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 Staunton 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.