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Meet the Alumna: Alice Timmis, creative weaver

13 May 2018 by Meghna Sarkar in Alumni Stories, Fashion, Features

What happens when industrially woven fabrics are treated with an array of creative hand finishes? A look at the work of TexSelect alumna Alice Timmis says it all.

Alice Timmis sits with a warp of pink silk raffia and shimmery Italian fancy yarns stretched out on the handloom in front of her. It’s part of a hand-woven collection to be sent to Dash + Miller, a renowned woven textile studio in Bristol, for whom the 30-year-old British textile designer freelances. The initial stages of ideation are her favourite, with time spent experimenting with various yarns, weaves and hand-finished techniques until the final result is ready to be shipped off. “Weave is very linear. I try to get away from that by embroidering or painting on my fabrics afterwards,” says Alice.

© Alice Timmis

This approach sets Alice apart from conventional textile designers. Each of her woven creations are treated differently once they are taken off the loom. There are swatches with plastic strips melted onto them for a painterly effect, woven mohair that has been hand brushed for a fuzzy feel, and fabrics with intersecting wool and nylon yarns, washed and shrunk for an overall ruched texture. “When I was growing up, I realised that what I look at when I look at a garment is not the silhouette, it’s the material,” says Alice, describing her initial inspiration to become a textile designer.

After a BA in Fashion and Textiles from Middlesex University, Alice went on to a Masters in Textiles at the Royal College of Art, specialising in woven textiles. Her work found mention in the pages of British Vogue even before graduation, thanks to a collaboration with Vivi Raila, a fashion designer from the RCA. “I began to have fashion fatigue as the thirtieth designer sent the models walking… But I picked up enthusiastically on Vivi Raila’s twenty-first-century floral decoration done in conjunction with machine embroiderer Alice Timmis,” wrote legendary fashion journalist Suzy Menkes in her review of the RCA graduation show back in 2015. “I really liked the fact that Suzy appreciated the fabrics,” recalls Alice. “It’s quite rare that the textile designer gets mentioned.”

© Alice Timmis, Vivi Raila collaboration 2015

Alice has hardly looked back since then. She was one of the 24 designers selected from all over the UK for the TexSelect in 2016. As with all TexSelect designers, she exhibited at the TexSelect London Preview and then at Première Vision Designs in Paris. “I am still benefiting from TexSelect,” says Alice. “I have made some really good connections which I wouldn’t have made if it wasn’t for TexSelect.”

© Alice Timmis, hand-finished jacquard with embroidery

Alice was also selected as one of seven textile designers to be sent to Como, Italy, for an industrial internship that proved to be invaluable. The experience lasted seven weeks, at the end of which Alice was able to see her sketches and patterns interpreted into fabrics. “Some people felt a bit discouraged by the free rein we were given, but I saw it as an opportunity to get as many of my designs realised as possible,” smiles Alice.

Alice is still in touch with the technical team at the Italian mill where she worked, often taking short trips over there. This year, especially, has been the busiest yet for her with collaborations with a number of fashion designers for their A/W 18 collections. They included Sadie Williams, for whom she worked on weaving the designer’s logo repeatedly into a quilted double cloth. The inner nylon layer of the black and purple quilt shrunk when steamed, creating a rippled texture throughout the length of the fabric. When used on a floor-length gown or even a simple turban, it looked striking.

© Alice Timmis, Sadie Williams collaboration autumn/winter 2018

Another interesting project includes fabrics that Alice developed for the label Tata-Naka. Two layers of organza were simultaneously woven and a thread of chunky wool inserted after every centimetre, trapped in between, creating a beautiful translucent fabric. There’s also a variation of the conventional plaid in multi-coloured checks woven with jagged angular edges. And a collaboration with designer Steven Tai makes an impact including intricate jacquards ripped out and appliqued on solid fabrics, with a haphazard embroidery on the seams that renders them invisible. “Steven Tai wanted the seams to look like they have been scribbled on top,” explains Alice. “We spent three to four days just playing around with stitches so that there were no visible seams.”

Also of note is a fabric developed for the label Tommy Zhong where eight different types of yarns including latex, paper, angora, silk, polyurethane yarns and more have been woven together, with lengths of floating threads creating a unique texture. One of the garments from the label’s A/W 17 collection, an overcoat constructed entirely with this cloth, stands out as a statement piece. It’s remarkable how each fabric that Alice develops originates from a calculated method of weaving and then gets an extra-special life of its own thanks to her creative finishes. “I have got a mathematical mind but I am also very painterly,” says Alice.

© Alice Timmis, Tommy Zhong collaboration autumn/winter 2017

The last few months Alice has been engrossed in growing her business from her neat little studio in Deptford, London. “A/W 18 has so far been my busiest season,” says Alice. “It’s made me feel like my studio could become really successful.”

So what are her future plans? “I want my work to be a blend of industrial manufacturing and in-house hand techniques,” says Alice. “As much as it is important for me to grow the business, I also want to maintain my creative vision and have my own niche.” It looks like she may have already found it.

© Alice Timmis, hand-brushed mohair jacquard

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