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Rhia Davenport of Weven, Stroud, stands in front of a white wall wearing a corn crown and a folkie white dress.

Weven, Stroud: keeping traditional folk crafts alive

Rhia Davenport talks about the background to her wonderful Weven shop, due to reopen in Stroud this weekend.

Rhia Davenport, the founder and owner of the Weven shop in Stroud, is flustered. She has just arrived home, having spent the day traipsing around the World of Harry Potter with her daugher. “I’ve given Warner Brothers Studios a hefty chunk of my bank account today,” she laughs.

The idea of her dropping her life savings on Harry Potter tat is amusing. There’s nothing very ‘mainstream commercial’ about Rhia. Instead, she embodies what so many people coming to the modern tradfolk scene are attracted by. She’s all about honouring her own corner of the tradition, mixing in her own modern experience (she has spent much of her working life as photorealism artist), all the time partaking in and promoting a community where like-minded people can go and share her fascination with honouring and furthering the old ways, and doing so in a way that does as little damage to the planet as possible. She’s also a prominent member of Boss Morris and a recent entrant in the annual John Gasson Jig Competition at Sidmouth Folk Festival, all of which would be worth a long chat in itself, but today we’re here to discuss the reopening of Weven.

Anyone who spends any time on folkie Instagram will have come across Weven (pronounced to sound like ‘weather’, rather than ‘weaving’). A trad-lover’s paradise, this unique shop/workshop/hub can be found on George Street in Stroud, where it reopens its doors this Friday (December 2nd). While there are other folk-inspired shops around the country (Berties of Bay, Yorkshire; Old Town, Norfolk; Electric Daisy Flower Farm, North London; FOLKA, Stoke Newington), few seem as dedicated to traditional folk and country crafts as Weven. For our money, it’s the best little folk shop in the country.

We caught up with Rhia, fresh from Hogwarts, just before the Christmas rush and wreath-making workshops commenced, to find out what inspired this inspirational folkie hub.

Normal people aren’t supposed to be priced out of buying these crafts or made to feel as though these activities aren’t for them.

Rhia Davenport, Weven

‘Weven’… am I pronouncing it right?

Yeah, I say Weh-vun. Lots of people say Wee-ven. I don’t think it really matters. It’s from the old English and Welsh (I’m partly Welsh), which in turn comes from the old Dutch, ‘web’. The etymology of the word is the same as ‘web’, so it’s about weaving, but for me it’s more about connotations of stories rather than how we think of weaving now – textiles and stuff. But it’s nice that the original use of the word would have had something to do with weaving, in terms of building something general, rather than just one specific activity. We can build webs in all different kinds of ways.

The shop is, I hope, an accessible place for craftspeople who share the things that they make, whether they’re traditional or contemporary. The key thing is that they are handmade, they’re sustainable and they’re environmentally sound as well. Also, the techniques, the methods of making… I’m passionate about keeping the oral tradition of skill-sharing going.

I run Weven as a nonprofit, trying to ensure that what we’re doing is reaching the people that we want to reach. I keep the ticket prices for all events and workshops as low as humanly possible so the makers, the facilitators and the craftspeople benefit by getting the fee that they require from it, and we only cover costs. Tickets rarely go over £45 and that’s usually for a whole-day’s workshop, which is crazy stuff if you look at other workshop prices out there. That’s how I think you get younger people, and those who might not otherwise engage, to come to workshops and involve their fresh eyes in what are sometimes considered dusty crafts.

When did you start? What’s your background?

OK, so my background is in fine art painting and I’ve been a professional photorealist painter for a good number of years since graduating from university. I’ve been really lucky to have had great arts jobs, and working freelance for a number of years as well. But I’d been moving away from the fine art world a bit and I’d been getting more interested in collections and provenance and the history of items, and the ways that we can create relationships with them in our everyday lives.

I’d been doing a lot of archivist work and then COVID hit, so I took voluntary redundancy because the place where I was working was really, really struggling. I used that situation as an opportunity to work on something that I had been kind of playing around with for a while but not really getting off the ground. A couple of friends were in similar positions. We had that time in the first lockdown when you were really looking for something to focus on that’s beyond your house and your family and your really shortsighted day-to-day life. So we took a lot of joy in building up this idea of starting a kind of collective and really trying to put a new spin on folk and country crafts.

I’m passionate about keeping the oral tradition of skill-sharing going.

Rhia Davenport, Weven

We were really aware of how QEST does an incredible job of putting the spotlight on things in a really design-led way – keeping it very clean and contemporary. They do so much work in training and apprenticeships, which is fantastic, but there aren’t so many options for normal people who just want to have a go at something. That doesn’t reflect my interpretation of, or belief in, what those crafts are and who they’re for at their heart. Normal people aren’t supposed to be priced out of buying these crafts or made to feel as though these activities aren’t for them. Let’s try and make as many of them as accessible as we can to the general public. And we wanted to make it all a bit more fun and lighthearted, and a bit more earthy as well. I feel like that’s the way that more people, and hopefully younger people, are going to take an interest.

Do you think that younger people are picking up on that? Are they taking an interest?

I think, in general, the folk scene has been having this huge resurgence for the last few years. It’s not just the music. The landscape revival has also been happening. It’s sort of a spiritual folk revival, I suppose. But I felt like that wasn’t really happening for traditional country and folk crafts, and lots of them are still kind of considered to be a bit dusty or otherwise too highly curated, perhaps.

Can you give me a quick example of what you mean by a traditional folk or country craft – one that might be “a bit dusty”?

[Laughs] Well, wheat weaving. That would definitely have been one. But – oh my gosh! – it has become so much more popular over the last couple of years and people are trying it at home way more. That said, it’s still listed as endangered. It’s on the Red List, I think.

There’s a Red List?

Yeah, it’s literally like green, orange and red. So, the green crafts are all safe, the orange ones are in danger, and the red ones are dying. The lists were set up by the Heritage Craft Association. It’s a resource for people who are currently working on these crafts professionally in the UK. It’s a really interesting way of finding out all kinds of things, like how long the tradition bearers or craft workers have been practising, whether they’ve got apprentices, whether they’re looking to find apprentices – things like that. It’s a really important and interesting resource.

So, wheat weaving… anything else?

Clay pipe making is a good one. Nobody knows anything about it. It’s got little-to-no purpose and function, really, so I think it’s quite hard for many people to take an interest in it. But actually, when you see them being made and you see a finished pipe, they’re so gloriously satisfying and tactile and they’re just such a nice thing to have, and to learn a tiny bit about the history of them. It’s such a shame to think that we’ll be losing that craft. And that goes back to that idea of web building – not just the activity, but all of the oral tradition and storytelling that surrounds these objects as well. I don’t think very many people know about these things, and by having them alongside other stuff that is more familiar and perhaps more accessible, we can start to introduce them gently.

Oh, and by the way, I think clay pipes are really cool whether you want to use them as a functional object or not. I just think they’re a really nice thing to have. For £10, buy a pipe everybody [laughs].

Keep the pipes off the Red List!

Yeah! I believe there’s only one person making clay pipes in this country. Maybe some other people will take it up, but it’s all down to the molds and stuff.

So, Weven is reopening this weekend, right?

Yeah, Friday night.

So, if I was to come to Weven, what would I find in the shop?

We’ve got a huge mix of stuff. We’ve got wheat weaving, and we’ve got clay pipes, obviously [laughs]. Got to mention the pipes where possible. We’ve got loads of textiles, hand-woven using traditional techniques. We do have some vintage textiles that have been mended or reworked as an element of… I absolutely hate the word ‘upcycling’, but it does the job, I suppose. We’ve got ceramics. We’ve got a Ben Edge supply – loads of his really beautiful prints and merch. We’ve got some clothing and we’ve got some wood-turned bowls. All of our lighting is recycled wood turned into lampshades. We’ve got tonnes of handmade jewellery, which is usually made from reclaimed metals, and some one-off cast bronze pieces as well. We’ve also got some amazing hand-painted canal art.

We’ve got loads of zines and books as well. I’m trying to build up a resource library, which I’m really excited about, but that’s going to take a bit of time. I eventually want to have a really lovely free space where you can come and sit on the sofa with a little desk that you can work at, and a book unit that’s full of stuff about hands-on crafts. I think that will be really nice.

This is the most fun you will ever have with an egg, I swear!

Rhia Davenport, Weven

It sounds amazing. My wife was looking at your website and got very excited by a Ukranian egg.

Oh… my… gosh. Don’t even! This is the most fun you will ever have with an egg, I swear!

You don’t know what kind of fun I’ve had with an egg before.

[Laughs] I mean, eggs are good, but your mind is going to be blown… as is the egg. You’re talking about pysanky. They tend to use white eggs, which means that through the process of dying, you get really bright white coming through.

A Ukranian Pysanky egg from the workshop taking place at the Weven shop in Stroud.
What is Pysanky?
Pysanky are beautifully decorated eggs that originate from Ukraine. The decorations are created using hot wax and an indelible dyeing technique. According to the book, Eggs Beautiful: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs, pysanky are commonly associated with Easter, but actually date back to the pre-Christian period, when they were believed to help cure infertility, "protect homes from fire, control weather, prevent famine, and ensure good health." And if that's not worth taking a Weven workshop in, we don't know what is.
Making pysanky is so fun. It’s a really old tradition. You’ve got the tiniest little metal funnel and you put in tiny little pieces of wax, and then you hold it over a flame and you melt the wax. The wax starts dripping ever so gently through the tiny little funnel and you draw onto the egg. As the wax dries, you dip it into your first dye, starting with the lightest colour. So you’d start with your yellows, and then all the bits you want to keep yellow, you cover up with more wax to protect it, and then you dip it again. So you maybe go for green and you’d get a light green, and then you’d cover up all of your light green bits, and then you’d go into the green again, make the green that you’ve got darker, and then you’d cover up that green. And then gradually, over the course of the sessions of adding more wax, going back into the dye, you’ll end with black and you just have, like, the tiniest outlines or little tiny details. And then you gently hold the egg over the flame and you melt all the wax and wipe it off and you reveal all of the colour patterns. It genuinely feels like it’s a magic experience, I can’t even tell you. And you want to do it again and again and again.

Eggsellent. Sold.

It’s one of the best workshops I’ve ever run, and I’ve run a lot of workshops.

Tell me a bit about Stroud. It seems like there are so many folk-related things going on there. Is there something in the water in Stroud?

You know what, I don’t know. It’s where all of my really lovely friends are, people who are like-minded. It does seem like Stroud has quite a lot of those people. I don’t know whether they’re all over Stroud or whether I’ve just got them all [laughs] – like, I’ve just managed to get the really good pool of people in my sights and I’m just clinging onto them…

Stroud is great. I think sometimes people perceive it as being this really green, hippy haven where everything that happens is idyllic, but we’re a Tory town at the moment as well, which is incredibly sad. Not for long, hopefully. There’s a lot of disparity here between the rich and the not-so-rich, and it’s still got diversity problems. It’s not culturally diverse enough.

I do love it, though. I’ve got two children and I am so thrilled that they have this life in Stroud where there is stuff going on and the countryside is right there. It’s really… bubbly is not the right word and buzzing is also not the right word… I don’t know how to explain it. There are murmurs of exciting things going on, but it’s not wall-to-wall Extinction Rebellion, which is what I think people imagine when they think of Stroud. It’s actually still got quite a long way to go, but it is doing well compared to other Cotswold towns, and that’s what I need to remember.

Do you know of any other shops of collectives, in Stroud or elsewhere, that are doing what Weven is doing?

There are definitely some more cooperative-style organisations that champion makers, but perhaps they’re not directed down certain avenues in the way that we are – that it has to be handcrafted, preferably using traditional techniques where possible. And also the non-profit thing. I’m not saying that’s original at all, but I do think it’s quite rare. There are places around the country that do it, but I don’t think there’s anything quite like us. And also, we are really small. We’re still growing and it’s really early days. This is only our third Christmas.

How does Weven link with Boss Morris? Is there a connection apart from the fact that you’re part of that Morris side?

Well, lots of my key team are in Boss, but that’s because they’re my good friends and have been since before we even started dancing. Initially, I definitely would have said, “Oh, we’re completely unrelated,” but as time has gone on, it’s all entwined. The members of Boss are so inspirational. It’s an absolute hive of creativity. There are so many exciting makers and artists. Every single person has an amazing skill and they’re all just absolute angels. They’re gifts in themselves. That I get to be involved in it is just smashing. I feed off the creativity of all of those people all the time, and I think they’d say the same for me.

To find out more about Weven, and to peruse their online wares and workshops, head to weven.co.uk. You can follow Rhia Davenport and her Weven adventures on the Weven Instagram account: @weven_shop. The Stroud shop re-opens on December 2nd.