2022 International Women’s Day Maker Spotlight 

This International Women’s Day we are shining a spotlight on three pioneering women.

Often overshadowed by their male counterparts, these groundbreaking textile artists achieved success by looking to past techniques to create contemporary designs, which went on to inform future generations of craftspeople.

Each turned their practice into a successful business, and were respected as teachers as well as makers.

Hilary Bourne

Hilary Bourne (1909 – 2004) spent much of her childhood in Ditchling. She learnt to weave in Palestine and worked briefly as a designer for Ethel Hilary Bourne (1909 – 2004) spent much of her childhood in Ditchling. She learnt to weave in Palestine and worked briefly as a designer for Ethel Mairet just after World War II; it was at Mairet’s Gospels workshop in the village that Bourne learnt aniline dyeing from Margery Kendon and Muriel Barron (Barron & Larcher).⁠

She met her partner, costume and set designer Barbara Allen, in the late 1930s and they were particularly successful in the 1950s working with modernist architects, creating rich woollen textiles for brutalist buildings including London’s Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Cinema and the new Heathrow Airport. ⁠

They also won the commission to design, weave and dye many of the costumes for the 1959 blockbuster film Ben Hur including Charlton Heston’s.⁠

Bourne retained strong lifelong connections in the village and founded the museum with her sister Joanna in 1985 (pictured together in the final above.)⁠

Ethel Mairet

Ethel Mairet was born in Devon in 1872. Marriage to Ananda Coomaraswamy took her to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she became interested in weaving and dyeing. Upon returning to Chipping Campden in 1909 she acquired her first loom.⁠

She is perhaps best known for ‘A Book on Vegetable Dyes’, which Hilary Pepler published in 1916. It was so successful it led to another 3 editions.⁠

Gospels, her Ditchling home, included a workshop and sale room. Her many eminent students and apprentices included Hilary Bourne, Valentine KilBride, Petra Gill, Peter Collingwood and Marianne Scrub. ⁠

Her seminal training influenced generations of weavers, and her legacy remains an inspiration to many to this day.⁠

In 1937 Mairet was the first woman to be awarded the Royal Designer for Industry.⁠

Jenny KilBride

As the daughter of Valentine KilBride, Jenny Kilbride (born 1948) was brought up among members of the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic. In 1972, when she was 24 years old, she joined her father in the workshop and began to learn to weave. She became the first woman to become a member of the Guild in 1974.

After her father passed away in 1982, Jenny ran the family silk-weaving and vestment-making business until the Guild closed in 1989. A major commission from this period was the cope and mitre made for the Rt Rev Rowan Williams on his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury.

As a trustee, KilBride was extremely influential and effective in raising funds and generating momentum for the creation of the new Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. Now retired, she has a workshop in her garden where she once again specialises in natural dyeing and silk weaving, using the equipment that was stored away when the family workshop closed.