The papers of Ethel Mairet

Scope and Content

The archive consists of personal documents; travel diaries; correspondence relating to the building of the Gospels house and workshop; order books and statements of accounts; business correspondence; notes made by EM on works she read and talks she attended as well as drafts for lectures and writings; press cuttings; and photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ethel Mairet was born Ethel Mary Partridge in Barnstaple, Devon in 1872. At that time several prominent figures associated with the arts and crafts movement were located in and around the town: W.R.Lethaby, the Brannam Pottery and the Fishley Pottery at Fremington and Jack Bailey who was associated with C.R. Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft. She studied at the Municipal Science and Art School, Barnstaple. She then went onto the Royal Academy of Music during the 1890s, where she gained a teaching diploma in pianoforte, and took a post as a governess in London, and then Germany.

She returned to England in 1902, met and married the Anglo-Ceylonese geologist Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy and, after meeting C.R. Ashbee, moved to the community based in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Ethel and Ananda, who was employed on a geological survey, moved to Ceylon in 1903 and it was there that her interest in textiles developed. She studied and collected indigenous arts and crafts and began writing articles.

On their return to England in 1907 they moved to the Norman Chapel in Broad Campden which was restored and extended by C.R. Ashbee and his Guild of Handicraft. It was here that Mairet began to experiment with weaving, studying the use of vegetable dyes.

Following her separation from Ananda, she had moved to Saunton Sands, Devon by 1912. The following year she married Philip Mairet and they moved to The Thatched House in Shottery, near Stratford-upon-Avon, where she set up a weaving workshop. Two years later, they moved to Ditchling in East Sussex where Eric Gill, Douglas Pepler, Edward Johnston and others were part of an emerging artistic community. Mairet built her home and workshop at 'Gospels' in Ditchling from 1918-1920 and where she was to stay for the remainder of her life. Although she was never a member of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic she was thoroughly integrated into the artistic life of the village. She had many eminent visitors including Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, who obtained hand woven material from the workshop to make up into a suit.

Mairet took on apprentices from the early 1920s, a period which was characterised by simple plain weaving using natural fibres and vegetable dyes. Throughout the 1930s the apprenticeship system developed and the workshop production grew. Some 130 apprentices, assistants and workgirls worked at Gospels prior to her death in 1952, notably Marianne Straub and Peter Collingwood. Mairet was largely responsible for establishing Ditching as an international centre for the revival of hand woven textiles and vegetable dyes and throughout her long career she produced furnishing fabrics, dress lengths, scarves and garments using high quality wool, silk and cotton yarns.

She published six books, including 'Vegetable Dyes', 1916, and 'Hand-weaving today: tradition and changes', 1939, and many articles. Her 'textile portfolios' or teaching packs were loaned to schools and teacher training colleges from 1939-1952. A touring retrospective exhibition of her work was organised by the Crafts Study Centre in conjunction with the Crafts Council in 1983.

Arrangement

The archive was arranged in the 1980s by the Crafts Study Centre - although it is not clear if this followed the original order in which it was deposited at the CSC. The archive was divided into envelopes and the contents were recorded in a handlist compiled in the 1980s, with items in envelopes 1-4 being given numbers in the form 82.X. Envelopes 44-49 were not recorded in the handlist, suggesting they were later additions.

The archive was re-arranged by Greta Bertram in 2022, following the previous arrangement to a certain extent but combining or separating envelopes to group related material together, and removing materials clearly donated by others (rather than originating with Mairet) to other collections, such as EMC and NHG.

  • EPM/1 Personal documents
  • EPM/2 Travels
  • EPM/3 Correspondence re the purchase of Sundown Cottage, Ditchling
  • EPM/4 Correspondence and legal matters re the building of Gospels, Ditchling
  • EPM/5 Order books, stock lists and statements of accounts
  • EPM/6 Gospels business correspondence
  • EPM/7 Printed material relating to EM and Gospels
  • EPM/8 Plans for a Weaving School
  • EPM/9 Faber and Faber: Memoranda of Agreement and royalty statements
  • EPM/10 'Weaving and Education'
  • EPM/11 Textile portfolio introductions
  • EPM/12 Drafts and notes for talks and writings by EM
  • EPM/13 Correspondence and notes sent to and from EM re talks and lectures, plus translations by EM
  • EPM/14 Bibliographies and notes taken by EM on books read/lectures attended
  • EPM/15 Press cuttings re EM
  • EPM/16 Press cuttings and photographs re sheep
  • EPM/17 Photographs of EM
  • EPM/18 Photographs of EM's family and friends
  • EPM/19 Photographs of EM's animals
  • EPM/20 Photographs of places
  • EPM/21 Photographs from travels
  • EPM/22 Photographs of EM and others weaving, spinning and dyeing
  • EPM/23 Photographs of work from Gospels
  • EPM/24 Photographs of work by others
  • EPM/25 Photographs of weaving, spinning and sewing abroad
  • EPM/26 Photographs of the Rodier Workshop
  • EPM/27 Photographic plates form books/magazines
  • EPM/28 Postcards found inside books

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.

Note

This entry was compiled by Greta Bertram, Crafts Study Centre Curator, September 2022. The biography was written by Frances Lord, c.2004.

Other Finding Aids

An excel spreadsheet handlist (work in progress) is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.

Accruals

None expected.

Related Material

The Crafts Study Centre also holds:

Bibliography

Selected bibliography

Coatts, Margot, A Weaver's Life, Ethel Mairet, 1872-1952 , Crafts Council, 1983