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Alumna’s Story: Dominique Caplan, Gainsborough Silk Weaving

14 November 2014 by Jainnie Cho

Two years ago, weave designer Dominique Caplan was fresh out of London’s Central Saint Martins and itching to apply what she’d just learnt. Just one thing stood in her way: she hadn’t a clue how to navigate the fashion or interiors industries.

Working at Gainsborough Silk Weaving

Dominique soon realised the fierce competition that lay ahead of her. “I saw how many other designers were also graduating – all wanting to move into an industry which is relatively small,” she says.

Fortunately she had been nominated for the 2012 Texprint programme by her CSM tutor and granted an interview. Dominique says she went into the interview with Texprint creative director Peter Ring-Lefevre and a panel of industry experts with ‘clammy palms’, but she was successful and subsequently invited to undertake Texprint’s unique mentorship and exhibition programme with 23 other emerging talents.

But it certainly wasn’t all roses for Dominique after her selection. Internships with high-profile designers including Mary Katrantzou and Holly Fulton followed, but making her way in the industry was a struggle, not least because she was not earning money.

Perseverance paid off however, and last summer Dominique landed a job at Gainsborough Silk Weaving, one of the oldest commercial mills in England – a dream design role that has enabled her to rediscover her creative edge, with a constant flow of interesting and challenging work that mixes computerized techniques with traditional weaving methods.

We caught up with Dominique to talk about her Texprint experience, her new role and recent projects, and the growing artisanal approach in textile design.

Working at Gainsborough Silk Weaving

What was it like showing at Indigo in Paris with Texprint?

Texprint gave me something to work towards. Exhibiting at Indigo in Paris was a high point, though both exhausting and rewarding, and the realisation that now I actually had to make money from the work I had created as a student was quite challenging. 

For every person who stops and looks through your work, a hundred others will dismiss your stand with a flick of their eyes.  Very quickly you realize this is not personal - your work is not going to cater to everyone’s tastes or requirements. I believe this is one of the most important things I learnt from Texprint.

Also of key benefit were the many useful connections I made which helped me greatly in the following months. 

Working at Gainsborough Silk Weaving

Tell us about your current job as a designer at Gainsborough Silk Weaving?

We work with a lot of high-end interior and fashion designers and it is always very interesting, challenging work. Most of what I do is computerized, using the modern jacquard looms we have at the mill, but there is much scope to be technically creative and try new approaches.

Gainsborough also still has 15 Hattersley looms from the 1930s, making the mill truly unique. We have many of the original punch card sets and having access to the traditional method of jacquard weaving is very special. 

There is also an extensive archive of amazing fabric samples dating back to the establishment of the mill in 1903.  Among my personal favorites are the Crewell loom silks and the hand cut velvets.  There is a real connection between past and present and I feel very lucky to contribute to Gainsborough’s rich history and future.  

Textile installation inside the Oxford Brooks University 

You were involved in designing an impressive, large-scale textile installation inside the Oxford Brooks University – a 3x10 metre installation that is a mirage of intricate textures, patterns and gradients. What was the experience like?

The installation was designed by Peagreen and woven by Gainsborough Silk Weaving. As the designer on this project I was responsible for liaising with Peagreen whilst altering their original design in order to make it weavable.  At Gainsborough, the looms repeat two times across the entire fabric width, so we were weaving two artwork panels for the instillation at a time.  However because Peagreen wanted each panel to be very different, I had to work out ways to create the colours they wanted, using the same wefts and weave structures, whilst only changing the warp colour. I had four warp colours in total and eight weft colours to play with. It was an all-consuming project! 

How do you see the UK textile industry evolving? It seems there are two big trends – use of digital and a return to craft.

Trends are moving in an exciting direction with new approaches and methods of creating textiles emerging. From my own experience, I believe there has been more of a shift towards the artisanal approach as customers become better informed. There is also a premium placed on British made, which I feel is largely substantiated by the quality of the fabrics and skills involved. Craftsmanship is part of our heritage and I sincerely hope that the British textile industry continues to gain respect and overseas business. 

Gainsborough Silk Weaving archives


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