Last week I went to see a fantastic new exhibition at Margaret Howell’s Wigmore Street shop, documenting the life and work of Gerd Hay Edie, the founder of Mourne Textiles.
Admittedly, I hadn’t really heard of Mourne Textiles before this exhibition, but after reading about their story I was fascinated to discover more.
All photos via Francesca Tye
Mourne Textiles began life in 1949 when Gerd Hay-Edie founded a weaving workshop at the foot of County Down’s Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland.
Hay-Edie was a Norwegian pioneer of 20th century hand-woven textiles who came to settle in Northern Ireland after travelling across India and the Far East.
After founding Mourne Textiles, she went on to become a creative force in the mid-century design movement, working on collaborations with Robin Day for Hille, Terence Conran and Liberty to produce bespoke upholstery fabrics and rugs.
However, with production moving to the Far East in the early 80’s and local textiles being replaced by cheaper imports – problems that were compounded by the Troubles in Northern Ireland – orders began to slow down.
Hay-Edie gradually let the weavers go, although her daughter Karen kept the looms for private commissions and weaving courses.
However, a few years ago, when Karen thought she would have to also relinquish the looms, her son, Mario decided to step in and help re-launch the business.
A buyer at Margaret Howell had discovered the Mourne textiles designs whilst exploring the Robin Day archives. They placed an order and in doing so became the catalyst for the business’s rebirth.
Mario is now working with mother and Master Weaver Karen, to build on his grandmother’s legacy by reviving Gerd’s original designs such as the ‘Mourne Check’, which are still handwoven in Northern Ireland.
In fact, all of Mourne’s textiles are handmade in its Northern Ireland workshop and the yarns, sourced from Donegal, are “wild” spun to give the pieces real texture and make each piece unique.
It’s clear that Hay-Edie was a textile designer with an intuitive appreciation of colour, texture and yarn. And it’s a testament to her designs that despite being almost 80 years old, they look as modern today as they did in the 1950s
There is a nice quote from Gerd Hay Edie was reflects her timeless ethos: ‘For me, out of the past flows the future,’ she said. I think this also reflects very neatly the Margaret Howell aesthetic, and sums up what is a brilliant marriage.
You can find out more about the exhibition, which runs until the 30th October, here.