Week 2: Sampling for the new tapestry

I don’t know how articulate this post will be – the House Steward at East Riddlesden Hall is retiring and a pub crawl around Skipton yesterday saw him off. I’m rather hung-over, but I promised a weekly post, so here it is for better or for worse…

IMG_1267The new tapestry depicts the final moments of a figure inspired by Jane Horberry, my great-great-great-grandmother, who drowned herself in 1862 aged just thirty. I’d uploaded the original pencil sketch into my iPad and was able to have a play with the colours. This week was about figuring out how to translate that image into thread.

The main areas I have to colour are the water, sky, dress and the hair, and all at night. I knew I wanted to keep the palette limited, and my mantra for the week has been those words of Lurcat, that tapestry should be ‘sturdy, plump and virile’.

I started off spending a lot of time at the dye pot. I do have a good archive of colours I’ve developed in the past but I wanted to find some rich but muddy khaki greens for the dress. The rest of the week has been about weaving samples; I usually start with a scatter gun approach and slowly hone it all down.

;kkk;lk

No bobbin I use is made up of a single colour, I blend different yarns to give some pop to the tapestry surface. Without that blending it would be flat and dead. But it does mean finding colours that work in their own right, and which also work in a group. These blended yarns then have to be hatched, so I can end up with eight or so colours, all of which have to work together. It can be quite a frustrating process, taking one step forward and two back, but it is always satisfying to see the palette finally, at last, thank God, coming together.

It is then a case of weaving slightly larger areas to see how the blends work with one another. Trying to find a way to depict water at night and be distinguishable from the night sky did prove to be a challenge. I soon realised I was trying to replicate the colours of the iPad image, I forgot it was only meant to be a starting point. I needed to weave the tapestry as a tapestry, not a digital painting – if that makes any sense at all. I’ve ended up with a more ‘tweedy’ blend than I had initially planned, but it gives some life and flow to the water. This area will also be heavily hatched, again giving it some movement. And it will be a great contrast to the more solid dress and sky areas.

IMG_1498I’ve treated myself to a proper daylight floor lamp. I really don’t know how I ever managed without one before now. I can see the colours as they really are, and it is much easier on the eye so I can work longer.

Getting all these colours and blends right now, is more important than ever. With the scaffold loom the whole tapestry builds up in front of me, but because the new loom has beams, the finished area of weaving will be wound out of sight, I won’t see the tapestry as a whole until it is cut off the loom a few months after I start. I will only ever get to see a couple of feet of weaving at any one time. Next week I’m going to make some larger samples just to be sure I’m totally happy before I think about warping up for the tapestry proper.

IMG_1512Without doubt this period of sampling is a great process for ‘bonding’ with the tapestry and imagining it as a finished piece, as well as warming up for the several months of marathon weaving. But for today, it is a day off, on the sofa, nursing my hang-over. If I can manage it I may crack open Mark Hearld’s Work Book which was recommended to me by designer Moira Fuller. It looks fantastic and I can’t wait to delve in. But for now, where did I put the paracetamol? And if anyone wants to make me a sausage and egg sandwich, I wouldn’t say no.

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