Published: August 12, 2016 • Behind the scenes / Process

Several years ago, I met Allison Shelton at the Porter Flea market here in Nashville. I had just started my business (it was still an Etsy shop!), and it was my first time selling Elizabeth Suzann in person. Allison had a booth for her new business, Shutters and Shuttles, where she was selling scarves, tea towels and blankets made from her handwoven fabric. I was fascinated by the concept of fabric created completely from scratch - with every detail of the fiber, color, weave, and finish chosen from an infinite number of possibilities. We met for coffee shortly after that market and discussed the possibility of working together - we would design a custom fabric together, which she would then weave for ES. We purchased the fabric wholesale and created exclusive garments from the yardage, but Allison felt like so much more than a “supplier.” The fact that we could sit down together face to face and get lost in conversation about cottons, wools, and silks - and nerd out over her incredible library of potential weave patterns - made the experience of designing garments using her fabric so much more meaningful. Allison is a true artist - appreciating pattern and color and texture and how they come together with the same sincerity that I do, but with the skills to manifest the intersection of those things so elegantly through the creation of fabric. She has the rare quality of being a highly organized creative - which is perhaps why she was drawn to weaving, with its meticulous counting, sorting, and math. Because she is able to both dream about beautiful fabrics - and also produce them efficiently and on time - we have continued to work with her season after season as both of our businesses have grown.

After that first collaboration with her (a version of the now Petra Crop made in a herringbone cotton) we have gone on to include several garments created with handwoven fabric from Shutters and Shuttles each season. We sit down together and discuss direction for fiber content, opacity, weave, weight, and color, and she goes into testing mode. We then review some options, decide on a direction, and she moves on to production. Each strand is measured, cut, and threaded by hand. Her looms are beautiful things - and they work swiftly but steadily, producing a comforting, clacking, wooden sound. It’s the most romantic vision of how fabric comes to be - certainly not the sight you’d see in most fabric production facilities. Knowing that each thread is put on the loom, each shuttle is thrown with the intention of becoming fabric exclusively for us - to turn into a garment designed with that exact fabric in mind - brings the concept of deliberate and thoughtful creation full circle.

Sometimes the fabrics are woven with natural yarn and then sent to the dye house, other times the fabrics are woven with yarn that’s already colored. It’s rolled up as each yard is woven, and after a full bolt is complete it’s cut off the loom. We eagerly await the delivery of the production yardage (which she or her partner Jerry bring over to our warehouse in their SUV). Working with someone right here in our city only adds to the ease and naturalness of the collaboration - her studio is located just a short drive from ours.

Since we first met and started working together, we have gone from using a bit of handwoven yardage to hundreds of yards per season. Shutters and Shuttles has now become Tennessee Textile Mill, and it has added several new production looms. And - more on this in due time - we are working on an incredibly exciting shift this fall. With her new production capacity, all of our woolens in the upcoming Cold Weather Collection will be U.S. raised and handwoven by TN Textile Mill. I am so overjoyed and excited to be bringing intention and care to every step of the supply chain, and to work towards a more ethical and sustainable product from start to finish. It’s also a huge honor to be able to contribute to our local economy by sourcing as much fabric as we can right here in this community.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight the handwoven fabrics we’re currently using and share the process with you. This spring, we developed a cotton fabric together for the Birdie Crop, Caftan, and Bel Skirt. I knew that I wanted these pieces to be ultra lightweight and slightly sheer, but incredibly soft and drapey. I had a vintage caftan from Mexico in a handwoven cotton that is one of my absolute favorite pieces of clothing, and the fabric has the most magical feel to it - it’s substantial, but feathery light and soft at the same time. We created a sheer, subtle diamond pattern woven with an ultra fine 100% cotton yarn. It washes up to the dreamiest finish - it’s beyond comfortable, once you put it on it’s very tempting to never take it off.

We are so happy to be able to share where this fabric comes from and how it’s made - it’s on the loom at TN Textile Mill in the images in this story. The garments made from this special textile are some of my absolute favorites in the SS16 Collection - I wore the Birdie Caftan repeatedly on vacation a few months back!

 Photography by Lara Coleman

Note: Some items in this blog post were a part of a past collection and may no longer be available.

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