Mourne Textiles – Building on a Legacy

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Mourne Mountains, Craft Editions met mother and son Karen Hay-Edie and Mario Sierra of Mourne Textiles. A true family business, Mourne Textiles was established in 1949 by Karen’s mother, Gerd Hay-Edie (nee Bergersen). The story of Mourne Textiles has a texture as complex and compelling as the wild spun Irish yarns they hand-weave on their custom-made looms. Karen and Mario invited Craft Editions for lunch at their studio to discover more about the work they are doing to revive Gerd’s original and unique designs.

Gerd grew up in Norway and began designing and making tapestries aged just 17. After studying design and hand-weaving in Oslo, her adventurous spirit led her to travel extensively through Europe. In her early twenties at Dartington Hall, Gerd was involved in the regeneration of the Welsh woolen mills and launched Holywell Mill’s very first double-weave furnishing fabrics. She returned to Norway and at 27 became the youngest ever Director of Rural Industries. Married life took Gerd to Shanghai, Calcutta and Hong Kong but during her travels she never stopped deepening her knowledge of hand weaving. She learned to weave on local looms and experimented with hand-twisted yarns. Towards the end of WWII Gerd fell in love with the Mourne Mountains overlooking Carlingford Lough and the family settled there. Karen believes her mother loved the area because it looks so much like the Norwegian fjords. In 1949 Gerd set up her own workshop in Killowen where she started creating what would become her world-renowned designs.

Mourne Textiles had 6 custom-made looms and Gerd trained the local weavers herself in order to produce work of the very highest standards. Gerd’s vision combined with her unique designs and the meticulous quality of her tweed made Mourne Textiles a thriving business during the 1950s and 1960s. Furniture designer Robin Day wrote to her saying “Of all the rugs which I have seen, only yours have got the character enough as a background for my new designs of furniture”. He commissioned her to create the Mourne Check and Mourne Mist and the two of them entered La Triennale de Milano 1951 where they won a silver medal. It was a partnership that spanned over a decade and took Gerd’s designs into Mayfair through Hille & Co. During this period Gerd also established a relationship with Conran and created the Blazer Design for him. Not confined to producing furniture and upholstery fabrics, her work expanded into the realm of high-end fashion. During the 1960s Gerd designed bespoke ‘open weave’ tweeds for Sybil Connolly and Sheila Mullally and her couture tweeds were developed and sold by Liberty, House of Lachasse and Hardy Amies.

The 1970s brought the Troubles to Northern Ireland and this coincided with a downturn in commissions, with manufacturing going to the Far East where textiles were being produced more cheaply. Production at Mourne Textiles slowed and although daughter Karen loved to weave, she also had 4 children to bring up. Karen worked weaving rugs in Dublin and it was there that baby Mario learned to walk by treading on the pedals of her loom. The business slowly declined and sadly the workshop closed in the 1980s.

With Gerd’s death in 1997 Karen inherited the workshop, “It was like it was in hibernation just gathering dust”. Many of the buildings were in disrepair so she slowly set about restoring them, getting the looms working again and running ‘weaving for fun’ courses. In the meantime, Mario who had studied Fine Art & Textiles, went to work in sound design on art documentaries. Whilst on location filming a woodworker, Mario realised that he too missed drawing and making, weaving was in his blood. In 2012 he returned to Killowen to resurrect Mourne Textiles.

Mario admits it took a lot of hard work to re-establish Mourne Textiles, sourcing hand-spun yarn and essentially starting again from scratch. One of the many challenges was to faithfully recreate his grandmother’s designs so that they would not be lost. Karen found one of Gerd’s hand-written books in which she described different threading and she and Mario have been putting together the classic designs piece-by-piece like a jigsaw. Mario has 3 aims for the business: firstly, to get Gerd’s original designs back into production; secondly, to get the workshop functioning to keep the craft going; and thirdly, to create a business that can grow. The challenge as he sees it is to create beautiful, innovative products that preserve the spirit of Gerd’s designs.

Mario’s passion for the business and for preserving the craft itself is breathing new life into Mourne Textiles. Today the business employs 10 people who together produce a range of immaculate quality including blankets, cushions, rugs and scarves. The Blazer Design tweed has also received an impressive new lease of life and features on twentytwentyone’s Robin Day centenary reclining chair. Although Mario and Karen love to weave, most of the time they are just too busy. So it was especially kind of Karen to invite Craft Editions into her home and tell us the captivating story of her pioneering mother, Gerd Hay-Edie and Mourne Textiles.

Fine out more about Mourne Textiles here.

All images by Craft Editions.