Last week I visited Brooke and Francesca, the owners of The London Loom in their new inviting and exciting pop-up space on Hackney Road.
What is The London Loom and how did it begin?
Francesca – We’ve been teaching and running craft parties for a while and about two years ago I taught myself how to weave on a frame loom. I made little tapestries and it was a nice thing to do while I was travelling because it was mobile. Brooke and I both knit a lot and I didn’t really know how to translate knitting and tapestry into garments. I got really interested in wanting to know how I could make woven fabrics for clothes. My sister lives in Japan and I went to visit her in April last year. While I was there I was looking for different craft things to do and found a place in a small neighbourhood that had a really amazing crafts store that sold things like pompom yarns and I went mental in there! I then went to a communal weaving studio where they have 20 looms and shelves of different coloured yarns. The teacher there showed me how to use the loom and left me to make whatever I wanted. I sat there for about 5 hours and made a scarf. It was so much fun and I had never used a floor loom before.
When I got back I wanted to learn how to weave more but only a couple of places in London were running classes but I didn’t really find them inviting and the style was a bit dated. I decided to train in New York with a Japanese studio there and properly learn how to thread the looms and essentially how to run a studio. After New York I came back to London and told Brooke about what I had learned and asked if she’d be up for working together to set up The London Loom. Brooke is really talented at construction and we both have the same idea about making things that you can actually use.
When you set up The London Loom did you have to write a business plan?
Brooke – Yes we did. We both had several jobs and I also have two kids so Francesca focused on the paperwork and would call me up for updates and advice.
Francesca – I started trying to write a business plan when I got back from Japan and then I went to have a meeting with this free business advice centre in East London and the advisor there said it was great and gave me a few extra pointers; we were luckily on good tracks with everything. We didn’t exactly cost it, we knew how much we had to get and used our own money to buy things for the business.
Brooke – Because we’re not asking for investment we don’t have to justify to anyone why we’re spending what we spend. This is our craft and our life. So we just discuss what we need to buy amongst ourselves. We have a projection between us about what we want to do and we have loads and loads of ideas. We may look into funding later on down the line when we feel we’ve set everything up how we want it.
Francesca – There was a point where we thought about doing a Kickstarter campaign but it’s a lot of work; you need a decent video so people can really see what you’re doing and it was really difficult to make a video look professional. Without a studio set up it’s hard to show in a video what the business will really be like. Now that we have the pop-up space we want to see how it works. With Kickstarter, you also have to give gifts as an incentive and giving away free classes wouldn’t work for us at the moment because it would cut into our materials too much. Now we’re basically figuring out things as we go along.
When you think too much it gets overwhelming and puts you off wanting to do anything because you feel stuck.
Francesca – That’s the amazing thing about doing a pop-up shop because now we’re here we’ve got really good feedback from people. We can really see that it was a good idea. When we opened we had a launch party with family and friends and they were like “oh it’s so professional” and we were like obviously, of course it’s professional, we’ve been working on this for ages! Until it’s realised it’s very hard for other people to understand the vision we had in our minds.
In the pop-up space do you run workshops?
Francesca – Yes we do, that’s all we do in fact. We teach classes on our floor looms and can fit between one and three people in at a time to do that and we teach tapestry weaving group classes for 4-6 people at a time in the studio. We have a one off workshop on the 31st of January at Boxpark Shoreditch and there we can fit 20 people.
How do you find teaching?
Brooke – Because of my two kids teaching is really natural for me.
Francesca – I’ve been teaching in different capacities for a long time so it’s what I’m most used to.
Brooke – We get a kick out of seeing joy in people enjoying what we’ve set up, it’s really rewarding.
Brooke how do you manage having two kids and running a business?
I’m really lucky that my husband runs his own business so he goes to work in the morning while I do my other job. We both come home at 3 o’clock to debrief, then he collects the kids from school while I head to the shop. It’s totally worth it to follow your dream and my family are very supportive. They were blown away when I showed them the shop for the first time. It’s really good for my kids to see what I’m doing.
What type of textiles exactly do you work with at The London Loom?
Francesca – We do tapestry weaving and weaving on a two pedal floor loom. The floor looms are from Japan. The whole joy of using the loom is that you can use any amalgamation of textiles like mohair, cotton, silk, acrylic, marabou and pompoms all in one cloth.
What have you made out of the woven fabric?
Brooke – We’ve made some cushions, pencil cases, jackets, handbags and of course we’ve made loads of scarves.
Where do you get your materials?
Brooke – Everywhere!
Francesca – All over the place. There’s some stuff that we bought from a shop in Japan that’s expensive but they have all these little extra bits that are really nice. More or less everything else is from the UK.
Are you open to donations?
Brooke – Yes! It would be awesome if people donated unwanted yarn. We’re starting to look into doing grand scale tapestries with communities and the more we can keep costs down in materials for those pieces, the better it would be for them. It would also be great to get donations because we pick a lot of yarn and colours we love so it would be good to get ideas of colours that other people like to have a variety.
Have you been to any other countries besides Japan that have interesting weaving techniques?
Brooke – Not yet.
Francesca – It would be amazing to travel more for textiles.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Francesca – We’re more educators than designers so the idea of collaborating would be to do something on a healing arts platform with the public. It would also be cool to work with people that make yarn.
What other types of textiles would you like to work with later down the line?
Brooke – Cotton dying.
Francesca – Eventually we’d like for people to keep coming back to learn more about what they’ve done and understand how things are made in a sustainable way.
What do you love most about textiles?
Brooke – I like touching stuff, I can’t buy stuff on the internet because I like to feel what I’m buying.
Francesca – I love the amount of colour you can use. We’ve had so much fun sourcing yarns and I enjoy seeing how people use them and what colour combinations they put together.