Ethel Mairet

1872 – 1952

Ethel Mairet was born in Devon. Her first marriage to Ananda Coomaraswamy took her to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she became interested in weaving and dyeing. She acquired her first loom in 1909, when she and her husband returned to live alongside the Guild of Handicraft in Chipping Campden. They set up home in Norman Chapel, commissioning Arts and Crafts designer C R Ashbee to convert the building.

She married her second husband, Philip Mairet, in 1913 – Mairet had been her first husband’s secretary and had worked with Ashbee. The following year she was visited in 1914 by Mahatma Gandhi, who was familiar with her work in Ceylon and was interested in using simple textile techniques in India.

Friendship with Pepler and a favourable impression of the creative community led the Mairets to Ditchling, and in 1916 they made it their home. The same year seminal book ‘A Book on Vegetable Dyes’ was published and still has impact on a contemporary generation of natural dye artists; this impact is celebrated in the museum’s exhibition ‘Dyeing Now: Contemporary Makers Celebrate Ethel Mairet’s Legacy‘.

Mairet’s house, workshop and saleroom Gospels was built to her sketches, and her many eminent students and apprentices included Hilary Bourne, Valentine KilBride, Petra Gill, Peter Collingwood and Marianne Straub. In 1938 she was the first woman to be awarded the Royal Designer for Industry.

Mairet’s approach to weaving was that it should be sensitive to the texture of the yarns and the design responsive to the colour.