I graduated from Balliol College, Oxford with a degree in chemistry, before doing a PhD at Wolfson College, Oxford, and post-doc work at Colombia University, New York. My PhD involved following free radicals and electron pairs in solution using ESR. After that I shifted focus and worked on consumer understanding and modelling for a multi-national company, learning skills in field work and interviewing, as well as with integrating qualitative and quantitative data.
In the mid-1990s I moved to Asia, spending time in Japan, Hong Kong and China. For part of this time I ran a workshop making traditional rugs in Lhasa, Tibet. I also worked with an NGO (Tibet Poverty Alleviation Fund) on recording traditional crafts such as furniture-making and natural dyeing. This led to a book on traditional Tibetan Furniture, and was my introduction to the rich traditions of textile-making in Asia and further afield.
Since 2016 I have devoted most of my time to research. Mostly I am in Oxfordshire in the UK and Berkeley in California.
I have a longstanding interest in evolutionary biology. As an undergraduate in Oxford in the 1980s I followed the revolution brought about in biology by cladistic methods, followed by a second revolution in molecular biology and new methods of phylogenetic reconstruction in the 1990s. My first attempt to apply these methods to textile culture was an analysis of the relationships between ikat textile motifs in Southeast Asia, published in PLoS One in 2012. During that work it became clear that loom designs were the most durable and conservative aspect of traditional textile making, as well has having the potential to reveal how technology evolves in traditional contexts. This has become my focus area since 2012. As well as conducting my own fieldwork I have collaborated with Eric Boudot, an ethnographer and textile specialist working in China, who has expertise in the complex weaving traditions of southwestern China.