As a textile designer, I have an absolute love for fabric colours, texture and aesthetics. It all began many years ago when I was introduced to textiles through a degree course offered by Pretoria University of Technology which focused on silk screen printing. At the time there were no computer programs available to aid students with the design process and everything was drawn by hand.
By the time I had completed my degree, the South African textile industry begun to decline and many of the well-known textile screen printing mills had started to close down. Career options for someone with my background and skill were limited. I was finally offered a job as a woven blanket designer at a company in Cape Town, despite my limited knowledge of that field of textiles. Sink or learn to swim were the only options and I had to adapt quickly to survive in this industry. This is how my journey with woven textiles fortuitously began and I have never looked back.
Since then I worked for a few weaving mills in Cape Town which helped me gain more knowledge on woven fabrics. Unfortunately, every mill was badly affected by the gradual introduction of cheap imported fabrics and many have since closed down. In order to save jobs some of the mills introduced a 3 week working month. I myself went through a retrenchment which even forced me to consider a career change.
Today I am glad that I stuck through all the ups and downs and have now found a small weaving mill gem in the beautiful surroundings of Plettenberg Bay…Mungo.
When I went to Mungo’s weaving mill, which is currently situated in the farmlands of the Crags, I immediately fell in love with green fields, fresh air and cows roaming around the mill. Weaving mills are normally found in the heart of industrial areas and the air is always filled with white smoke from the chemicals.
In my first interview I was given a fascinating history lesson on the looms by Stuart Holding, the founder of Mungo and a real weaving guru. Some of Mungo’s looms date back to the early industrial revolution. These Dobby looms are mechanically driven and differ from the modern day electronic looms. My experience with weaving looms is mainly with electronic machines where the information is transferred from a computer aided design program into the loom’s software.
At Mungo, Stuart designs all the patterns by hand. Great care has to be taken when drawing the design onto graph paper. It is then hand punched onto a pattern card and becomes the weaving instruction for the loom. Some of the pattern cards are up to two meters long! Seeing Stu designing patterns has given me a new found appreciation for woven cloth.
Keeping up with technology, Mungo has decided to invest in a computer aided design program which I am very familiar with. It has a 3D simulation function which will help me to create representations of the patterns and final woven products. With this new program we’ll be able to easily adjust designs and colours without the need to cut out a whole new pattern card. My head is full of new and interesting products and I can’t wait to share them.
Over the years Stu has accumulated an incredible library of designs which are currently in the form of rolled up, hand cut pattern cards. Many of these designs are still yet to be woven at Mungo. One of the things I’ll be doing at Mungo is archiving these patterns with the new software, so that we can preserve all of Stuarts original designs for future use.
It is really exciting to be a part of Mungo as they enter this new technological chapter. However, it is not without it’s challenges. Mungo has a very traditional way of doing things, and this is also what makes them so unique. However, hopefully this shift will foster an environment that allows for more creativity and not detract from their current sampling processes on their incredible range of antique looms. Inevitably there are going to be teething problems along the way, but I am excited to be a part of this new journey.
Words by Lenore Schroeder