December 16, 2015

Q&A with Master Handweaver Stephanie Seal Brown

Stephanie Seal Brown answers our questions on her eponymous company's range of beautiful handwoven hand towels and the new collection of tape trim available now.

by New York Spaces

Handwoven towels from Stephanie Seal brown
Hand Towels by Stephanie Seal Brown. Photograph by Richard Gary.
Handwoven towels by Stephanie Seal Brown
Stephanie Seal Brown. Photograph by Richard Gary.

NYS: What kind of products do you offer through your company, Stephanie Seal Brown?

Stephanie Seal Brown: In 2015, I have launched two lines. My handwoven linen tape trim is available only to the trade with new design collections releasing twice a year and, on its heels, a retail line of handwoven linen/cotton hand towels.

NYS: How did you get your start weaving?

SSB: As a child, I was either lost in my head, in a book, in a tree or in handwork. Sometimes combining them in more or less successful ways. At 19, I discovered weaving and two years later, bought one of the two floor looms that I still use today in the production studio. Weaving simply hooked me—it is an art form that combines design and mathematics while creating something very practical.

NYS: What draws you to work on traditional wooden Swedish handlooms?

Handwoven hand towels by stephanie seal brown
Handwoven Hand Towels by Stephanie Seal Brown. Photo by Richard Gary.

SSB: Swedish handlooms are quite highly developed even though the last major innovations occurred several centuries ago. Every design component of the looms has a specific purpose toward quality of fine cloth and quality of process. These looms are part of the Scandinavian handweaving tradition that continued right through the Industrial Revolution. This unbroken thread of tradition retained the deep knowledge of technique and richness of aesthetic that had been built over many centuries.

I have to admit though, at the root of it all, I take great pleasure in the simple beauty and the soft rhythm of the wooden looms. It is a very peaceful process that creates a meditative space from which I can design.

NYS: What is a tenet of Swedish design that inspires you in your own designs?

SSB: Out of the richness of Swedish and Scandinavian design traditions, I believe there is a strong thread of functional beauty in object design that honors material and process, form and function. I try to bring this same awareness to product design in the studio. My goal is create very special, and very practical, textiles that people can live with for years.

linen trim by stephanie seal brown
Linen Trim by Stephanie Seal Brown. Photograph by Richard Gary.

NYS: How does the quality differ from a mass-produced cloth?

SSB: Handwoven textiles have a nuance and character unique to themselves. Here are a couple of easy things to look for when examining handwovens:

  • Places where the yarn is doubled. This is where a new yarn was added in to the web, either to replace an empty bobbin on the hand shuttle or to replace a knot in the warp.
  • The slight wave of a hand-pulled selvedge. This comes from each time the weaver throws the shuttle and sets the edge with a little tug before beating, creating an attractive bound selvedge that can be highlighted rather than hidden.

NYS: What kind of materials do you use to create your textiles?

SSB: I use European linen and Egyptian cotton, sourcing the finest handweaving yarns available. The yarns are dyed in a Swedish dye house that is able to both create beautiful and exceptionally stable colors and adhere to very high environmental standards.

Linen Trim Stephanie Seal Brown
Linen Trim by Stephanie Seal Brown. Photograph by Richard Gary.

NYS: What are some of your favorite creations so far?

SSB: Hmmmm...I love the current Winter 2016 Collection of tape trim. It has breathing room in it. But truly, the real answer is the work I have not done yet. The moment something is completed, I am seeking to push it further.

NYS: We love your Handwoven Linen Tape Trim Collection. Can you tell us a bit about it?

SSB: Thank you! I believe the handwoven linen tape fills an open niche in the trim market for modern designers who are looking for clean simple detailing.

Focusing on strong design and subtle texture, the utter simplicity of the structure combined with the pure linen means that every mood nuance of the weaver can be seen in the final product requiring superior craftsmanship and a meditative approach. The European long staple line linen used in the tape trims gives a soft lustre and inherent strength.

The Summer and Winter Collections are offered in trios: three color ways in three different widths. All are woven to order and take approximately 4-6 weeks to deliver.

linen trim by stephanie seal brown
Linen Trim by Stephanie Seal Brown. Photograph by Richard Gary.

NYS: What are you working on now?

SSB: In addition to the next design collections for the tape trim and hand towels, I am working on a custom tape trim for Michael S. Smith and a very exciting collaboration with industrial designer Melissa Easton. I'm also really excited about participating in next year's ICFF in NYC.

NYS: Where can we find your designs?

SSB: Currently, all products are available direct either through my website or by phone.

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