The Robert Crowder weaving studio has been in business for over 65 years. The artist Robert Crowder moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in the late 1940’s, setting up an art studio in the back of his house where he painted wall murals and designs for his burgeoning wallpaper business. Crowder’s designs appealed to interior designers and the Hollywood set and he soon realized there was potential for unique hand woven fabrics. Crowder added some weaving looms to his studio, hired weavers, and began another phase of his career.
Eventually the weaving studio outgrew the space at Crowder’s house and moved to West Hollywood. In 1984, an design student from Japan named Yasu Tanano moved to California looking for work in the industry. Yasu originally planned to pursue furniture design but he learned that Robert Crowder was looking to hire someone in the painting studio. Yasu was hired, and under Crowder learned his masterly technique of traditional Japanese painting. Yasu worked with Crowder for many years and took over the weaving studio after his death in 2010.
The 1960’s and 1970’s were an especially busy and successful time for Robert Crowder. He opened a showroom on Melrose Place where interior designers would shop for their clients. Contemporaries in the field of woven fabrics included Maria Kipps and Dorothy Liebes. Both of these women were very successful designers of hand woven fabrics and noteworthy for having their own businesses and contributing to midcentury modern design.
After many years in business the studio continues to thrive, with its emphasis on luxury hand woven fabrics to the trade. One of its main clients is designer Peter Marino who custom orders fabrics for retail projects such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Christian Dior. The signature look of Robert Crowder’s hand wovens is its Chanel-like tweed. It is evocative of a classic Chanel jacket – but made for upholstering furniture, window treatments and walls.
The fabrics are extraordinarily textural, composed of unique yarns, metallics and vivid colors. Each fabric is unlike anything else on the market today – they are so delicate and so luxurious. The fabrics have a vintage vibe which largely is due to them being woven by hand rather than by machine. Also, the yarns themselves are special. The studio uses a range of yarns such as cotton chenille, linen, rayon, wool, boucle and lurex (metallics). The yarns are sourced and dyed from mills in the United States, a quickly fading industry.
Yasu custom designs each fabric for his clients – he receives some direction as to color and texture but seems to have a lot of freedom which is an unusual gift. Once he has come up with a design, Yasu weaves a small sample on the loom in his office. He also hand dyes yarns in house that he sends to his clients to chose from and approve. Once a final design and color palette is selected, the team at the studio weave the actual yardage on the flying shuttle looms.
These looms are very old and used for their ability to create the tight weave needed for upholstery fabric. The warp for each loom is set up by hand, a painstaking process of threading many cones of yarns through needles which form the vertical structure of the fabric. As many as 1000 yarns are used for one warp. There is a team of four weavers, one of whom has been with the company for over 20 years. Weaving is a very specialized skill and it is impressive to see the artisans who are continuing the craft and tradition.
“I like to think with my hands and create with my heart.” – Yasu Tanano
The fabrics are represented in Los Angeles at the Keith McCoy showroom and custom commissions can be arranged through the company website.
Thank you so much to Yasu Tanano for his time and sharing his stories with me. I especially enjoyed visiting the weaving studio and seeing the archives of yarns and fabrics. What an amazing source of creativity and handmade beauty.
For more, please see the first part of my profile on Robert Crowder and his wallpaper designs that I posted a couple of months ago: https://theeyehasit.com/2016/05/27/robert-crowder/