A Brief History of Committed to Cloth
In June 1996, Claire Benn moved to Betchworth in Surrey and whilst hunting down dyeing supplies, discovered George Weil a short car trip away, in Redhill. At that time, Leslie Morgan was running the occasional class at the Weil warehouse and teaching out of her house and garage. Claire signed up for a class and the rest is… history.
But before the history, let’s start by looking at what ‘Committed to Cloth’ (or C2C in shorthand) has achieved…
- The provision of a purpose designed, fully equipped, spacious ‘sanctuary’ for textile work, be that engaging in wet processes involving dyes, discharge media and paint or dry processes involving construction, collage or stitch.
- Access to top-flight tutors, including:
- Els van Baarle http://www.elsvanbaarle.com
- Claire Benn http://clairebenn.com
- Sandra Brownlee http://www.seniorartists.org/sbrownlee.html
- Dorothy Caldwell http://dorothycaldwell.com
- Christine Chester http://www.christinechester.com
- Jette Clover http://www.jetteclover.com
- Nancy Crow http://www.nancycrow.com
- Jane Dunnewold http://www.1803artspace.com
- Matthew Harris http://www.matthewharriscloth.co.uk
- Claudia Helmer
- Denise Lach
- Jo Lovelock http://www.jolovelock.com
- Leslie Morgan www.committedtocloth.com
- Joan Schultz
- Sarah Welsby
- Charlotte Yde http://www.yde.dk
- Introduction of new technology in the form of the thermofax screen (which is actually old technology, co-opted for modern use).
- Seven books on textile processes, some of which have become required reading.
- A student base that is successful in regularly having work selected for European Art Quilt, Quilt Masters, the Quilt Triennial and Quilt National, and which has spawned exhibiting groups such as ViewSeven and Zero 3.
- And most importantly, the formation of a community of like-minded people, engaged in the pursuit of textiles in whatever form.
So how did all of this happen?
In the spring of 2000, Nancy Crow opened her new teaching facility – the Crow Timber Framed Barn in Baltimore, Ohio. Claire and Leslie decided to treat themselves to two weeks of uninterrupted study, booked their flights and accommodation and were off. As well as studying, they spent many evenings sitting outside, talking about how great it would be to try and recreate a similar environment back in England. At that time there were (and still are) very few art facilities dedicated to textiles and outside of City & Guilds, few places to study.
Once home, they began to harden up their plans and launched ‘Committed to Cloth’ in 2001 by offering ‘Summer School’ style retreats in the studio at the Chequer Mead Arts Centre in East Grinstead. It was hard work. They had to pay for and install industrial sinks, make portable boards suitable for surface design, hire a van and transport everything (tools, media, table risers, towels, dropcloths etc.) needed for the classes…, and then take it all down again two or three weeks later. In the meantime, Leslie was still running classes from her home and had set up a series of ‘day-a-month’ events where individuals signed up for study on a monthly basis. However, facilities were limited and in order to grow, C2C needed a larger venue.
Claire had just set up a studio in an old carriage block at her house (Bovey Cottage), but if C2C were to maintain their maxim of each student having their own, large work table, it could only support three people. So, where to get more space? Claire managed to convince her husband (James) into relinquishing the use of the ‘pool room’ – a space he had envisaged as a woodworking studio, and which he would have to wait a further eight years to reclaim. Together, these two studios could comfortably accommodate 6 students and for day-a-month events, the dining room at the house was incorporated for dry activities such as design and stitch. In order to be able to offer larger, 5-day events with visiting tutors, C2C continued to set up Summer Schools at Chequer Mead, as well as offering 5-day retreats at Bovey Cottage for smaller groups.
Steadily, the C2C community began to grow and the dream that began at the Crow Barn became real.
In 2003, C2C were in conversation with Jan King of Twisted Thread, who wanted C2C to teach at the Festival of Quilts but without ‘wet’ facilities, Claire & Leslie couldn’t offer themselves as tutors. After a bit of brainstorming, they came up with the concept of ‘The Virtual Studio’; a dedicated space in the main exhibition hall, kitted out for wet activities. Twisted Thread supplied the space and access to running water, and C2C provided everything in the space, including the sink! The Virtual Studio is still going strong and from Tuesday to Thursday (the first ‘official’ day of the Festival) it’s used as a dedicated wet workshop for a masterclass. On Thursday evening, C2C transform it into a public access studio where visitors to Festival can be educated, entertained and inspired from Friday straight through to the close of the show on Sunday.
Six years after launching, C2C couldn’t keep up with demand and running classes from Bovey Cottage was beginning to take its toll on Claire & James. And so began the hunt for new premises that eventually led James and Claire to considering the derelict barn at the bottom of their lane. A plan was made to restore the barn, convert it using as much ecological technology as possible, rent it to C2C as a teaching venue and eventually, turn it into their home.
After a year of negotiation with the Betchworth Estate, Claire & James bought the barn and in July 2009, a team of green oak specialists moved in to undertake the initial restoration of the frame. Slowly but surely, a beautiful structure emerged and planning permission to change from agricultural use to light industrial was obtained in February 2010. The final result maintained the traditional feel of the original barn whilst combining contemporary elements - natural light was utilised through double-height, floor-to-ceiling glazing on three aspects and the building is close to being carbon-neutral. Potter’s Farm Studios opened in May of 2011 as the new home of Committed to Cloth, allowing Claire & Leslie to expand the day-a-month programme and increase the range of classes and tutors offered.
James and Claire had initially envisaged the studio being operational for five to seven years but after going on a retreat in India in March 2013, they returned with the realisation that they wanted to simplify, down-size and spend more time together sooner than they’d anticipated.
From the new facility, Drewshearne Barn, Leslie will continue to offer:
- a ‘day-a-month’ programme
- new 3 day ‘professional practice’ programmes
- 3-5 day ‘retreat-style’ workshops with visiting tutors
Claire and Leslie have repeatedly been told that the formation of Committed to Cloth transformed the practice of surface design in the U.K., and the development of quilts and stitched textiles as art. So, if you are interested in textiles as art, and committed to developing your skills and abilities (potentially to a professional level), there’s no better place to come. Watch the website for information on classes and keep an eye on the Committed to Cloth Facebook page Don’t delay… pursue your passion.
What We've Achieved
- Committed to Cloth has published 7 book, 6 video tutorials and run over 1000 workshops.
- Exhibited and presented at some of the worlds largest textile and quilt shows.
- Selected by Nancy Crow to teach at The Crow Barn, USA.
- C2C have taught in the UK, Europe and the USA.
- C2C has juried for multiple exhibitions and has provided feedback for exhibiting groups.
- A Virtual Studio at the Festival of Quilts since the festival began, showcasing a variety of artists.