In the Autumn of 2020 we are hosting a series of Borrowed Time interviews / conversations with significant voices speaking to our discussion of death and dying. Each of these events takes place on a Friday lunchtime UK time to allow as many participants from other countries as time zones will reasonably allow. Each lasts around an hour with a good proportion fo time set aside for audience questions and comments.

We are delighted to continue the series with a conversation between textile artist Yuli Somme and Director Richard Povall on Friday November 20, 2020 at 13.00 GMT.

The conversation ranged widely, from sourcing materials to agriculture and sheep breeds to how Yuli works with clients coping with recent or forthcoming death. Watch the session:

The session included a brief tour of Yuli’s studio on Dartmoor:

For other forthcoming events visit the main page.

If you have to make a thing, you must know the background of it, the skeleton, the foundations, the actual stuff that the materials have grown out of, their connections with their natural background, their biotechnics – and then building can begin. And then the reason for making, the purpose, the human connection. All sides must be considered and known. You cannot just make.

– From Hand Weaving and Education by Ethel Mairet (Faber & Faber 1952)

Yuli Somme is the artistic mind and maker behind Bellacouche – meaning “beautiful resting place” – the old name for the ancient granite building where Yuli started designing and making the Leafcocoon wool felt coffins. Now Bellacouche is set in a beautiful and airy Unitarian chapel in Moretonhampstead, Dartmoor, Devon.

Yuli came to England from Moldefjord, Norway at the age of 5 and studied the low hills of the Devon South Hams, wishing they were a bit bluer, colder and higher. Dartmouth felt like a goldfish bowl after the vast expanse of the fjord. In her early 30s she came to live in Chagford, Dartmoor, and felt more at home.

Her passion for wildlife and farming eventually gave way to textiles and weaving as a career choice, but she sees these interests as interconnected, part of an holistic approach to her work. It’s not just about the wool, it’s about how the sheep fit their landscape, their resilience, their management, welfare and the environment they graze.

Wool has always been her comfort and passion, arising from her heritage of Norwegian knitting, embroidery and weaving. She loves its tactility, history, culture and ecology. This runs deep, in a place like Moretonhampstead where she rents a chapel as her workshop and where wool was the mainstay for trade and employment until the 19th Century. Her English ancestors, the Tozers, were wool merchants and sheep farmers here.

A 17th Century law decreed that the dead must be buried in wool, and this ancient tradition inspiredYuli to develop a modern alternative to imported wooden coffins. Much of her work is making shrouds and soft, woollen coffins. Bellacouche – meaning beautiful resting place – is the name of Yuli’s former workshop in Chagford and adopted for her business name.

At a time when we are bombarded with choices,Yuli wishes to make offerings that grace our lives with a simpler vision using materials that are already at hand, traceable, local and of course, organic!

[photos above: Fern Leigh Albert]