Sabine Van der Sande is a handweaver based in North London, UK. She weaves small batch textiles and researches ancient processes of textile production.
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Weaving in the 21st century, or why I do what I do
As I sit at my 19th century loom, I often like to imagine its previous owners, and of looms like it, stretching back for generations. My body movements echo theirs, the sensation in my back as I bend over the web; the resistance at my feet as I push down the treadles in timeless order; the way my hand will fall on the same spot of the heavy beater as I draw it down to the fell of the cloth in a rhythm that ripples back through centuries. The patina of the wood is worn smooth from over a hundred years of handling, and there are little pencil nicks conveniently marking out midway points here and there, which I myself discovered the use of whilst carrying out the same processes as the original mark-maker.
I am handweaving in the context of modern mass production, when its laborious nature is no longer strictly 'necessary'. Because handweaving is, practically speaking, largely obsolete, people make assumptions about its purpose; that it must lend itself only to something especially boldly graphic or figurative. But for me, weaving has always been a way to reach back into the past, as a means of active listening, and the textiles which captivate me most are those everyday staples: a gingham for a child’s dress, a crisp starched linen tablecloth brought out only on religious feast days and finished with red embroidery, sturdy cotton treated with oil to drive away the rain, a checked cloth dyed with indigo, or flowers cooked on the stove to yield a yellow dye. There is so much richness in these everyday things. Textiles have been part of the fabric of life for thousands of years, and they matter deeply.
Today the labour of weaving remains hidden, carried out by unseen machines in 'faraway countries', and while our textiles may be affordable, they come with the cost of human and environmental exploitation. We need a huge cultural shift in regard to the worth we place on textiles in the future and it is my hope that my work fulfils a small contribution to this change. Each process I carry out, from winding to dyeing to warping to weaving, is powered by my own calorie consumption, each piece made lovingly and with a deep desire to learn from the way that humans have made cloth for centuries.
In the future I hope to continue exploring the psychology of textiles - their function as protection, armour, comfort, nest building, duvet fort construction, softness, heirlooms. My weaving acts as a personal exploration into what it means to make yourself feel safe. I also aim to further explore natural dyeing processes, deepening my understanding of seasonal rhythms, gardening, and the local ecology within the urban environment of London.