Upper Canada Weaving


Deborah Livingston-Lowe studied woven textiles at the Ontario Collage of Art and Design (OCAD) and has 30 years of experience in weaving, antique textile restoration and appraising. Working out of her attic studio in Toronto, she brings a unique design aesthetic to her work, drawing form a deep historical knowledge of Canadian textile design from the 19th Century. Her weaving is beautiful. Just ask Peggy Sue Collection Inc., which features Deborah’s weaving in both her Spring/Summer 2016 and Fall/Winter 2016 collection or Upper Canada Mercantile for which she is the principle weaver of throws, blankets and scarfs.


What has working with the local fibres meant to you as a weaver? Is there a quality that you appreciate and can share?  Using local fibres in my recent work with Becky Porlier of Upper Canada Mercantile and Peggy Sue of Peggy Sue Collection Inc. has pointed me in a direction I have been wanting to move in for some years.  When I began weaving over 30 years ago, there was not a significant presence of local wool readily available where I was purchasing my supplies.  There was some local Ontario wool around like Philosopher’s Wool, but it was really best suited to knitting not weaving.  When I started reproducing floatwork coverlets about 15 years ago, I needed a certain weight, ply and range of colours. The closest wool to my specifications came from Harrisville in New Hampshire.  This wool matched as close as possible hand spun wool in 19th century colours. Although the Ontario wool that I am currently using for Becky and Peggy Sue isn’t suitable for certain applications.  It has wonderful qualities for plush woollens and the wool continues to impress me as I work with it on my loom.

I really like the way the mill producers are also open to making changes to make their wool more suitable for my needs as a weaver.  For our last project, Peggy Sue was able to get 2 ply instead of 3 ply which is a preference for me. The wool in the blanket that I did for Becky and the yardage that I did for Peggy Sue had a beautiful lustre superior to other wools that I have worked with in the past. The sheen almost reminded me of the wool from Persian carpets that I have restored in the past.  The process of putting together the wool for these products has been fascinating because we have been able to use several breeds to achieve a range of natural colours from white to black. At a large mill all of the wools would probably be mixed together. In our production, a stripe of colour could be sourced to the fleece of sometimes one sheep.

What draws you to the art form? Is there a particular style or type of weaving that you prefer?
The process of weaving is so protracted as it is only one step within several steps that precede it and then again several steps that follow.  I really like being in control of all of these steps to create a specific textile.  Cloth is all around us and I find it fascinating to be able to decode it and recreate it. It’s such a necessity of life. Cloth hasn’t differed greatly from the first cloth created perhaps 100,000 years ago. Our tools might have become more sophisticated and faster but cloth is still at its most basic one over, one under.  I am fascinated with simple tools that make complex things – the concept of something from nothing. Weaving is a way to reach back into the past. My passion is to work with equipment and documents from weavers which connects me with past practices.

What does being apart of the Upper Canada Fibreshed mean to you? 
 I have been weaving reproductions of Canadian textiles for about 15 years using imported fibre. Ironically, I needed to use imported fibre to make textiles that were produced here in 19th century Canada.  Ontario had a small scale mill infrastructure with fulling and carding mills for wool and some cotton mills which supplied fibre for local handloom weavers.  At last, being connected with fibre producers and mill production is a wonderful learning experience for me because it gets me closer to using local materials for my reproduction work. I would be thrilled if I could replace more of the fibre that I use with locally sourced wool.  Being a part of my local fibre shed gives me the opportunity to build back our rich heritage of fabric production in Ontario.

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