Born in Barnstaple, Devon in 1872, Ethel Mary Partridge attended the Municipal Science and Art Schools there before studying the piano in which she became an Associate of the Royal College of Music (ARCM). She worked as a governess in London and Bonn until she met and married A.K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), then a geologist. They travelled together in Ceylon and India from 1903 to 1907, living in Colombo and Kandy and making many scientific and artistic discoveries. Ethel Coomaraswamy taught and revived traditional Ceylonese embroidery.
In 1907 they returned to England to live in 'Norman Chapel', Broad Campden, Gloucestershire which had been restored and extended for them by C.R. Ashbee and his Guild of Handicraft. Here, aged 35, Ethel Coomaraswamy began to weave woollen cloth and develop her craft skills. In 1910 her marriage broke down and by 1912 she had left Campden and was living and working in an isolated bungalow she had built at Saunton Sands, Devon.