Auckland-based weaver Christopher Duncan created the elegant hand-made cushion covers that will adorn the lobby bar of The Hotel Britomart.
Britomart: How did you come to be a weaver?
Christopher Duncan: I studied fashion design at Massey, and shortly after finishing that I moved to Melbourne, where I was managing a high-end streetwear store. They gave me a buying job, which I thought would be amazing, and it was just not. At all. It was just reports and trying to figure out how many red hats would sell next summer. So I ended up quitting that job and moving two-and-a-half hours out to the countryside. My sister bought me a little loom and I started weaving in between walking in the forest and going for swims. It just changed my life. After a year there, I moved to Auckland and began weaving more seriously.
You have a beautiful loom here in your studio – where you do buy looms these days?
There’s actually a surplus of looms. There aren’t enough weavers for all the looms out there so people practically give them away. I think I paid $400 for that one. I can make pieces up to a metre wide on that, and then as long as you wind the warp. Usually I put on about 18 metres, but the single pieces I make are smaller than that.
What was it about weaving that appealed to you when you first encountered it?
The first time I saw looms was when I was at Massey. They were these beautiful dark wood looms the colour of an old piano, and I didn’t even get to touch them or use them. They seemed really special. When I was in India, I was staying with a friend in Kashmir for a couple of weeks, and the uncle had a business selling cashmere rugs. He invited me to his house one day and sold me a rug even though I did not have the money to buy a rug. In the space above his shop, there were three big, beautiful looms set up to do Persian knotted rugs. The speed at which the weavers were working was insane. Every now and then they’d break and smoke some shisha. It was really beautiful.
How do you like to weave?
I’m not as fast as those guys. My speed depends on what I’m doing. If there’s a lot of detail or I’m switching out different colours, then it takes a lot longer. I don’t really plan a lot when I weave. I find that the process itself manifests the work, rather than having a plan before. So I guess making space in relation to that is important.
Emily Priest from Cheshire Architects approached you to do the work for The Hotel Britomart, didn’t she?
Yes. We settled on doing cushions for the lobby in different sizes. I think there are 26 cushions, in washed textiles. Washing is a huge part of the weaving process - it settles all the yarn in. You can see how the cotton and linen shrinks in on each other and the texture comes out. I love texture. It’s what the fibres want to do, so it’s best to work with those natural aspects. Emily and I worked on the design together. We choose a whitish linen cotton for the warp and the weft is a natural linen.
There must have been a bit of planning in these pieces because scattered through the design are the little squares that are part of The Hotel Britomart’s brand iconography.
I’ve actually been doing squares for a long time, and when Emily said, ‘Oh your squares are really great because they’ll work with the iconography,’ I just said, ‘Oh, okay.’ But then I walked through Britomart the other day and saw the hotel windows for the first time and was like, “Oh! Wow! There are the squares!” Now it makes a lot more sense. [laughs]
Where do you source your yarns from?
The wools are from New Zealand. I was living in Warkworth before lockdown and there was a couple who had a lifestyle block with alpacas, and I bought a lot of yarn off them. The linen I use is from India, bought several years ago. I bulk order when buying from overseas. I bought about 50kg worth, which sounds crazy, but I’m almost through it now. It has a really beautiful texture. There’s also a big warehouse called Asia Gallery in Mt Wellington. The owner used to be a secondhand dealer in Kyoto. He imports kimonos and curios from Japan – deceased estates, furniture, that sort of thing. A few years ago he had heaps of yarn – someone’s grandmother who had a connection to weaving must have died. Lots of old silks and cottons, which I went in and bought a tonne of. So that’s the blue I’ve used. It’s really nice to use secondhand yarn that wouldn’t otherwise have a life.
Your work and kimono coats are sold through Tür Studio on Karangahape Rd. What are the main types of pieces you sell there?
Mainly shawls and scarves, coats and jackets. Dresses, sometimes. Bags. Wall hangings.
Have you done upholstery before?
No, never. It wasn’t too daunting. I think it would have been different if I’d been covering a chair – that might have needed more testing – but I think the cushions will work fine. I don’t think I’ll be getting into bus seat cover upholstery now though.
You never know what Auckland Transport might be prepared to invest in next for a shovel-ready project.
I can see the headline now. “Auckland Transport spends $20 million on bus refurbishments.”