Together for tomorrow


Q&A: Lucie Panis-Jones reminds us of the hands behind our textiles

by | Jun 10, 2022

Lucie Panis-Jones is a multifaceted textile designer, based in Cape Town, whose work includes artful mending and textured weaving. Growing up in many countries across the world – including Zimbabwe, the United States, France, Spain, and Belgium – gave Lucie exposure to different ways of thinking and seeing the world. “Living in different environments has made me curious about other people, places, languages, expressions, and art. For me, the world of textiles somehow encompasses all these things,” says Lucie.

Textiles are her medium for reimagining slowness in practice. We caught up with Lucie to learn about her journey and relationship with textiles.

When did you begin your journey as a weaver and textile designer?

I was drawn to colours, patterns, and textures growing up. I spent hours in the garden collecting and sorting fallen pods from different trees – the oyster-like jacaranda pods, the shiny, twisting flame tree pods, and skinny lucky bean pods.

But the first time I remember being truly aware of the vastness of the world of textiles was when I was nineteen. I was working at the Domaine de Boisbuchet, a cultural centre in the French countryside that organises summer architecture and design workshops. During my first week there, the exhibition Boro: the Fabric of Life was being set up.

Boro is a technique of repairing clothing, widespread in Japan from the 1850s until the 1950s, which developed out of necessity. People only had a few items of clothing which were handed down from generation to generation, so as the clothes wore out over time, they were mended with various repair techniques. These kimonos, work outfits, and clothes were intrinsically linked to the people who wore them and they told the stories of their lives with each patch, each stitch.

I found this incredibly touching, especially in today’s consumerist society where we are constantly being told that new and perfect things are the most desirable, and are persuaded to replace items as soon as they become even slightly worn or damaged. Boro encourages us to see beauty in imperfections. This exhibition made me want to study textile design and I’ve since tried to apply the principles of Boro in my work.

Shells and leaves on a white sheet

Tell us about your studies at a weaving studio in Paris.

After my summer at Boisbuchet, I started a Bachelor’s in Textile Design in the north of France where I discovered knitting, screen printing, pattern design, and of course, weaving. Weaving just intuitively clicked for me, but it was also incredibly intimidating and exciting. I could feel when things would fall into place, and I adored the state of flow I found when throwing the shuttle back and forth.

During my studies, I interned at Perrine Rousseau Paris, where I learnt to weave on pedal looms and to set up much wider and longer warps than I was used to at school. Being in the studio deepened my love for weaving.

Three years later, after a second Bachelor’s in Textile Design specialising in weaving at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium, I was hired as the studio manager and production assistant at Perrine Rousseau Paris. After working there for almost two years assisting in the development of new textiles for their rug and fabric collections, I decided to travel and ended up in Cape Town.

Since then, I have graduated from the University of Cape Town with an Honours in Curatorship, where I focused my research project on valorising textile work and the often-overlooked contributions of garment technicians to the global fashion industry.

Textile designer at a loom

What are you conveying through your work?

I suppose I’m trying to create textiles imbued with handmade qualities. I find that many people don’t take the time to think about how things are made anymore, and often assume that everything is machine-made. I often have to remind friends that almost every piece of clothing – even from fast fashion giants – is mainly made by people, not machines.

I feel that there is a need for unique, hand-made, timeless designs and I try to accentuate these features in my work. I love the imperfect nature of handmade things and appreciate the qualities that the inextricable bond between the artist’s hands and the imprints they make bring to the final piece.

I want people to think about the hours that went into creating something, and perhaps appreciate it in a way that they hadn’t considered before. Paying more attention to the stories behind the objects in our lives and the people who made them might help us cherish those things more.

The speed and extractive nature of the fashion industry have disconnected us from the process and joy of textile making and the creation of clothing.

What is one of the most profound things you have learnt?

Once I started making my own textiles (even if only in small swatches and sample sizes) I had a complete shift in thinking. I knew how long it took to conceptualise, sample, and then produce a piece of fabric and was shocked at how inexpensive clothing and other textile-related objects, such as homeware, is.

I was producing by hand and not by machine, but even with machine weaving it still takes a significant amount of time and skill to develop a textile.

The hours I’ve spent weaving at the loom are some of my happiest. I never feel more fulfilled, whole, and utterly in sync with something than when I’m throwing a shuttle back and forth, and I hope this comes across in my work.

Aerial view of a loom

What does being a textile designer entail, in practice?

Textile designers can work in many different fields, but the job generally refers to creating patterns for printed fabrics or designs for knit, woven, or non-woven fabrics. These designs can be applied to clothing, packaging, interior designs and furnishings, floor and wall coverings, and transportation. Anything that has a surface.

In my practice, my job is to conceive woven fabrics. I start with raw material (yarn) and decide what kind of woven structure I’d like to create. I generally create fabrics for the home which have different requirements than those for clothing. Then, I start sampling on the loom, before deciding on the final design and weaving yardage.

How do you infuse sustainability into your practice?

I care deeply about minimising my impact on the environment, and one way I do that is to repurpose fabric and yarn wherever possible. So far, I’ve bought second-hand mill ends from the local Weaver’s Guild (small colour runs that can’t be used to produce large quantities of fabric) as well as damaged bobbins (some have a few small stains that can’t be used in industrial productions but are perfect for me) and have received second and third-hand yarn from weavers who no longer have any use for them. I plan on sourcing most of my raw materials this way.

For my patchwork pieces, I’ve received fabric scraps from local dressmakers in Cape Town who have kindly handed them down to me – I give their bits of fabric a new purpose. I also have lots of thin strips from them that I’m working on weaving into fabric soon – watch this space!

I also don’t throw anything away. Any trimmings or loom waste get tucked into a bag to use later. Every little bit is precious.

A patchwork quilt

How does using our hands help with mindfulness?

I love mending and sewing as a meditative practice. It’s sometimes hard for me to get off my phone and social media. But, when I’m mending, I’m able to just focus on the task at hand without feeling like I’m missing out on something, or that I should be ‘doing more’ in a sense. Giving our hands something to focus on can help us shift away from the stress of the world and simply be in the present moment.

A brown patchwork quilt

In a fast fashion system, how does mending reconnect us to our clothing?

Mending is the perfect way to reconnect with and appreciate our clothing. Mending falls in line with my personal philosophy when it comes to clothing. I’m aware of the considerable strain the fashion industry is putting on people and the planet and have been trying to minimise my impact when it comes to my clothing. Clothes do eventually end up wearing down over time, and that’s where mending comes in.

I have been following quite a few people on Instagram who do visible mending and have been blown away by how much detail and care goes into fixing garments. This made me realise how much the mends could become a special part of the garment’s story. I realised that I should be paying more attention to my own clothes, and that if I could help even a few people keep their own clothes out of landfills by doing this, it would be incredibly rewarding work.

The pieces I’ve mended are now almost more special to me than others in my closet just because I’ve spent time fixing them. This reminds me of a mend I did on a pair of shorts that belongs to my sister – they weren’t her favourites, but since I’ve mended them, they’ve become more important to her and she’s started wearing them more often because of the mends.

The lovely thing about mending is that you don’t need any particular set of skills. Anyone can start mending, and you really don’t need much raw material to start – just some yarn and a needle!

Mending on a pair of blue jeans

Where do you find inspiration for your weaving and quilting?

I love Igshaan Adams’ textured tapestries, his ornate palimpsests transcribing personal stories are incredibly beautiful.I admire Frances V.H Mohair’s woven rugs, especially the way the company works with sustainable materials on a very localised scale to create timeless pieces and preserve weaving in the Karoo; as well as Billie Zangewa’s intricate hand-sewn silk tapestries and Nkuli Mlangeni’s beautifully modern and minimal rugs at The Ninevites.

Outside of South Africa, I’m drawn to the work of Anni Albers. Her work is a never-ending source of inspiration and aspiration, as are the many-layered patchwork quilts made by the quilters of Gee’s Bend. I particularly appreciate those by Annie Mae Young.

A woman holds up a woven textile design

What are you looking forward to this year?

I’m looking forward to mending more garments and to weaving more yardage. I’d really like to make a few pieces of clothing from hand-woven cloth. My dream is to live in a place where everything is handmade or made with purpose and intention. I’d happily live in a world where bartering was a socially acceptable means of payment – I love trading my fabric for something else made by hand! One day, I’d love to have a few more looms and the opportunity to teach people to weave. And perhaps be able to weave fabric on a slightly larger scale and work with local clothing designers to make hand-woven garments.

Images from Lucie’s Bachelors in Textile Design graduate project, titled Childhood Garden:

  • Images supplied by Lucie Panis-Jones
  • To keep up with Lucie’s mending, weaving, quilting, and creating journey, follow her on Instagram. And, check out her website.
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