We spoke to Christopher McEvoy and Chantal Allen about their work at Vevar, a woven textiles studio in the east end of Glasgow
Interview Catherine Coyle
Photography Otago Street Collective & Harrison Reid
Christopher McEvoy: “I grew up in the north of Glasgow, in a housing scheme called Milton, or, as taxi drivers would call it ‘The Milton’, which I always find funny. I think it’s a Scottish thing, or maybe just a west coast thing, that we put ‘the’ in front of a place name to denote its level of ‘roughness’!
Growing up, my family were always making and making do. My granda was a dab hand at carpentry. One of my earliest memories is of his greenhouse. He built it out of old sash windows that he’d rescued when the council were taking them out of the old tenements. My mum and my gran were always knitting, so I guess it was this that started my relationship with textiles. To top it all off, my great-grandparents and their families were all weavers. Like the industry in Glasgow, they had all died off long before I was born, but there must be something in the blood.
I studied textiles at the Glasgow School of Art. I had originally planned to study print, with the notion of getting into wallpaper design, but as I spent more time studying and then learning to weave, I found that this was where my true passion lay. I then went on to the Royal College of Art in London where my work became more focused on fashion. After leaving education, I worked as a freelance designer and consultant for a number of fashion houses, mainly on runway and couture collections, and that really is where my career was until I founded Vevar with Chantal. So it’s full circle back to interiors. I still do work in fashion and I think that’s evident in what Vevar does, particularly with the attention to materiality and craftsmanship.
I find inspiration in stories, which I know is a bit of an ephemeral thing to be inspired by when you’re making a product, but it seems to work for me. On a practical working level, though, I’ll research traditional and sometimes obscure weaving techniques that would have been common before industrialisation, and then look at how these can be updated and reintroduced.
Being in Scotland is a massive boon for our work. When you tell people you’re Scottish, it often creates a bit of a romantic image in their head, and when you say you’re a Scottish weaver, that goes into overdrive. While I don’t weave in a croft or have a flock of sheep, I’m happy for people to create this picture of me in their imagination. The fact that my work draws directly from my heritage, from stories and traditional Scottish techniques, means that being here lends it an authenticity that it just wouldn’t have if we were doing it anywhere else.”
Chantal Allen: “I spent a lot of my time outdoors, growing up in the countryside near the Trossachs, on the outskirts of the village of Balfron. There aren’t as many distractions in the country as there are in town, so I think I just focused on what I was best at – art and design – and threw myself into it. I’m eternally grateful to my art teachers for their encouragement and belief in my potential. I have always been interested in fabric, colour and designing – even when I was young, I’d be creating small booklets filled with fashion drawings and fabric samples. My mum tried to teach me to knit but, with me a left-hander and her being right-handed, it proved a little difficult.
I always thought that I wanted to be a fashion designer, not realising that you could be a textile designer and specialise in fabric itself. Then, at high school, I spent a week doing work experience at the Glasgow School of Art. I was captivated by the weaving looms and wanted to learn more. My heart was set on textile design. The precision, patience and commitment required to create a piece of cloth from a few cones of yarn was fascinating and soon became addictive, so much so that I went on to complete a degree in woven textiles.
My inspiration comes from my surroundings, such as the bold, blocky buildings I see on my way to work. My love of industrial and urban architecture, geometric patterns and repetition within the city all influence my designs.
Vevar was recently commissioned to weave scarves for the detective drama series Annika, which is filmed in Scotland. Our work appeared in episode 2 – it was lovely to finally see our textiles on screen and be able to talk about the project.
Weaving takes a really long time. Every thread that you see has been placed by hand individually, whether it’s the warp threads that have been pulled through one by one, or the weft threads which are meticulously woven in, a row at a time, to create the final piece of fabric.”
Looking for more? Check out this interview with a glass artist