Tucked away in a former cowshed in Charlton is The Textile Space, a workshop and studio where anyone can embrace their creative side. Lifestyle editor Sheena Campbell heads along to meet founder Deborah Harwood and try her hand at weaving on a peg loom.
I am not what you would call artistic, anything I draw ends up looking like a splodge on the page, I don’t make hand-made cards or presents and I haven’t touched a sewing machine since I was at school.
However, after a day with Deborah at her workshop in Charlton Barns, I find myself the proud owner of a peg loom and a cushion cover made with my own hands.
Since renting the space from Goodwood four years ago, Deborah has transformed it into a welcoming workshop, complete with a comfy leather sofa in front of a roaring log-burner for the days when the English weather simply doesn’t want to play ball.
From this space Deborah and fellow tutor Claire Tyler, who specialises in dressmaking, run several workshops a week.
“I didn’t really mean to start the workshops, it was just going to be my studio and doing a bit of teaching to pay the rent and then we were completely overwhelmed,” she tells our small group of five at last week’s workshop.
It is hard to believe when standing in the spacious studio, but just over a decade ago, Deborah’s life was very different. She was living in London and had a series of high-pressure jobs.
However, when she moved to Sussex she rediscovered a love for art and design which she had not fully explored since school.
“At school, art and design was the thing I enjoyed most,” she said. “Then I came out into the big wide world and got a living and paid the bills.
“I was working as a head-hunter for a while and I found that very draining so I signed up for a couple of courses. It has always been there in the background, but it wasn’t until I moved down here that it became something I was passionate about and I realised I was really quite good at it.”
Deborah ended up going to the Winchester School of Art to study textile art and started renting the space in Charlton when she needed a studio.
“It was a cowshed and Goodwood were absolutely fantastic and gave me the opportunity to do it up and rent it from them for six years,” she said.
“Quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for Lord March, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this in the way I wanted to do it.”
Since then, The Textile Space has gone from strength-to-strength, with workshops as varied as drawing with thread, feltmaking and dressmaking. When I visit, it is for weaving on a peg loom.
At the start of the workshop, Deborah explains that using a peg loom is one of the simplest forms of weaving and could date back as far as the Stone Age.
“It is also very quick which is incredibly satisfying,” she says. “When you work on a normal loom it is a very, very slow process.”
The peg loom is a simple design, basically a wooden board with 22 pegs with small holes in the bottom, the width of the pegs and distance between them affects how chunky the weave will be.
Deborah talks us through every stage, from setting up the loom with the warp to the weft (weaving the fabric from left to right).
Given my natural lack of co-ordination, I am pleasantly surprised to find I can do this and start to find the process of weaving both addictive and relaxing. As Deborah explains how you can use virtually any fabric, including unwanted clothes, I am already mentally sorting through my wardrobe for old T-shirts which I no longer wear but for some reason never get rid of.
For her part, Deborah seems genuinely delighted with my success, as she does with everyone’s efforts throughout the day.
“We all have a creative side, whether we choose to believe it or not, we all have it,” she tells me at the end of the workshop as I proudly examine my cushion cover and once again express my amazement at my ability to actually make something.
“It might not be stitch, it might be ceramics or painting, but once you find it, it is a great way of closing out the pressure of the world.”
Deborah believes part of the appeal of her workshops is taking a break from everyday pressures, be it work, family life, shopping or commuting.
“I hope all of you today and everyone who does a workshop comes away at the end of the day feeling really refreshed in spirit,” she said.
“There is something very powerful, very calming, it sort of restores you and you feel refreshed because spent that time for yourself.”
At the end of my time at The Textile Space, I find I have to agree.
For anyone wondering what to wear to Goodwood Revival 2014, the Observer and The Textile Space could have the answer.
Why not make it a Revival to remember and create your own authentic outfit for this year?
Six workshops running from June through to early September offer Revival fans the opportunity to make their own 1950s dresses, 1950s petticoats, floral tea dresses, 1940s pleated dress and to finish the outfit, a stunning 1950s lined swing jacket.
All fabrics, patterns and haberdashery are included in the prices which can be found on the website: www.thetextilespace.co.uk
The workshops are always in demand and this year likely to be even more so as The Textile Space is delighted to offer all Observer readers ten per cent off 2014 Revival workshops.
On booking please quote Chichester Observer to claim this offer. To book your place please visit www.thetextilespace.co.uk or call 01243 811300 or 07976 800965. Details of all other workshops can also be found on the website.