital printing as it is of traditional dyes. And now it is being recognised at a must-see free exhibition full of inspirational ideas at Somerset House.
Wool House is open now until March 24, with 10 room settings by top designers, plus challenging art installations and a list of craft workshops and demonstrations. Ace weaver Jason Collingwood from Colchester, shifting the shuttle by hand for nearly 25 years, is in residence working his loom.
Walk along a 100ft wool runner by designer Christian Zuzunaga, who himself shuttles between London and Barcelona. It's patterned with little pixels straight off your computer but woven by Brinton's in Kidderminster — "a happy fusion of digital and analogue technologies".
Meanwhile, Roger Oates decks more domestic halls with a narrow wool flatweave inspired by African Kente cloth and Masai beadwork.
Wool House is the largest celebration of wool the world has ever seen, say the organisers, the Campaign for Wool. It's certainly original with its huge crocheted bear by artist Shauna Richardson, an installation of stretched threads by young Chelsea College of Art graduate Eleanor Ross and coloured wood-grain digital prints by textile designer Jane Walker of Bailey Hills, whose family has been working with wool cloth since 1863. And acclaimed artist Claudy Jongstra has come over from the Netherlands with a huge tapestry.
Wool House curator Arabella McNie says: "Everyone knows wool is warm, but in style terms it's also amazingly cool. And there's wool merchandise for every taste. We've put hundreds of metres of wool carpets, curtaining and upholstery into Somerset House. Not only can you see and hear the difference that it has made to these classical stone interiors, but you can feel it."
Textile artist Anne Kyyro Quinn, now living and working in London, can remember standing in the snow as a child in her native Finland loving her wool boots. She uses wool as a sound absorber and her clients commission boldly shaped acoustic panels in bright, touchy colours. The room she's done has a bright pink felt wall plus window panels made from recycled felt waste from her studio. She says: "Felt is particularly easy to work with as it doesn't fray and is so easy to cut and sew."
Donna Wilson first made little knitted animals which became a collecting cult and then grew into a full (mainly wood) furnishing collection at SCP in Shoreditch — chairs, rugs, the lot. She has recently had a baby and kitted a fanciful nursery with woodland trees on a felted wall and a knitted deer head.