Renowned weaver Margo Selby has always been happiest when using her hands. ‘I was a bit of a monkey at school, but if you gave me things to make, I’d concentrate for hours,’ she laughs. So, from crocheting and cross-stitching with her grandmother, she went on to study textiles at both the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Royal College ofArt, before creating her first collection in 2003, shortly after graduating.
It is the production of textiles rather than the design work that has always held Selby in its thrall. ‘I love the technical side of building cloths,’ she says. ‘It’s very satisfying to create something intricate but bold.’ From her studio in a former abattoir located just a few streets from the beaches of Whitstable in Kent, Selby creates inimitable handwoven constructions, using industrial machinery to produce fabrics that are not only mathematically precise but also imbued with hidden depths and ingenuity.
Her creative remit encompasses everything from towels and bedding for John Lewis & Partners and vividly patterned rugs for Habitat to needlepoint cushions for Fine Cell Work – a charity that teaches prisoners embroidery and quilting. She has also worked with the Tate, the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the London Transport Museum, West Elm and Alternative Flooring. ‘I love the challenge of building a cloth, then seeing how others use it,’ she says.
Launched in 2016, Selby’s collections with Osborne & Little have just been expanded.The patterns in the first collection, ‘Ragtime’, had names such as ‘Basie’, ‘Ella’ and ‘Coltrane’ in memory of her jazz-mad father who had just passed away. More recently, ‘Memphis’– a set of six designs whose names herald the great American soul singers – includes ‘Supreme Stripe’, the jacquard ‘Jukebox’, a cut velvet called ‘Smokey’ and the graphic ‘Motown’, which takes its cue from the ‘Johnston’ typeface (best known for its use on the London Underground signage).
‘There is a similarity between music and weaving,’ Selby says of the way she transforms warp and weft into hypnotic symphonies of colour and pattern. She teams historic techniques with modern technology to bring her ideas to life. For example, to create her ‘Warp 13’ abstract framed artworks – comprising handwoven blocks of saturated colour – she employs the 17th-century lamp as technique, in which the pattern wefts are overlaid onto a background weft. The technique is traditionally used for decorative brocades.
While Selby is still best known for her intense, intricate patterns, her work has steadily evolved since moving to the Kent coast. ‘It has become larger and simpler, more refined,’ she muses. ‘It feeds my soul.’
Margo Selby’s studio is open to visitors from Monday to Friday throughout the year. margoselby.com; osborneandlittle.com