Catarina Riccabona’s throws and blankets are created to adorn beds, couches, and especially to snuggle under, but it’s easy to imagine them also mounted on a museum wall. The sophisticated covers, designed and handwoven by the London-based, Austrian maker are exceptional for their mélange of textures, colors, unpredictable patterns, and naturally sourced materials such as alpaca wool and hemp—qualities that transform rectangles of cloth into singular contemporary compositions.
Visitors to London will have the opportunity to see Riccabona hand weave at her loom during two exhibits hosted by The New Craftsmen, a fine-craft gallery in London’s Mayfair section that represents high-end U.K. artisans (34 North Row; 44-20/7148-3190). From February 26 to 28, she will set up a workshop inside the gallery as part of its “Atelier” project, which shines a spotlight on four artisans working in different mediums through March 14. And in May, Riccabona will participate in the New Craftsmen’s Made of Mayfair exhibit—as part of the inaugural London Craft Week—for which she will compose a piece inspired by the ornate wood carvings of Grinling Gibbons housed inside St. James’s Church Piccadilly.
Given Riccabona’s skill at arranging and balancing many elements on one surface, it’s not surprising to learn that before she settled on weaving, she experimented with painting and collage during and after her university studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Initially, she’d even scoffed at the notion of textiles.
“I saw it as rather boring and old-fashioned, and maybe a bit too female,” she said. “Even though I’m interested in patterns, I was very critical about it.” But encouraging words from weaving teachers and a fascination with mechanics eventually turned her toward fiber. “I remember the first time I saw these big, very old wooden looms. My first thought was, I want to learn how to use them,” she said.
Riccabona’s focus is on sustainability is integral to her approach. "I’m not a dogmatic consumer, but with my business I feel a clear responsibility for what I put out in the world," she said. “I don’t buy industrial colored yarns, only plant-dyed or recycled yarn respun from industrial waste."
One of her particularly striking surface treatments—raised fiber knots, which add depth and texture—come from leftover ends from other weavers. She knots them together to form a continuous yarn, and during the weaving the knots form their own patterns. Riccabona also appreciates the durability and appearance of linen sourced from flax, which lends her work a refined rawness. "I use linen in practically every piece. At first it doesn’t necessarily look very glamorous, but it has an elegant beauty over time."
During her weaving demonstration at the New Craftsmen, Riccabona will experiment with designs from finer linen, hemp, and also silk for potential use in a soft-furnishings line, which would involve small-batch mill production.
But for now, making bespoke, handwoven throws and blankets is her priority. "Both in terms of quality and artistically, it’s a more interesting and satisfying way to make my work. I produce everything myself and the pieces are more exclusive," she said. "Some people buy what they see, but others commission work to match an existing interior, so we develop something together. In the end people put quite a lot of trust in me, and I really appreciate that."