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60 weavers left in once textile-rich France

Crafts in focus: Life as a tisserand or weaver is ideal for some but it has drawbacks and now only a few are left

Monique Demazière is one of a very small number of professional weavers in France.

The Institut de Métiers d’Art estimates there are about 60, who are mostly installed in regions where there is a strong textile tradition, such as Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Occitanie, Hauts-de-France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Brittany, Grand-Est.

They produce household textiles, clothes or artistic pieces, which they sell direct, either in their own shop, or at trade fairs or in markets. Sometimes, they might be asked to reproduce an antique fabric or a high- quality fabric for an interior decorating company.

Some specialise in samples for companies who will then reproduce them on an industrial scale and some specialise in artistic pieces.

There is no denying it can be difficult to make a living as a weaver today. As most textile mills have closed in France and in Europe, weavers often find it difficult to find quality fibres to work with.

Ms Demazière has worked as a weaver for 20 years. Her shop is in one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, Autoire in the Lot, a site chosen deliberately to attract tourists.

The door to her shop Brins-de-Laine (www.brinsdelaine.fr) is in a picturesque street and inside it is colourful and cosy, with handwoven scarves and jackets on show, wool for sale in boxes on the wall and she sits at her beautiful wooden hand loom, making a scarf. There is a gentle clic-clac as she sends the shuttle from side to side.

Before weaving she worked on a goat farm, but she has sewn since she was young. “I used to make patchwork, long before it became fashionable. Then I met a friend who had a loom she did not know how to use and I was intrigued.

“When my work at the farm ended I found a weaver in Agen who taught me my skills in a six-month course.

It is a little difficult to learn and there is a lot of technique and you need to be good at basic maths, to work out the configurations of the loom to create your patterns. You need to have a sense of colour which I have from doing so much patchwork. And you have to love the materials you are working with. 

“I loved working with the goats, and it is important to me to work with natural fibres that come from an animal which has not been harmed.”

Making a woven piece of material is a long process. She makes about three shawls a year from wool she has carded, spun, coloured with vegetable dyes and woven.

Such items take about three months, working around three hours a day. She does not make money from such a project but does it for the pleasure of creating something from A to Z.

Otherwise she buys wool from one of the last surviving spinning mills, in Creuse. A jacket uses six metres of cloth which will take her six days to weave. She sells jackets at €230 and shawls at €169, whether she has spun the wool or not.

A quick calculation shows she does not earn much per hour and she admits people have become more reluctant to buy in the past five years.

However, she loves what she does: “All the processes take time, but I like that. When I used to guard my goats, sometimes for hours at a time, it was long but good.

With a slow rhythm, you learn to take life as it comes. It is no good wanting everything to happen immediately. I do not earn much money, but I am happy and free and lucky to be able to do what I love doing. Not everyone has that chance.”

Weavers can use many types of thread including linen, silk, hemp, cotton, wool, cashmere and even thin strands of metal.

To begin with the loom must be set up with great attention to detail as the long, or warp, threads are put into place.

The weaver uses pedals to lift alternate lines of warp threads in different combinations so as to pass the weft threads across them and create a pattern. Great dexterity is needed and different designs require skill.

Depending on the type of thread used, on average, someone working a handloom can weave between 30cm and 10 metres of material in 10 hours.

There are several non-diploma courses of varying lengths where you can learn to weave, often run by professionals. There are also courses to learn dying and spinning.

There is one professional diploma – a Diplôme des métiers d’art (DMA) Arts textiles et céramiques option arts textiles - which lasts two years and has embroidery, tapestry or weaving as a speciality.

You do not have to have a professional diploma to earn money as a weaver.

www.institut-metiersdart.org/metiers-d-art/textile/tisserand

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