In 1998 Catherine Wilson moved into a house with dark shutters that, while affording her privacy, also blocked out much-needed light. A friend suggested she weave simple window coverings herself. Thus began an exploration that has led Wilson down a path she hadn’t anticipated but one that “is completely satisfying for me.”
With degrees in art history and architecture, and having spent years working as an architect and in real estate, Wilson has a keen aesthetic sense for creating beautiful living spaces. Having advised numerous clients over the years, she suddenly faced her own practical design quandary, and the question “what do I want to do?” was something she wanted to explore. She started to experiment with techniques and materials. Weaving on a floor loom turned out to be a good fit for her, and she discovered that using thin, plastic newspaper bags as a weaving element was an unexpected but satisfying solution. The idea of reusing and recycling an otherwise throwaway material was very appealing to Wilson; a simple cotton warp and the thin plastic bags as weft – white on white, with the random appearance of black (from the lettering on the bags) bits – proved to make a beautiful window covering of abstract design that let in light but at the same time was opaque to the outside world.
To Wilson’s delight she discovered that newspaper bags were available in an assortment of colors; she could purchase directly from suppliers, utilizing their overstock and scrap, which afforded her a better price and further put to use material that otherwise might have ended up in a landfill.
She finds building up a sufficient inventory is a challenge, as well as finding the right niche for her creations. Because she is the sole producer and operator of her business, the time and materials involved in creating her pieces – each 14” square pillow requires 200 plastic bags, for example – means she can’t fill random wholesale orders on a short deadline. She like the idea of collaborating with designers on defined projects and commissions, and hopes to do more of that in the future.
The surprise that her customers express when they discover that the “fabric” in her window coverings, throw pillows and table runners is plastic newspaper bags “is my favorite part,” says Wilson. It means she has succeeded in taking a common and disposable “really ugly thing” and turned it into something both beautiful and functional.
To see Wilson’s work and to learn more: www.wovenware.org