Friday, 10 April 2015

Antoine's Weaving Workshop

 Weaving is one of the world’s oldest trades, and its simple process of interlocking two distinct sets of yarn or thread at right angles to create a piece of cloth is so perfect, it hasn’t changed in over 9,000 years.

Around the world, cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and scraps of fabric preserved in time, have revealed that the weaving of yarn and thread doesn’t only predate civilisation, it even predates history – with many historians and archeologists believing the craft to be over 12,000 years old.

Here in Malta, the first known piece of weaving discovered dates back to around 800BC, to the time when the Phoenicians ruled the island. As with many other crafts, we embraced it and, 3,000 years on, we still produce fabrics and cloths using this ancient method.

Having said that, the manual process has all but become extinct thanks to the industrial revolution that literally mechanised the exact same action that has been used for millennia. Now, Antoine tan-Newl and Merill have joined forces to use the technology that threatened to destroy the local, manual craft to help safeguard it.

Who is Antoine?

Antoine Vella, known affectionately as Antoine tan-Newl, first began learning the art of weaving when he was just eight years old, and it took him over eight years of constant practice to get his skills up to scratch. “I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by the different kinds of weavings that exist, and it was my dream to learn how to create a piece of fabric myself,” he tells us.

Today, Antoine runs his own weaving workshop, which hand-produces carpets, blankets, cushion covers, and an array of paraphernalia for the dining room and the bedroom. “In the past, however, almost all fabrics and clothes were created by hand using this process, including the ghonnella, flannel shirts, and even underwear,” he adds.

How is Merill involved?

Through the Merill Rural Network, Antoine has been entrusted with a spinner (a machine that spins wool into yarn; a job traditionally done by hand by unmarried women who were considered to be past their eligibility, hence the term ‘spinster’) and a carder (a toothed machine that opens and cleans wool), which were purchased through funds granted by the EU’s LEADER programme.

These two pieces of equipment will give Antoine the opportunity to mechanise two of the most time-consuming parts of the process of weaving, allowing him to create a larger volume of work. On top of that, the spinner will make use of Maltese-produced wool that is often discarded or burnt; leading to a product that is 100 per cent local and that is still hand-made.
Antoine has also received training in a wide range of topics, including health and safety measures to be taken when using these two machines and when welcoming visitors to his workshops, as well as in risk management. “Learning makes life interesting, and I was stunned by the amount of new developments – and even older ones – which we were exposed to,” explains Antoine. “It’s definitely bettered our process and business!”

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A visit to Antoine tan-Newl’s workshop can be organised upon request. For more information you can send us an e-mail at or call us on 99443118.

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