Tapestry at Art in the Pen

Art in the Pen, Tapestry Weaver

Art in the Pen was fantastic. If you are not familiar with it, the pens in Skipton’s cattle market are handed over to selected artists to turn into their own micro galleries.  It was my second time, and I did feel in the run up a bit more organised; the hard work thinking how to dress one’s pen and display one’s work had been done last year. Whilst I was proud of the new work I was showing, that which made me glow with pride every time my eyes fells upon it, was my stand for cards.  I dismantled a display stand and stapled hessian to it and balanced some other pieces of wood on some nails for the shelves. I did that! Me! And best of all, I can still use it as a display frame if need be. I had plenty of cards made for the event and they sold incredibly well. In the next couple of days I’ll be adding them to my online shop (links above).

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I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful Barry from Hawksbys gallery in Haworth who helped get me set up and taken down. Artist Ian Burdall very kindly ferried me about during the weekend. I even came away with a little pressie from Jill at Touchy Feely Textiles. My heretofore naked front door key now puts a smile on my face whenever I use it. As I am so tired these days, at least I can comfort myself in the knowledge it must be because I am extra-fabulous.

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I had intended to take some time off once it was over, but instead went back to basics, something I have been meaning to do for a while. I think it is easy to get stuck in a rut technique-wise, and with workshops in the offing it seemed like a good excuse to make some small samples. That I would have to treat myself to a new sketchbook to store them all had no influence on this decision at all. It proved a very useful exercise and has filled me with ideas. I know that experimenting and sketching is utterly essential to what I do, but I do find it hard to justify the time, and perhaps because I find it hard to call it work. But with a bit of breathing space between events I have let myself explore wherever my interest led me over this last week or so, and I am pretty pleased with the new tapestry design that has started to emerge from it. But more about that once it gets underway.

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There isn’t long left to catch the Weave exhibition at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff, but some photographs sent by its curator is making it pretty tough not to make the trip. Such a stunning array of how the idea of weave can be translated in different mediums, I can’t think of another exhibition like it. I am looking forward to getting No Longer Mourn returned though – I’ve missed her!

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One final bit of news. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride health-wise over the last few months. It was a really tough decision but it seemed sensible to delay my Winston Churchill fellowship travels until things settled down and I was fit enough and well enough to do this amazing journey justice. I’m now heading off in the Spring. On the one hand it is very frustrating, but it is absolutely the right decision, and on the plus side I’ve got plenty more time to get prepared.

Right I have a long list of admin to do, and am refusing myself access to the workroom until it is done, so better dash off. Ta ta for now x

Extreme Weaving! A new tapestry woven.

I should imagine I am pretty incoherent tonight, I am pretty tired, but I know you will forgive me.

Chrissie Freeth Tapestry 'Delia Jo' in Progress

Next weekend, 13th and 14th August, is Art in the Pen, in Skipton. I did it for the first time last year and loved it and am looking forward to it immensely. I always want to show new work, especially with my tapestries having changed so drastically over the last twelve months. But with one of my main new pieces over at the Weave exhibition in Craft in the Bay, I knew I was going to be pushing it. Nonetheless I felt I needed a new large piece, returning to the full width of the loom. I had enough left over warp to do it, and while I’d need to dye some new wool, I could use the colours and sampling I had done previously. The cartoon materialised quite quickly. I’ve long wanted to revisit the story of my female relatives needlessly trapped within a cycle of asylums in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I didn’t do them justice last time.

When I got the cartoon on the loom I calculated how much time I would need to complete it, marking off where I would have to be at a certain date in order to finish it in time. I soon realised I was looking at several weeks of sixteen hour days. I’m not sure how I have done it, except to say I pretty much just battened down the hatches, gave myself over to the project and just got on with it. I’ve pretty much lived off what my workroom kettle could provide, and moving a comfy armchair into the workroom was a mark of total genius on my part.. I am quite surprised how unscathed I am considering my bleating in a previous post. There was something – can’t think of the right word – ?monastic, about the experience. I’ve actually enjoyed it. I have so many hats, juggle so many things, and although I felt rather selfish not making myself available for my other roles, it was good to focus on one thing so solidly.

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I do feel I have rushed her, but I am pleased with the results nonetheless. It was rather nerve-wracking unwinding the loom yesterday and seeing her complete. I was thrilled actually, and although I went straight to bed, I found myself getting up every now and then to check she was still there and I had really done it.

She is just shy of 120 cm x 130 cm. It was the first time I was able to utilise the style and techniques I have been developing on a larger scale, and I much prefer it, much more room for the tapestry and the technique to breathe. Although I say I rushed it, I’m not sure what I would change if I had the chance.

After such a concentrated period of uninterrupted Freeth-time, during which I’ve had plenty of space to think, my mind is so full of ideas, including lots that are quite embryonic but growing fast that I can’t wait to explore them further. Fortunately there is some space between events after Art in the Pen and I’ll be able to take some time to think things through as well as carrying on the prep for my Fellowship which is now due to start in the Spring. It will be good to regroup and think about future directions.

In amongst this weaving marathon , I did have some respite after being invited over to East Riddlesden Hall to do some demoing. They have a lovely collection of rag rugs and they were a good excuse to get folk having a go themselves. It is not often you get to poke a hole in something inside a National Trust property. I trust you will be able to tell which part of the rug was mine. It is such a simple activity for younger hands to try, and for older visitors it always seems to bring back memories. Although I am not making rugs myself anymore, I do love these opportunities to blow the dust off my prodders.

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It was also wonderful to see the volunteers again and to have been made so welcome. Strange to see Maides Coign after a year or so. I look at her and can’t quite believe I made her. Hopefully there will be lots more events at East Riddlesden in the future and I’ll keep you apprised here or over on my website or Facebook page.

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Talking of which, do have a look at the Facebook page or Instagram of Craft in the Bay. They are showcasing the work in the Weave exhibition and the quality and variety of the work is astounding. I really am terribly proud to be part of it.

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I do hope you can pop into Art in the Pen. I loved attending as a visitor before I started exhibiting there. As I am sure you know, the cattle pens of Skipton Auction Mart are given over to selected artists, including sculptors, painters, potters, jewellers and others to turn into mini-galleries. It is a great way to spend a day, and to meet artists and in a very friendly environment and if mooching is your thing there’s no pressure at all, but if you are after a little something, it is a great chance to buy work direct from artists, often at great value. You can find more details about Art in the Pen here.

Finally, my dear friend Moira Fuller, an incredibly talented designer, is about to embark on a new business adventure to help encourage and support creativity in others. She would love your input through a wee questionnaire (she’s Scottish, you know), it’ll only take ten minutes or so. Do please have a look if you can spare some time.

Anyway, I hope all this goes some way to explain my absence, for which, as always I am very sorry.

Cheerio for now xxx

Conservation Ethics at Harewood House

I have put off writing this as I have been, quite frankly, too devastated by the awful calamity that has been imposed upon our country by misinformation, lies and scaremongering. I’ve been looking towards Europe a lot during the run up to my fellowship, and that the ease and opportunities I have taken for granted might not now be available for those in the future, fills my heart with utter sadness.

Before all this awfulness happened I spent last Monday having a fabulous day. A while back I was contacted by the conservation team at Harewood House, a stunning eighteenth century stately home here in Yorkshire. I was invited to join a panel to debate the ethics surrounding the conservation of a pair of eighteenth century Axminster carpets. I was a little unsure at first, not clear what I could contribute as a non-conservator, but the more I looked into the issues they were facing, and the effort they were going to to make the right decision, the more I realised that I wanted to get involved.

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The carpets are in a particularly sorry state. There are a great deal of repairs undertaken over the years, but many are now threatening the longevity of the carpet. Some, for example, are causing unhelpful tensions, others have been done with inappropriate materials, there has also been extensive use of adhesives. The carpet in the Yellow Room is currently reverse rolled and thus displayed pile down, the lining on show and it looking like, as mentioned by one staff member, like a  crime scene. However interpretation materials are clearly available to explain what is going on, and to highlight particular areas of concern. There is also a questionnaire asking visitors for their views towards the future of the carpets.

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A number of issues are involved. Should it be conserved? What gets conserved, what doesn’t? Should the repairs remain, or be removed, are they not a legitimate part of its story? Should the carpet be renovated to look ‘new’ or should it be left as it is? Should it in fact be put in storage, and should a replica be made?

Although I wasn’t there to contribute as a conservator, it was a good excuse to read round the subject, especially around tapestry conservation and to get a grasp of something regarding the ethics involved in conservation, something not entirely unfamiliar thanks to my previous incarnation as an archaeologist. It was readily apparent that one particular aspect that Harewood faces is that the carpets form an integral aspect to the design of the rooms in which they sit. They reflect the design of the ceiling, just as Robert Adams envisaged. Any changes to the carpets will affect the whole.

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I’m not in favour of reproductions, I want to see the work of the original craftsmen, my professional ancestors, that is what they have left us, a replica involves a different conversation with different people. But anyone involved in tapestry would have to have had their head in the sand to not know there has been a set of reproductions made for the refurbished rooms at Stirling Castle. These seven tapestries were woven over twelve years by a team of nearly twenty weavers. Whatever one’s feelings about the tapestries as replicas (they are based on fifteenth century Unicorn Hunt tapestries at the Met), and although much of the weaving took place behind the scenes at the studios in West Dean, tapestries were also concurrently woven in situ at Stirling Castle, in full view of the visitors, a great opportunity for public engagement. But unlike carpet weaving, the techniques of the 21st century tapestry weavers were little different to those of the original craftspeople, lending some element of authenticity to the new works. But of course, any carpets made now to replace the Axminster carpets would be woven in an entirely different manner to those woven centuries ago.

Anyone interested in the arguments regarding ‘authenticity’ and the making of the Stirling tapestries, do check out Caron Penney’s excellent article, Rediscovering the Unicorn tapestries in  Gordon et al 2014 Authenticity and Replication: The ‘Real Thing’ in Art and Conservation published by Archetype.

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I am not going to go into details of what was discussed, Harewood will be producing that in due course. But I can report it was a fascinating day. We were very much welcomed, and the discussion and debate was vibrant. On arrival myself and the other panelists were given a tour of the house, prior to a fascinating discussion by Rosie Hicks. After lunch there was a talk by Tabitha Mchenry who has been studying the carpets and then the debate itself. My fellow panelists were Dr Crosby Stephens, a textile conservator looking after the carpets, Frances Hartog, the senior textile Conservator at the V & A and Caroline Carr-Whitworth, the curator at Brodsworth Hall. We were chaired by Professor Anne Sumner an advisor to Harewood and the Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Leeds. The event took place in front of a largely invited audience and was part of a series of events to mark the Yorkshire Year of the Textile. I was really thrilled and honoured to have taken part.

The whole event was incredibly well organised and although no immediate answers may be apparent it is clear that once the decision is made, it will have been done after extensive consultation with a very wide group of people. It is nice to see that in the UK, informed decisions are still possible!

Meanwhile I’ve been working on a new cartoon for a new tapestry for Art in the Pen and which will return to the full width of the loom. The loom has been re-dressed – not a small task as I tried to use as much of the left-over warp as I could; would have been easier to start afresh!

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And if you want to know how long it takes to wrap a tapestry to post to a gallery, it is about a day, 5 rolls of poppy plastic, a great deal of cardboard and about two rolls of kraft paper. My tapestry No Longer Mourn will be amongst the work of 24 artists at Craft in the Bay, the line up looks spectacular, the work of Gizella Warbutron in particular looks amazing. The exhibition, Weave, will run from 16th July to the 11th September.

Anyway, cheerio for now, from a still slightly deflated me x

Arts Trail – Thank you!

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I know I ‘m a week late, but I wanted to thank everyone who came to the Saltaire Arts Trail. One reader of this blog came all the way up from Leicester!

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I wanted to get in early on Friday to hang my work, just in case there were any problems. From the start the plan had been to hang the tapestries using hooks over some unused doors. But the doors proved too thick for the hooks. June Russell, the chair of Saltaire Inspired arrived with helper, an array of tools, fixings and fearless determination and managed to hang the pieces nonetheless. It was a strange thing to see my work hanging all proper like! I was really thrilled with how it looked, and not a little proud.

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The event was fabulous, lots of wonderful visitors, very engaged and full of questions. But without doubt the best part for me was meeting the artists I was sharing the space with, especially Janis Goodman, Salma Patel, Gemma Lacey,, and of course our host, Jacky Al-Samarraie who looked after us so well. They all made the whole experience absolutely delightful and a laugh a minute. In truth I didn’t want the event to end, I had such a great time. It was also great to get feedback on the work and observe people’s responses to it. I certainly feel a few feet taller as an artist. My only regret was not getting to look round the other houses and exhibitions, but it was clear there was a fabulous atmosphere across the village.

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The gift cards were a virtual sell out so I will definitely be doing those again! The frames were a big hit too, so I am going to look at doing some smaller framed pieces that are more affordable for Art in the Pen in August.

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I am really glad I did some little samples that folk could touch, they were very popular and certainly helped reduce the amount of folk going for the tapestries themselves. There were a few. I know who you are.

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With the Arts Trail done with, I’ve taken a few days to catch up with my Fellowship plans. I know where I want to go, but it has been good to start getting in touch with potential contacts. I’ve also made plans to do some experiments with different cameras to see how best I might best photograph the tapestries I’ll be visiting. The sixteenth-century tapestry at East Riddlesden Hall will serve as a stand-in. Talking of which, on the 30th July I’ll be at East Riddlesden doing some demos. Once it is all confirmed and I have more details I’ll let you know. Later this month I’ll be heading to a rather grander stately pile here in Yorkshire to discuss some conservation issues, but more on that in a later post.

hyIn the meantime, the loom needs warping, and I need to get some more work underway! Cheerio for now x

 

 

 

Saltaire Arts Trail 2016

Tomorrow I hang my work at the Art Rooms in Salts Mill. I did weave another tapestry in the end, she’s quite small (49cm x 66cm).and woven to fill one of the corners of the space I’ve been given.

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I’m glad I’ve woven her but I’m still quite uncomfortable at this scale .I can’t see why anyone would put a bit of fabric the size of a towel on their wall. It seems unfinished, unloved, trying to be something it isn’t. I felt that all three pieces needed just a little touch of drama, darling.

Frames were an obvious option but it wasn’t something I’d done before, it would be a punt, and time was short. In fact, considering how long it would take to get the frames made, if they looked rubbish I’d only have 24 hours to line the tapestries and find another way to hang them. I decided to risk it anyway. I liked the frames I saw at the Terry Frost exhibition in Leeds a while ago. They seemed simple, unpretentious, crude almost and that was what I wanted for mine.

Chrissie Freeth Handwoven tapestry

I am really thrilled with them, and fortunately they were finished a few days early which was a real blessing as it was much more work getting them ready than I’d planned. I was finding my way through a lot of it but will be more prepared next time. I painted them so the wood grain showed through, echoing the background emerging through the tapestries (actually this was a total accident but shush). I feel these frames give me scope to explore working to this scale in the future, although I am chomping at the bit to return to the full width of the loom for my next piece.

With much advice and support I’ve commissioned a set of gift cards featuring my work. It was something I’ve been toying with for a while and I’m super glad to have finally taken the plunge. They’ll be available at the Arts Trail and in my online shop after that. Sorry for the crappy picture – they’re really, really shiny!

Chrissie Freeth Handwoven tapestry

Although I’ve done the Arts Trail a few times before this will be the first time where I am really proud of the work I am showing, or rather that I am showing work that is so personal to me. There’s a mini guide available online here and which also outlines everything going on over the bank holiday weekend. I’m in venue number 2 on the map. Hope to see you there x

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Finding my limits

It is fair to say I am quite driven. I do live with a constant knowledge of how short life is, and I want to make the most of it. I love, so much, what I am doing, I am always hounded by the fear it will be somehow taken away; if there is a minute I can weave, I will weave. I don’t consider it an imposition, it is what I want to do. And if I haven’t had that drive and work ethic there is no way I would have done what I have over the last few years. My time is my own, there are no demands on it, I can do as I please, and I want to weave.

But last week, just after I finished the last tapestry and wrote the last blog, someone asked if I could take something on. I find it hard to say no, so felt I had to justify it by explaining my current commitments, weaving for two exhibitions this summer (needing to weave six good sized tapestries by August, and not including the Arts Trail at the end of the month), a grown up job, three voluntary posts, one of which in particular has demanded a lot of my time of late, and for another I am on call 24/7, and of course, I have my fellowship to organise and prepare for. In addition I am going through a very slight and minor health scare, which is fine, but I have had to undergo a barrage of tests over the last couple of weeks, eating into my time.

It made me stop a mo and think that perhaps it was a bit much. But I wouldn’t have my life any other way. I have purpose, I contribute, I can help people who need it. And best of all, I get to spent the bulk of my time weaving. I record all my hours for each project on an app, so when I initially posted about the recently finished tapestry to chums, I was able to boast that I had done it in 250 hours  over 18 days. Those are 14 hour days. Ha ha thought I! This is fabulous I’ll even be able to sneak in another tapestry before the Saltaire Arts Trail at the end of May. How clever am I? I would have a day of admin as a break, sorting websites, emails, paperwork, accounts, writing up projects etc and then load up the loom again.

But after that day of admin I woke up exhausted – emotionally, physically and intellectually – my brain couldn’t carry a thought through. But of course I battled on and made a start on the next cartoon, because that is what I do. I thought it didn’t matter that I was tired, because it would be ok, because I was having an ECG that morning, and I would be able to have some down time then. I wasn’t being funny, I wasn’t being sarcastic. I actually meant it. I timetabled into my day a break, it was incidental that I would have things stuck over my body to test if my heart was still working ok. My own ridiculousness was a sudden massive of slap in the face.

Something had to change. Much of my voluntary work centres around mental health and vulnerable folk, I of all people had to stop before I found myself on a slope I couldn’t get off of. I suggested to friends, also amazing craftswomen, that I had better drop one of the exhibitions, I was putting too much pressure on myself. This was greeted with a massive NOOOOOO! These were too good an opportunity to miss, what had to change was not my workload, but my attitude. A bit of an intervention followed which ended in the suggestion that I should get over wanting to produce only new work for one of the events. That I can do a mix of my new pieces, with my previous work, that they were just as valid pieces and part of my ‘journey’ as the new tapestries were, that I was being too hard on myself and over-critical of previous work. I know that will seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me, that is how fogged up my brain had got. With a sheet of A4 and a few seconds I was able to completely re think the layout and managed to get the number of tapestries I need to weave over the summer down to three. Now then, I know full well I will weave more than that, but what is different is the pressure I’ve put on myself has now loosened drastically. As long as I weave the three – which is entirely do-able – I will be ok, anything else is a bonus.

It also meant I could take an immediate and much needed break. Wednesday afternoon I caught up with friends, forcing myself out the house to resist temptation to work. I had been meaning to see them for months, but just never found the time and hated myself for it. I missed them massively and it was fabulous to reconnect. On Thursday the weather was glorious and I spent it sowing seeds and tidying up in the garden and painting furniture. Usually when I say I am having a day off I end up doing admin or research, but this was a proper day doing someting frivolous. On the Saturday was the Heritage Crafts Association’s annual conference Crafts Across Continents and I was helping out and needed to be there early so had planned to travel down the night before. Instead I went early on Friday to do the tourist thing. On the train down I started to feel a lightness fill my knees and chest, and I realised I was unknotting, de-stressing. This was how I used to be.

It couldn’t have been a better day. There sun was shining in Trafalgar Square, everyone was out and the atmosphere was wonderful. I went to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, places I had never visited before.

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It was strange seeing images in the flesh that were already so familiar. I definitely gravitated to the medieval side of things.

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I sauntered up Regents Street and popped into Libertys to look at the rug room, a great opportunity for me to see first hand, hand-woven oriental rugs. The colours were fabulous and the slit weaving on the rugs beautifully done.

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The hotel in Fitzrovia was rather grand and although I meant to make myself a picnic for dinner and go scoff it in Regent’s Park, I tripped across a Turkish café on my way with outdoor seating and had a lovely dinner there instead. I have a weakness for Turkish coffee and make it myself, but now rather feel I have to up my game.

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The next morning myself and fellow trustees and volunteers of the HCA met up to prepare for the conference. It was held at RIBA in Portland Place, a stunning building as one would imagine! The event was fantastic, the line up of speakers included Ritu Sethi from the Crafts Revival Trust who travelled from India, and Evind Falk from the Norwegian Institute of Crafts. It was fascinating how traditional crafts skills are all facing the same challenges despite the geographical and cultural differences. Keith Brymer Jones and Kate Malone from the Great Pottery Thrown Down talked about the show and were as lovely as they seem on the telly (yes, there were tears). Genevieve Sioka, the craft buyer from the National Trust (an organisation close to my heart) launched a new Open Call for folk wanting to sell work in their shops – details will soon be on the HCA website. Julia Weston, the CEO of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (an organisation even closer to my heart!) talked about the Fellowships and two Fellows, Hugh miller and Ruth Davey talked about their travels and the impact they have had on their work, whetting my appetite to get my own underway! In the afternoon the winners of the HCA’s suite of awards were announced – I am so proud to be part of an organisation that is so actively supporting new craftspeople and recognising excellence.

Ch2ak71XIAAue5MA huge highlight for me was meeting Caron Penney and Katharine Swailes, two master weavers associated with West Dean and their own studio, Weftfaced. Obviously I have long known of their work, but it was fabulous meeting them in person. Amazingly,  I also got to meet the very wonderful Kaffe Fassett, who has kindly become a patron of the HCA. It was wonderful to talk tapestry with him and his partner Brandon Malby. It was a real honour. I first heard Kaffe talk about 25 years ago at a museum where I worked. One of my most vivid memories of those years was walking out of the room and into the night after listening to him, and feeling like I saw the world in a completely different way. He was incredibly friendly and interesting and I came home high as a kite if truth be told.

It is Sunday morning and I am writing this post before going into the garden to update a notebook in the sunshine (not work hones,t cus I get to play with sticky tape and a glue gun), and then I’ll be snapping the spine of a book. I’ll be cutting the latest two tapestries off the loom tomorrow and start dealing with the finishing of them. I’ll then put up the next cartoon. If I finish it in time for SAT, fabulous, if not, well, that’s ok too.

I feel fresh, I feel reset, I feel untangled. When you love what you do so much, how do you slow down? I don’t have the answer, but at least I now know there is a question that needs one.

New new tapestry!

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you’ll know it has taken a long time for me to find a way to weave that is unique to me and which gives me a way to say what I want to. The last tapestry, No Longer Mourn, was a bit of a breakthrough. All I had to do next, was do it again. Was it, perhaps, a fluke?

I had plenty of warp left over so I was quick to make another cartoon and to get it on the loom. The design was something I’ve been playing with for a good while but couldn’t quite get it how I wanted it, but now, with this new way of thinking I was able to create a version I liked pretty quickly. I suppose in my head it is about strength in the face of regret, but no real title as yet. It is pretty nerve-wracking unwinding the beams and seeing the completed tapestry for the first time, but I have to say I was pleased with the result and I sat down and looked at it with a sense that I have finally found my feet as a weaver and as an artist. I know what I want to do – and I know now exactly how to do it. I’ve got more ideas and designs in my head and in my notebooks than I’ll ever probably have enough lifespan left to weave. This is a massive change and relief for me (not the lifespan thing). I feel in some way, like I am just starting out.

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This tapestry was woven in a slightly different way technically to the last and once they are both cut off the loom I’ll go into a bit more detail about that. This tapestry is destined, as with the last one, to go to the Saltaire Arts Trail. It will be the first time I’ll have slapped my insides onto a wall for other people to look at and I am rather nervous about it, and if truth be told, rather excited too.

The event takes place here in Saltaire on 28-30 May. I’ll be in the Art Rooms in Salts Mill – just follow the signs to the Tourist Information Centre. The list of artists taking part in the Arts Trail has just been released. As well as the juried exhibitors in the Open Houses there will be local people opening up their homes and showing their work too. There is also the Makers Fair and lots of exhibitions and activities. In the Art Rooms I’ll be exhibiting alongside Janis Goodman, Salma Patel, Steve Rayner, Gemma Lacey, Dave Gowers, and the owner of the Art Rooms, Jacky Al-Samarraie. Do please come and say hello. Pictured below is one of Dave Gower’s amazing paintings; I can’t wait to see more.

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David Gowers, No 10

I’ve also been selected for Weave, a summer show at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff – it’ll explore the act of weaving across different mediums, not just with yarn, and I’ll share more about the exhibition in due course. It does sound rather exciting!

Cheerio for now and I hope to see you later this month x