Fabric Walling | Fiona Wemyss & Co. | 2

This month’s project has been in the pipeline for a while now and is quite frankly … a whopper!

My mum, who was an interior decorator before she took over the Wemyss School of Needlework, is hoping to pass her wonderful ‘fabric walling’ skills down to the next generation, and the candidate … it’s me!

Walling Post

Fabric walling is a form of upholstery used to decorate the walls of a room, and is – in my humble opinion – the most beautiful form of wall covering available.

400 years ago families would move from their principal residence to their summer house taking their furniture and valuables with them; a process that included large and beautifully woven tapestries or ‘arras hangings’.  Very little furniture was upholstered in those days and these decorative wall hangings were valued not only for their beauty but for the very practical reason that they gave the cavernous rooms a feeling of warmth and comfort.  By the late 17th century, fashions had changed. Fixed wall coverings and upholstered furniture had replaced the tradition of ‘moveable’ items. In the Duchess of Lauderdale’s bedchamber in Scotland, for example, the room was decorated with hangings of red and white Indian silk, which matched the upholstery of the chairs and cushions. It was from these historic origins that ‘fabric walling’ began and it can still be seen to this day in historic houses.  You only have to enter a walled room to experience the wonderful quality of comfort and unique acoustics it provides.

There’s no need to live in a ‘Great House’ to use walling – my mum has installed it in places ranging from huge rooms to box rooms.  One of the things that I think is really exciting about fabric walling is that you can choose any fabric; from the rarest of silks to exciting contemporary designs on linen, velvet or cotton.  Once chosen, the fabric is painstakingly transformed into large bespoke panels for each wall before being stretched like a drum over a fluffy interlining so that it gives the room that really soft ambience.

It looks utterly incredible.  The question is, can I do it?

Well, there was only going to be one way to find out …

The first part of this challenge took place at my parent’s house in Scotland under the watchful eye of my mother. Her aim was to teach me as much as she could in two weeks, and if I showed any promise, we could take things from there… We’re starting off with my bedroom (in case anything goes wrong) and using a pretty honey coloured herringbone fabric; mum’s suggested that something relatively inexpensive with a simple pattern was probably a safe place to start.

She’s very brave – spending two weeks together with me as the pupil could go either way.

Here’s what happened (the video is best enjoyed with sound!):

As i’m sure you can tell by my face in the video – i didn’t hate it.  I love the level of care that has to go into each part of the project, for example the seams between each fabric panel have to be dead straight and match the pattern perfectly – there’s absolutely no room for error.  This meant hand sewing together 41 metres of fabric before machine sewing them together.  It might sound tiresome, but knowing what you’re going to achieve if you get it right is well worth it!

The other thing I love about this project is the passing of skills from mother to daughter.  It’s been an utter joy to spend two weeks being taught by mum, she has a notoriously infectious laugh which always helps, but also “these skills will only survive if they live in each generation. They provide a link to our roots, and they are part of our shared heritage”. Heritage Crafts

In October I’ll be heading up North for part two of my training where i’ll be finishing my room, and will then be given another room to upholster without mum’s help … what could possibly go wrong?!

I love hearing stories about skills that have passed down through the generations – if you, or anyone else you know, has passed a traditional skill down through the family – I’d love to hear from you!

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