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Avena Carpets – weaving the threads of history

A chance comment from SDC Trustee Debbie Bamford about a Crossley Carpet in her parents’ home led to a visit to Avena Carpets, the last remaining narrow loom Belgium Axminster weaver in the country, and still based in the Crossley Mills complex in Halifax where it all began.

There is something to be said for some of the old techniques used in textiles. Some have never been improved on, they have been equalled but not necessarily improved on, and this is what Avena Carpets do.

IMG_8993Originating from Crossley Carpets which started back in 1802 when John and Martha Crossley bought their first mill, and growing until they were the biggest carpet manufacturers in the world, Avena is directly descended from this company and much of the equipment they use is originally from Crossleys. But be careful about thoughts of old machines not working properly. These were built to last and produce some of the finest carpets known to man.

IMG_9016Avena produce up to date modern designs but because of an extensive archive (dating from 1803), they also reproduce carpets that are now worn out after having been supplied originally by Crossleys 50 to 100 years ago. These carpets are bespoke and grace palaces and some of the most expensive houses around the world. Today, Avena service historic and restoration projects as well as interior design and decorator commissions.

IMG_9025The art of making these carpets is a skilled job from the dyeing (done by Phil Turner), creating the papers for the jacquard looms, setting the looms through to the weaving and making up of the completed carpet.

To speak to Rachel Tigue and her team is to understand what having pride in a job really means. When she tells you that a minimum of six to seven years is needed before someone could actually set a loom she means it. The complex nature of the task and attention to detail necessary to make such a product cannot be short cut by any machine or automation. The same is true for many of the jobs within Avena and within the wider textile industry.

IMG_9022The on-site dyehouse produces bespoke colours for the carpet designs, matched to perfection and handled with care to ensure that the loft and resilience in the yarn is maintained. The looms are set and worked with precision and dedication to produce a wonderful product.

Debbie commented: “I was really thrilled when Andrew contacted me to ask if I wanted to visit Avena Carpets. I had grown up with the name of Crossley Carpets – my mother wouldn’t have any other make in the house, even down to the one in my bedroom (which is with me in my current house and going strong!) I still have the receipts from the 1960s for the purchase of two Sultana Carpets – the best you could get then – I took them with me to show Rachel and a photo of one of them. With the phenomenal archive that Avena have, it would be possible to find the original pattern and reproduce the carpets – incredible! Touching history in this way is so special for me, imagine – I could have a carpet woven on the same looms, to the same pattern as one that had been made a hundred years ago!”

IMG_9033Debbie’s interest is with natural dyes and Crossley Carpets must have been using natural dyes when they first started production. She said: “Walking into the offices was like walking into a sweetie shop – row upon row of colour swatches, sadly for me not much evidence of natural dye there, but so impressive and beautiful. The original carpets would certainly have been made with wool dyed with plants and insects, maybe they can be again! I am really looking forward to going back to see Rachel and Phil in the near future!”

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