christabel balfour | tapestry weaver
interview and photography: corina esquivel
video: james d white
in early September we travelled to London to meet with Christabel, an artist and tapestry weaver, living and working in a gorgeous light-filled studio near the river thames. christy makes wall-hanging tapestries and handwoven rugs. when she's not busy creating away she teaches weaving classes with Bezalel Workshops.
grab a cup of tea, read her interview, and watch this lovely video of her work.
How did you start your career?
I went to art school in Oxford and studied textiles, painting and sculpture. When I graduated I started tapestry weaving, and I also interned for 18 months with a homeware designer. I learnt first-hand about running a creative business and realised that I really wanted to do that for myself. About a year and a half ago I quit my internship to focus on weaving full time.
Who or what is one of your greatest inspirations and how did they impact you?
There are so many! I think I’m inspired the most by the makers that I follow online- people like Ariele Alasko, Jono Smart and Mimi Jung. They are the people that showed me that it is possible to make a living from the things you make.
Is there anything that influences your work that’s not directly tied to its practice?
I really love going for walks! My favourite thing to do in London is get a good cup of coffee and go for a stroll. I love finding places I’ve never been before, and the slower pace helps me figure out my ideas. Many of my designs are influences by places I’ve stumbled upon.
What is one of the things you love most about your line of work?
I love working with my hands, and I love that I get to do something that is so deeply calming. Weaving is a very repetitive process, but it gives your mind a lot of room to wander. I feel like I know myself better now because of all the time I’ve spent at the loom. It gives you an opportunity to examine your thoughts.
What has been one of your favourite projects so far?
Getting my rug loom up and running! I found it online via a website called the Loom Exchange (a brilliant place) and it had been in bits in a garage for 30 years. I drove down there with my dad to collect it and paid £10 for the whole thing. It took about 6 months to clean up and put back together but I now weave all my rugs on it. It’s a fantastic loom and very strong- perfect for rugs.
If there have been times you’ve wanted to quit, what has kept you going?
I’ve never wanted to quit outright, but there have been plenty of times when I’ve thought that I should try and get another job- mostly for the money! What keeps me going is that I know 100% that this is what I want to do with my life. And I’m so lucky to know that, because so many people are still figuring it out. I’d rather have a few lean years where I don’t have much money and I’m living with my parents, but at least be working hard on my dream, than not know what I want to do at all.
What is most important to you in life?
Time to alone to just think, draw, daydream. I love being around other people, but I’m definitely an introvert.
Where do you find your inspiration?
So much of it comes from the natural landscape- the sea, the hills, the English countryside, Welsh valleys. I’m also very inspired by textile artists from around the world. The weavers of the Navajo are a huge inspiration- I think they are the best tapestry weavers in the world.
What does success look like for you?
Being able to make whatever you want without having to worry about money! That’s the dream.
How does your faith play a role in what you do?
I don’t think I would have had the confidence to become self-employed at 23 if I didn’t have God. As it was, God encouraged me to do this, and has encouraged me every step of the way. Every time I run into a problem and start freaking out, He is the one who reminds me that I can do this, and helps me look at the problem with fresh eyes. He gives the best advice!
It’s sometimes hard because I think I should be doing more for the world around me and that I should be helping others, or serving in the church. But I can trust that God can use what I make to bless other people. I also know that He doesn’t only care about things because they are functional or serve a purpose- He is such an extravagant, beautiful God, and everything He has made expresses that. I want what I make to express that too.
What is one of the things you find particularly important for Christians to do/be today?
I would love to see us have more courage. We aren’t children of a little God, and we don’t need to be afraid of our failure or the failure of others. I would love to see more Christians realise how good God really is.