Photo credit: Yuki Sugiura

Photo credit: Alannah Cooper

“When I work, I am quite open regarding the outcome. I am not aiming to achieve a particular visual result; I am just interested in letting things happen

The way London-based textile artist Catarina Riccabona arrived at her creative discipline is consistent with the way she weaves. That is, intuitively, with an open mind, embracing surprises. She began her career in publishing in London, after earning a degree in translation in her native Austria. Inspired by the art and design students she lived with, she chose to pivot to studying at Central Saint Martins and, since earning her degree in Textile Design, has built a successful career designing and hand-weaving throws, blankets and decorative wall panels using eco-friendly yarns. Her work is regularly specified for high-end interiors projects, features in three books, and is currently exhibited in a solo show at 8 Holland Park’s flagship gallery in London. This year, she created single-edition textile panels for two special edition Arts & Crafts Cabinets by De La Espada Atelier. She was kind enough to share more of her story with us, including her unique creative process.

When Catarina first embarked on her art and design path, textile design was not front of mind for her: “If I'm completely honest, I was not very drawn to textiles initially; I’d say I even felt a bit prejudiced towards textiles. At the time, I knew nothing about weaving and my idea of it was a total cliché – I felt it was rather domestic and dated. I was more interested in becoming a painter,” she says.

After discovering that she didn’t enjoy the process of working with paints and brushes, she was guided on a journey of creative exploration by a devoted tutor who happened to be a weaver. “I remember projects in which we manipulated paper and made 3D collages on the wall using found objects. One day, during an open day for the Textile Design course, I saw the weave studio with those beautiful, old, large George Wood dobby looms, and instantly knew that I had to learn how to use them. That was when I decided to do the course,” Catarina explains.

Still, she remained most inspired by the work of painters: “I was always drawn to composition and colour. I loved Mamma Andersson and earlier works by Peter Doig and Chris Ofili. And the messiness of Cy Twombly,” she says. But as she immersed herself more deeply into weaving, she started finding inspiration in “the natural and beautifully imperfect aesthetic of (often anonymous) hand-woven pieces from around the world, often antique textiles and rugs. As a student, I remember I was particularly impressed by Anni Albers' writing on weaving and on designing. Her focus on structure in weaving resonated with me.”

Photo credit: Alannah Cooper

Catarina’s mastery of composition, colour and structure is reflected in her textiles through their juxtaposition of tranquil simplicity and complex variation. Equipped with a sharp aesthetic eye and deft skill, she weaves instinctively, taking creative decisions along the way in response to how the design develops. This requires such deep engagement that she often works in silence: “When I start to weave, I am absorbed in the present moment and often do not want or need any additional mind stimulation or distraction.” Her strong environmental focus means that she must stay open to the materials and colours available to her, further driving the spontaneity of her creative process.

Her palette of materials comprises eco-friendly yarns like linen, hemp, undyed or plant-dyed wools and undyed alpaca from the UK, as well as second-hand or recycled yarns, and “waste warps” from fellow weavers. Waste warp, the final section of warp on the loom that otherwise goes to waste, consists of yarns that vary greatly in length, a characteristic Catarina embraces as a feature in her work. She knots the yarns together to extend their length, then allows the knots to create a random pattern across her textiles, providing greater texture and visual variation while calling attention to her process.

Her approach to colour aligns with her open-minded weaving process, as her dedication to the environment informs her colour choices. Her coloured yarns include plant-dyed wool from Finland, or second hand or recycled yarns from a British company that processes industrial surplus into new yarns. She also, on occasion, dyes her own yarns with natural ingredients such as dried walnut husks.

Photo credit: Ollie Tomlinson

At her London studio, Catarina weaves on a dobby loom similar to the one that inspired her at Central Saint Martins; however, hers combines the best of tradition and innovation. Traditional yet computerised, her loom allows her to weave using generations-old methods while increasing efficiency in rote operations such as frequent pattern changes. It also allows her to archive arrangements of weave structures she has composed, and gives her instant access to this information through her laptop while weaving. While this streamlines some of aspects of her work, the core process remains unchanged, as she explains:

“Weaving by hand is still a slow-paced and highly structured process, even on my computerised loom, and it simply cannot be rushed. I distinguish seven different processes for setting up the loom before the actual weaving can begin. These preparatory steps can take several days or a week. The weaving stage is the most creative, exciting and spontaneous part for me. As I often work out the design as I go along, my weaving speed varies greatly. Other factors, such as the density of a weave structure and the yarn thickness, further impact on the speed and, since I am using lots of different structures and often different yarns, it is impossible to give a standardised time per piece.”

Photo credit: Alannah Cooper

De La Espada commissioned Catarina Riccabona to create single-edition textile art panels for two special edition Arts & Crafts Cabinets in preparation for the product’s launch in spring 2024. She was a natural choice for our first artist collaboration for this cabinet due to our shared reverence for natural materials and the poetry of handcraft. Drawing inspiration from each cabinet, one 3-unit and one 4-unit, both in Danish oiled walnut and grey ceramic, Catarina created unique textile art specific to each. She describes her approach to the composition of the panels thus:

“I felt that there was a natural match between the cabinet’s distinct aesthetic with its grid lines and chamfered squares and my usual way of composing surfaces using block design. In my response to the cabinet, I felt it was important to choose the right proportions without purely mimicking the squares. Using two panels in the 4-Unit cabinet gave me the chance to think across both panels and see them potentially as one. When they are close together, the squares align to form a pleasing pattern that resembles the weave notation for sateen (this particular arrangement of blocks has had an ongoing fascination for me, and I have explored it in various ways in other designs, too). I wanted to make sure that when the sliding panels are apart, each panel still feels like a balanced composition in its own right.”

Photo credit: Yuki Sugiura

She continues: “While my approach to the design in the 4-Unit panels was quite measured and a bit more planned out, the design of the single panel for the 3-Unit version, which happened afterwards, is a bit bolder and freer in terms of colours and composition. It also features a broader mix of weave structures ranging from twill and broken twill to sateen and honey comb.”

For colour, she drew from the natural tones of timber: “My yarn suggestions were based on the warm dark tone of the Danish oiled walnut wood of the cabinets. The materials are linen in the warp and a mix of crisp raffia and paper yarns in the weft for stiffness. To nuance and accentuate some colours I added in small amounts of wool and natural black alpaca in the weft.”

Characteristic of her work, the panels tell the story of their materials, making a feature of the varying lengths: “On the surface are little knots, deliberately left visible as testimony of the hand-made process, and to show the nature of the raffia strands; they are plant parts and not a continuous yarn.”

Photo credit: Yuki Sugiura

Catarina is charting an artistic path that continues to evolve. Having begun with hand-woven throws, she is now additionally creating wall-based work. As her path evolves, she remains open-minded, following her intuition, and taking enjoyment in the unpredictability of her creative process: “There is always an element of surprise at the end. When I work, I am quite open regarding the outcome. I am not aiming to achieve a particular visual result; I am just interested in letting things happen.”

Catarina Riccabona’s solo exhibition at 8 Holland Street’s flagship gallery in St James’s Park is currently open until 6 July 2024. Entitled “Siblings”, the exhibition showcases a collection of her paper yarn tapestries. The special edition Arts & Crafts 3-Unit Cabinet with Catarina Riccabona textile was first revealed at OJO Gallery in Lisbon as part of Lisbon Design Week in May 2024 and remains on display throughout the summer.


Learn more about Catarina Riccabona

Learn more about the Arts & Crafts Cabinet

Visit the Siblings exhibition in London

Visit OJO Gallery in Lisbon