Weaving a new story at family owned mill

Sunny Bank in Farsley, Leeds the previous home of Yorkshire Television’s Emmerdale and Heartbeat and one of the last remaining family-owned mills in Yorkshire, has welcomed traditional art of weaving back.

The mill has been in the Gaunt family for almost two centuries and current co-owner William Gaunt, a passionate weaver, has now launched a series of weaving classes on site.

The first class starts on Saturday September 5 and will be led by fully qualified teacher and weaver Agnis Smallwood in the Twisting Gallery Studios at the mill. Following the inaugural class, the mill will host a series of classes throughout autumn and winter including a five week beginners course.

Gaunt, who studied textiles at Leeds University in the 1980s, said, “We are really excited and can’t wait to get started.

“Bringing weaving back to Sunny Bank Mills, and organising these classes, has been a tremendous labour of love. Our family have been weaving wool cloth for generations. So when we sadly sold our family textile business in 2008, I thought it was the end of my weaving career and the end of the family’s connection with the craft of weaving.

“The Gaunt family came across from Ghent in the 12th century with the Flemish weavers. So, with at least 800 years of weaving in our blood, there was a strong urge to keep alive the tradition and retain that long relationship we had with the loom.”

In fact Gaunt’s connection to these courses goes deeper than simply being a passion, as he explained, “The key was to find the handlooms on which I had been taught at university and which, thanks to new textile teaching practices, had been discarded. After a ten-year search, I eventually discovered them at Fabworks in Dewsbury, an amazing independent fabric store.

“The parts were all muddled up, covered in dust, legs had been sawn off the frames and the looms cords were all cut. In fact, it was impossible to see if the looms were complete or not. However, I was determined to save these looms, which are 100 years old, and bring them back to life.”

And that is exactly what he has done. Restoring eight of the 10 looms he discovered at Fabworks to their former glory.

“It was so satisfying to see the looms once again brought back into working order and being used for the purpose that they were first intended and to see the delight on the faces of the weavers, as they started to create their own cloth for the first time.

“The skills of weaving will not now be lost in this famous wool village of Farsley and it is with great pride that the next generation of weavers will absorb this ancient craft,” he added.

This is the latest success for the Gaunt and his cousin John who own and manage the mill, and have transformed it into a modern 21st century employment, retail and artistic community, creating more than 350 jobs and providing a stimulating base for over 70 companies.