Fruitbat Textiles - the Somerset company making weaving an art form

Flatcaps and matching scarves

Flatcaps and matching scarves - Credit: Archant

Textiles have long been at the cutting edge of fine art – but it remains a decorative object for body and home. We speak to Somerset artist CHARLOTTE MARTIN about her specialism

Products are simply woven

Products are simply woven - Credit: Archant

Millinery has become something of a lost art form. So, the emergence of deliciously named Frutibat Textiles caught our attention - as did the stunning original work that surfs that perfect blend of art and commerce.

Charlotte Martin is Somerset born and bred and her work, colours and textures, are totally inspired by her local surroundings, and how the countryside changes through the seasons. She works from her studio and workshop in Ilminster. As well as designing and creating her unique pieces, she teaches weaving and dyeing workshops.

“I have been creating textiles pieces in one way or another, for as long as I can remember. However, I have been weaving since I started my degree in 2012. The business began almost straight after I graduated. Once I started weaving, I was hooked.”

Living in an area of outstanding beauty, Charlotte’s work is motivated by the seasons - whether it’s the bluebell fields of spring, the beautiful dusk light on a hamstone building during summer, the leaves and trees and rich, rusty oranges of autumn or the magical light of a frosty, winter morning. Charlotte manages to capture the look and feel of these stunning environments in her dyeing and weaving.

Style and comfort are important in the designs

Style and comfort are important in the designs - Credit: Archant

She creates hand woven and dyed luxury accessories for both men and women. Her often bespoke, unique pieces range from scarves and wraps, flat caps and other casual style hats, to occasion wear such as hats and fascinators. She mixes her own dyes and weaves the fabrics. She is a trained milliner. Charlotte is based in her workshop in a creative corner of Ilminster. She is hugely passionate about keeping traditional crafts alive within the county and she works hard to educate society about the skills and standards needed to create traditional, hand-crafted pieces.

Charlotte’s designs are made using natural fibres. She believes this approach is kinder to the environment and allows her to replicate the colours and textures that inspire her throughout the year.

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Charlotte established her business, Fruitbat Textiles in 2015. Her skills were highly recognised at the New Designers exhibition in 2015 where The Society for Designer Craftsmen recruited Fruitbat Textiles as a licentiate. The business then showed at the society’s exhibition ‘Designer Crafts on the Mall’ 2016 where she was then honoured with the Pollie Weiss colour prize.

“I think, as with most artists and makers, over time you find your ‘voice’ as a designer maker,” she says. “While at university I did as much experimentation as I could, trying out as many different techniques as I could within the project briefs and working out what I was capable of. I really enjoyed pushing what was possible on a hand loom. I created silk samples that had Jane Austin quotes in, or statistics from World War 1 and I really thought that would be what I took forward into my business. However, when building a business you have to be open to being led by your customers... what work is selling, what isn’t.

Style and comfort are important in the designs

Style and comfort are important in the designs - Credit: Archant

“With that in mind, as much as people admired the complicated structures, that’s not what they were buying. What I found to be popular where my hand painted items. More focused on colour work and woven in simple, traditional structures such as plain weave (your basic over, under) or twills.”

This has led to becoming known for her unique hand painted wraps based on our gorgeous Somerset landscapes, and woven well in simple patterns. “The great thing about these simple structures is that there is nowhere to hide. If you make a mistake when weaving in plain weave, it’s going to show up, so you have to really make sure you’re careful and get it right!

Charlotte’s designs are made using natural fibres, primarily focusing on British wool. “When we are surrounded by this hugely versatile, sustainable fibre it would criminal not to make use of it. She also believes this approach is kinder to the environment, supports other areas of British industry and allows her to replicate the colours and textures that inspire her throughout the year.

“Fruitbat Textiles is aimed at people who are looking for something you can’t find elsewhere,” she explains. “Accessories that will not go out of fashion and of such a quality that they will last a lifetime and become an heirloom for future generations.”

She creates hand woven and dyed luxury accessories for both men and women.

Charlotte takes commissions and usually the studio is open to view work.

“Our flat caps and ties are a very popular choice for bespoke pieces – the caps can not only be made in any colour way or fabric design, but we can also make them specifically to fit the client’s head.

“I always enjoy commissions that involve my hand painted wraps. These pieces end up being a beautiful surprise for both myself as well as the client. They can send me an image they would like me to base the piece on or colours they would like to be included.”

And if you fancy something a bit more hands on, Charlotte has a great selection of courses to dye your own scarf and create your own hand-woven fabric – courses designed for all ages and abilities. Currently unvailable due to the coronavirus lockdown, keep an eye on the website for further information.

Once the relevant restrictions are relaxed or lifted, people should be able to visit the studio to view the current range, see pieces being made and discuss bespoke items.