NAME: Andy Ross

BACKGROUND:  Andy and I first got to know about each other via a mutual weaving friend Kathy Schicker. We were invited up to Shetland to service the AVL loom that the studio had acquired from Ann Sutton, and Andy invited us to stay, tour the island, give a presentation and meet other weavers and artists. We were there a week in the autumn of 2012 and had a wonderful time. The memories are still firmly lodged in my mind! I also came home with a very smelly fleece in my luggage and I was so surprised not to be stopped to explain myself when disembarking from the plane!! Andy was a wonderful host and the project really grabbed our imaginations. I am sure you will enjoy his story into weaving! 

HOW I GOT INTO WEAVING

In 2005, while on a trip to London, my partner took me to see an exhibition at the Crafts Council Galleries in Islington. The show was an Ann Sutton retrospective and included a work that we subsequently bought for our art collection. Little did I know that this was to be such a turning point.

I grew up in Zimbabwe and for as long as can remember I have collected textiles. My mum taught us all how to use a sewing machine and to knit, and my grandmother used to knit us jumpers as gifts in the 1970s.  When I moved to London in the very early 1990s, textiles were still an enthusiasm and many were the hours spent sewing clothes for performance – I retrained as an opera singer in London – and everyday wear.

In 2001 I moved to Shetland to pursue my interests in music and established a community cafe; the Wind Dog Cafe in Gutcher, Yell and a music charity, GlobalYell Ltd. The venture was a success but I realised that I was not doing music, my reason for moving North. When, in 2005, I came down to London to see Andrew, the time was right for a change. Andrew had just started a project to create a business innovation space, using whirlpools as a metaphor for the complexity of decision-making. The project worked with LEGO and the London School of Economics and the Ann Sutton Foundation, then called ASF Weave, was asked if it was possible to “weave a whirlpool”. Ann’s response – “Whirlpools are our speciality” –  introduced us to the craft of weaving and made us a friend.

In 2006 the Foundation closed and, as we had just taken Ann, the director of ASF Weave and one of the Fellows, Lucy McMullen, to Shetland to tour the islands in an attempt to find out how we could support the weavers on the islands, we were disappointed. However we asked if GlobalYell could acquire the assets and were delighted to be given the equipment and library. We installed them in Yell and so started my fascination with weaving.

Over the years that we have had the equipment I have learned how to weave and also learned about the traditional weaving of the islands, particularly its tweeds. In 2016 we bought a production loom, an AVL 24 shaft lobby like the smaller looms we had been given, and started to produce cloth. I established a new business, The Shetland Tweed Company, first of all as a partnership and then, when the partnership was dissolved, as a sole trader. All the time I was learning and in 2019 I started a Master of Research project in Shetland Tweed at Glasgow School of Art. This project has just been successfully completed.

Weaving for me is difficult at the moment because I am back in London due to the pandemic. However I did train Alexa Fitzgibbon to weave and now Alexa has taken over the weaving in Shetland. The craft is still a passion and I am looking to work with the New Zealand weave industry in future. My partner is a New Zealander and we intend to retire there in a couple of years. I am also still passionate about Shetland and will continue to work with the islands and with the ventures that I established there. It is a real thrill to know that tweed manufacturing is continuing in the islands because of my work. It is also gratifying to know that we are going to be able to continue to offer space and equipment for weavers to develop and grow their craft once the pandemic allows travel again.

Weaving is such an exciting and fulfilling craft. With so many facets to explore and so much to learn it is a never-ending journey; one that I am very glad and grateful to have been introduced to.

Global Yell: Website: https://www.globalyell.org   Blog: https://www.globalyell.org/blog. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GlobalYellTextiles.

Andy Ross, Creative Director, GlobalYell Ltd, Shetland (Charity number SC031129). Email: andy@globalyell.org

The Shetland Tweed Company: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheShetlandTweedCompany/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theshetlandtweedcompany/

Images: Autumn 5, Autumn 2, Shetland 2

NEXT TIME: Lesley Willcock