Sandi and Camila Gillman are the mother-daughter duo behind Cape Town-based textile studio, Sett & Beat. They were finalists at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2021 in the Textile Maker or Mill category.
“Sett” is the term in weaving that describes how many threads there are in the warp and weft. The sett is very important to woven cloth as it affects the performance and handle. While “Beat” refers to the action of using the beater to pull a weft yarn into place to create the cloth. “Sett” provides stability, while “Beat” illustrates dynamism and motion.
This dynamic balance is the driving force of the Sett & Beat’s design and creation process. We asked Camila to let us in on some of the magic that happens in their studio.
Why did you start Sett & Beat?
Our passion for textiles comes from very different places. My mom was raised on a Dohne Merino sheep farm and taught herself to spin the fleece, and thereafter started to learn to weave. I have had a love for textiles from early an early age, and have studied and worked in the fashion industry.
In 2020 it became evident that both my mom and my sources of income were drying up. We both live on the property that my family has owned since 1989. So, during lockdown, it became evident that we had everything we needed right here in our home to start a textile studio. My previous work in the textile industry also enlightened me about designers’ challenges to access unique and sustainable textiles in South Africa.
Where did you both first learn to hand weave?
Fifty years ago when my mother met my father, he showed her magazines with information on weaving and spinning and built her a simple frame loom for weaving tapestries. She then started lessons with Norma Ordman in Rondebosch. Norma’s weaving studio had several floor and table looms and that’s where my mom found something she would love doing.
I first learnt to weave in 2010 on a backstrap loom while living in Guatemala, where I took lessons in a traditional weaver’s home in a little town called Comalapa. I then wove a few projects with my mother’s help in the years to come, but only started weaving seriously in 2020.
What does being a conscious textile studio mean to you?
We are serious about looking after the planet. For us, being conscious means taking the time to make the best decisions for the environment that we can while looking after ourselves, our employees, and the business.
We see raw materials as extremely precious and energy-intensive, and therefore believe it’s important to help others understand how to buy less and rather look after their textile items. Where fast fashion and consumer markets have taught people to buy cheaper and throw away, we are desperately trying to educate our customers about the time it takes to produce textiles.
We believe that keeping things for longer and finding new uses for them is far better than any virgin or recycled material. Our handweaving, although very much handmade, is powered by air. This is to aid our physical health and wellbeing as weavers can struggle after a few years with repetitive strain injuries.
What fibres and materials do you work with?
We are obsessed with natural fibres, whether they are of animal or plant origin. Biodegradability is the most important thing for us.
Everyone has their beliefs, but no matter what you say to us, we can’t believe that recycled plastic yarns are good. They are creating a market for increased microfibre shedding and due to blending have to eventually be put into landfills. Whereas, natural materials will biodegrade and feed the soil.
We work with mohair and wool yarns that are produced in South Africa. We currently work with locally produced cotton yarns. But, we are not in favour of normal cotton and are really trying to find an organic source that a small mill like ours can afford. We love all grass materials like hemp, raffia, reeds and banana silk. We also use hand spun recycled sari silk from India.
Can you tell us about one project that you have been proud of, so far?
A project that we are very proud to have been involved in is the Feathered Fabrics by Pascale Theron Studio. Pascale used the ostrich feather to design unique and contemporary textiles, aiming to uplift the value of the ostrich feather to its former glory in the 19th Century, saving animals’ lives and helping to bring value back to the town of Oudtshoorn. We worked with Pascale to produce designs while she markets them to fashion and interior designers.
On your website, you mention that your work preserves a way of manufacturing that is in decline. Can you tell us more about this?
When we refer to a way of manufacturing that is in decline, we’re talking about slowness. Mechanisation and industralisation has largely replaced handweaving, globally. We see ourselves as artisans, in the Japanese sense; people who spend their lives devoted to their craft, perfecting it and passing it on to the next generation. From this perspective, we are keeping a traditional manufacturing method alive. We want our clients to appreciate their textile items and look after them for many years to come, in the same way we take care and attention in making everything that is produced in our studio.
How can consumers check the quality of woven products?
For woven products, quality is subjective and can depend on many things such as yarn quality, finishing, handle (the way the cloth feels in the hand or how it drapes), and how it feels against the skin.
Because we are handweaving cloth, we celebrate irregularities, marks of the human hand, and so the objective attributes of quality cloth may not apply to our textiles – things such as fabric density, colour evenness or fastness, and thread count.
Although we strive for neat weaving and a straight selvedge, minimal mistakes or “flaws” and where applicable a soft handle and relative durability, we are creating unique textiles that are full of character, and the quality is found in the personality of the item and how it speaks to you.
What local brand would you like to collaborate with?
Oh! We are huge fans of many local brands, as well as some names overseas. A few that come to mind are Sarah Walters Pottery, VIVIERS Studio, Matsidiso, From the Road, Design Afrika, De Nagmaal, Thalia Strates, Brian Paquette, Moss and Lam, and Dorenkieobjects.
What are you looking forward to this year?
We started a range of sheers and curtains and look forward to completing these ranges to present to the interior design and décor markets both in South Africa and abroad. We hope to be presenting a refreshing take on a classic using all South African materials!