I first learned to weave from my father, Valentine KilBride. As a child I had a little table loom in the corner of his weaving workshop and my interest in textiles dated from those early experiences.
Valentine was a member of Eric Gill’s first community, the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic on Ditchling Common. He had come to Ditchling in 1924 as an assistant in Ethel Mairet’s workshop at Gospels having previously been working in the family’s industrial dyeworks in Bradford.
Much influenced by William Morris and the growth of interest in handmaking in post WW1 Britain, he rejected his industrial background and was bowled over by the colours Mairet was working with – indigo, madder and weld. Having learned what he could at Gospels, in 1926 he joined the Guild and set up his own business as a Silk Weaver and Vestment Maker which he ran until his death in 1982.
It wasn’t until 1972, when I was 24 years old, that I joined him in the workshop and began to learn to weave seriously. I supplemented what I learned from my father by attending a general course on handloom weaving at Bradford College in 1978 (the very same college he had attended before the First World War).
I took over the workshop when my father died and ran it until 1989 with some help from one of my brothers, Gilbert KilBride. He continued the family tradition of silk weaving and vestment making at his workshop in Wales until his death in 2010.
When the Guild was wound up in 1989 I turned my back on weaving altogether and went to work at Glyndebourne Festival Opera where eventually I became a fundraiser. I followed that career for many years and, although both my brothers continued to work as weavers, I didn’t feel I could join them.
It was only in the last few years, as I became more and more involved with the redevelopment of Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, that I realised how much I had missed making things. Just looking at the Museum’s collection of samples by Ethel Mairet, Elizabeth Peacock, Hilary Bourne and many other Mairet pupils has re-inspired me.
Now that I am retired, I have a small workshop in the garden and bit by bit I have reassembled the basic weaving equipment that I stored away in the roof when our workshop closed 26 years ago.
I now specialise once again in natural dyeing and silk weaving.