The papers of Peter Collingwood

Scope and Content

The archive consists of Peter Collingwood's notes on warps, from work at Croft Foot as apprentice to Alastair Morton [c.1953]; his business letters - what appears to be every letter he received, including from tradesmen, the Inland Revenue, etc. - 1964-2004; records of his achievements - writings, exhibitions and commissions, 1952-2004 - put together with the help of Dr Mirjana Teofanovic; his notes on observations and experiments with weaving styles observed in museum objects, [1970s]; notes and articles re traditional braiding and twining in North-West India 1995-2000; notes and illustrations for, and manuscripts of, his publications 1968-1998; photographs and writings re the work of admirers, 1998-2002.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Collingwood was born on 2nd March 1922 in Marylebone, London. His father, Bertram, was Professor of Physiology at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, and his mother (nee Grace Wilkinson) was a classics scholar. When the Second World War started, he and his brother and sister were sent to stay at the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall (David Leach, the son of Bernard Leach, being a relative by marriage). PC studied medicine at St Mary's, and after qualifying in 1946, became House Surgeon in Hertford County Hospital. He was called up to the army and served as an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps in various depots in the south of England, one posting allowing him to attend night school at Farnham Art School.

In the occupational therapy department of the hospital he had seen small floor looms, and wondered how they worked. On leave he made a wide inkle loom from two deck chairs and wove scarves from knitting wool.
In 1949, after his military service had ended, he went to Transjordan to work for the Red Cross with Arab refugees. He recalled in later years being 'bowled over by the country and the people, especially the bedouin and their weaving'. He had never been dedicated to the idea of a career in medicine, and after a year in Transjordan, he returned to England and wrote for advice to Ethel Mairet. It was arranged that PC should be a pupil, her last as it turned out.

At Gospels, PC learned much and met many weavers from both UK and Europe. He then worked with one, Barbara Sawyer, who had a loom in a garden shed in Putney where he wove mainly her designs for unusual floor coverings.
In 1952 he was offered a position as assistant in Alastair Morton's workshop by his house, Croftfoot, Hawkshead. The workshop was connected with Morton Sundour Fabrics, Carlisle; all the lengths were assessed for possible later production on the firm's power looms. But some items, like the single corduroy rugs, were meant for local selling. It was on such a rug that PC first threw a shuttle at Croftfoot. Later, holidaying in London, he made an 8-shaft double-acting dobby sample loom and began working out other rug structures. After 12 months at Croftfoot, he set up his own workshop to make rugs, located at St Stephen's Workshops, behind a house in Elthorne Road, London N.19.

He made a large vertical warping mill, with a heck block, following the diagrams in Luther Hooper's book 'Handloom Weaving'. Working a 6-day week, he started making small rugs using the wool from Morton Sundour Fabrics, and offering them for sale at £4 to shops or £5 to private buyers. Three London shops, Heal's, Liberty's and Primavera, provided an outlet, but no shops outside the capital showed any interest. He also advertised his work by contacting magazines, joining craft societies including the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the Red Rose Guild, being interviewed by local newspapers, and writing for weaving magazines.

From 1954 onwards he also taught at a number of London art schools, and in 1962 he began annual teaching visits to the US.

The educationist Henry Morris (1889-1961) was starting the Digswell Arts Trust, to 'take art to the people', and PC was one of the craftsmen to whom he offered a large studios and flat at Digswell House in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, at a very low rent. PC moved there in 1958, and it was here that he met Elizabeth Brunston, whom he married in 1962. He also made the acquaintance there of the trust's first potter, Hans Coper, with whom he was later to exhibit.

He benefited from Morris's contacts with architects and planners and received commissions for large works from Shell and BP. For his rugs, he began to experiment with a practice he called shaft switching, for which he adapted the loom to enable him to weave quickly designs that would normally use a slow tapestry method. Another innovation was weaving the weft at an angle; this he named anglefells.

By 1962, his reputation was such that he was invited to run a workshop in the US, something that became a regular occurrence. Thanks to a loan from a well-wisher, he was able to buy an old school at Nayland, near Colchester in Essex, in 1964, which he converted into a home and studio, where his son, Jason Collingwood, was to join him as a weaver in the 1980s. By the time of the move, he was developing his Macrogauze wall hangings, using a technique that permits warps to cross each other and even move sideways. Collingwood eventually extended these into 3D structures, culminating in his vast 2m by 4.5m hanging for the Performing Arts Centre, Kiryu, Japan, in 1997, woven with a new Japanese stainless steel yarn and weighing 100kg.

He expanded his weaving repertoire to include shaft switching (an invention for which he devised a time-saving lever platform) and the sprang technique, in which large hangings were produced in thick jute on special frames designed and made by him on a primitive jig.

He found that his teaching activities, as he contrived to keep fast-working students busy, sparked ideas for a series of definitive books, whose clarity was much admired. His first was The Techniques of Rug Weaving (1968), followed by The Techniques of Sprang (1974), The Techniques of Tablet Weaving (1982), The Maker's Hand: A Close Look at Textile Structures (1987), Rug Weaving Techniques: Beyond the Basics (1991), and The Techniques of Ply-split Braiding (1998).

He staged solo exhibitions in the UK, USA, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and joint shows in London with Hans Coper (in 1968 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and in 2002 at Galerie Besson). A 1998 retrospective toured the UK, Sweden and the US, and his work is in many permanent collections.
He was appointed OBE in 1974.

He died on 9th October 2008, active in his workshop to the very last.


The archive material is arranged in the original order in which it was deposited at the CSC in 1984.

  • COL/1 Notes from medical studies 1939-[1940]
  • COL/2 Notes on 'Croft Foot warps' [1952]
  • COL/3 Correspondence with George Maxwell 1954-1955
  • COL/4 General letters files 1962-2004
  • COL/5 Letters from Noemi Speiser, 1971-1977
  • COL/6 'America' letters 1978-1995
  • COL/7 Records of Exhibitions 1954-2004
  • COL/8 Records of Commissions 1955-1997
  • COL/9 'Written works by PC' 1952-2002
  • COL/10 'Bibliography': Press cuttings 1953-2003
  • COL/11 'Museum notes and historical analyses' [c.1965-1976]
  • COL/12 Notes and illustrations for, and manuscripts of, publications 1921-1998
  • COL/13 Traditional braiding and twining in North-West India 1995-2000
  • COL/14 'Photos, mag articles by others' 1998-2002
  • COL/15 'The Artist's Story' [2000]
  • COL/16 'Poster' of jokey aphorism by PC 2001
  • COL/17 Material found among the ethnographic collection(?) 1984-2008

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Becky Lyle, Submissions Officer for the project and by Jean Vacher, Collections Manager at the Crafts Study Centre, c.2004. The biography was written by Frances Lord. The entry was updated by Shirley Dixon, Crafts Study Centre Archivist, May 2020.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on the Crafts Study Centre database. A pdf copy is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.


Peter Collingwood , Crafts Council Gallery, London, 1981

Peter Collingwood, Master Weaver , Firstsite, 1998