Prem Tyler Handweaving
“Years ago, the village weaver wove everyone’s clothes… Maybe I was one of them.”
We recently had the pleasure of visiting Prem Tyler at her weaving studio in the serene neighbourhood of Maraetai beach. Climbing up the stairs into her attic, we are welcomed into a room bursting with warmth. Surrounded by shelves of wool from wall to ceiling, our eyes are drawn to two big looms sitting in the middle of the room. These machines are the same design as ones that were used hundreds of years ago, and it felt like we had a backstage pass into a long-forgotten world of traditionally produced textiles.
The practice of weaving goes back millennia, and Prem’s knowledge is abundant. Taking us through the mechanics of how these big and seemingly complex tools work, she explains how the process requires both feet and hands to actuate the mechanisms, resulting in a cyclic motion marked in its simplicity and balance. Sitting at her looms for up to 8 hours at a time, weaving is both creatively satisfying and healing for Prem. It is her meditation.
Coming from a family of makers, Prem’s instinct is to use her hands to create things that are functional. She originally learned to weave at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa in her 20’s, but before that, she was knitting or doing cane work and other crafts. Having grown up in a household where you make your gifts instead of buying them, Prem places importance on the energy that goes into her works, and how that energy passes over to the person who wears it. As she sits at her loom and weaving takes form, her energy for making is fuelled by the anticipation of meeting its future owner.
Prem has a strong disdain for waste and takes pride in the fact that the entire process is by hand. It requires no electricity, save for the lamps that light her looms in the evening. As part of her sustainable practice, she supports local producers wherever possible by working explicitly with NZ natural fibres, aside from linen. New Zealand doesn’t produce its own linen so she sources it from a small community in Lithuania. It’s not so much the price of the materials that dictate the price on her pieces, however, it’s the time and energy that she lovingly puts into them. Each piece is naturally a one-off, freely formed in the moment. When she is unsure of which way to take it, the colours and materials jump out to her from the surrounding shelves, as if to lead her in a new direction. Her works are calming, delicate, and warming in all senses of the word. Likening a weaving to a blank canvas, Prem expresses herself in the colour fields of the weave, but there is also an anonymity to the way that she creates and this only adds to the natural beauty of her work.
Prem teaches weaving workshops in Titirangi and finds joy in helping people to discover the craft for themselves. “100% of the time, everyone weaves something amazing. Every single time,” she enthuses. She can be found selling her weavings at the Coatesville Market on the first Sunday of every month, while the rest of her sales are made through commissions, online sales, and a stall at WOMAD. Though less active in markets as she used to be, she still relishes the personal experience of handing over one (or more) of her works to an excited new buyer. Met with overwhelming responses from her customers, she is often brought to tears each time another weaving finds its owner. Handcrafted with love, dedication, and skill, the details of each piece tell a story of the hand-to-material process of creation. As her students and customers would undoubtedly agree, it was an honour to kōrero with her and hear the story behind her craft firsthand.