Elizabeth Ashdown makes a very specific type of textile called passementerie. It is a French word for ornamental edgings or trimmings, like tassels and braiding. But although Elizabeth has (and can) make tassels and braids, her textiles are not so limited in use. She prefers to make art textiles for framing or hanging on the wall; for beauty rather than function. It is a rare and unusual technique - passementerie - and Elizabeth likes to push it as far as it will go. With such unusual weaves and extreme colours, the results are dazzling.
Tekst: Jane Audas
Elizabeth studied textile design at Central Saint Martins. She trained as a weaver and during a college project: ‘Ribbons and Trims’ was introduced to passementerie. She came back to it in her 3rd year, for her graduate collection.
Before that she had been weaving conventional, larger textiles but: ‘When I found passementerie, something just clicked.’
After graduation Elizabeth worked as a freelance designer for two years, designing passementerie samples for production and weaving bespoke lengths for interior designers to use on curtains and cushions.
But the functional aspect of such specialised work left Elizabeth thinking there were other things she could make, that passementerie had much more potential. She applied for an MA in textiles at the Royal College of Art in London (considered the crème de la crème of textile courses) and began to make larger wall-based works, joining smaller woven pieces together on the loom.
"Passementerie is a rare and unusual technique and Elizabeth likes to push it"
Elizabeth has just recently moved her studio back to her home. She has a lovely new (to her) 1960s wooden loom she has called Big Bertha - who will live alongside her other two looms: Dorothy and Timothy. She works with both ready-dyed yarn and also dyes her own threads when she can. Elizabeth prefers to work on wider looms as they give her the physical space and comfort she prefers for weaving. A larger loom allows her to try different techniques too: ‘I can make really long fringes, for instance, because I have the space to allow them to sit and hang off the side of the loom.’
Elizabeth takes her inspiration from her many sketchbooks: ‘I’m really interested in outsider artists, particularly those that have made their own outfits or costumes like the Original Rhinestone Cowboy and Arthur Bispo do Rosário.’ She also has recently become interested in carnival, ethnic and folk-art costumes - which all utilise extravagant textile decorations to dramatic effect. She thinks she might like to make herself something to wear - a cape or hat - in the future, which will be a sight to see. But for now, Elizabeth continues to make her vibrant passementerie art works: quite literally woven to wow.