Coptic Tapestries at the British Museum

My blog has been quiet for a few weeks, for which I apologise, but I have been massively busy. I took some time out to deal with the domestic aftermath caused by the new loom that arrived earlier this year. It was the first time this year I have had breathing space long enough to tackle it  and that I can now get in some rooms which before I couldn’t even enter has proved a great relief to my sanity (before and after shots of my study below – don’t judge me!). It was hard to undertake such a major destashing but I feel  all the better for it, and not least because a lot of stuff was collected by Scrap Magic a local initiative in Bradford that provides craft resources for children’s activities.

fhdishfiI’ve been busy writing applications for various projects and I’ve also been hard at work on the first DMV project and will be warping up the loom this week to start the tapestry proper. I spent a good deal of time making samples, wanting to create a surface with some vigour, something to reflect ridge and furrow and earthworks.

IMG_6651It took longer than it should have to realise the answer was staring me in the face, by adjusting my sett and making a coarser weave I got just the texture I wanted. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out on a large scale piece.

IMG_6639The colours have come together quite easily, which probably means something is wrong. Anyway we’ll see what happens once it is on the loom

IMG_6668 IMG_6671Yesterday I went to London for a committee meeting with the Heritage Crafts Association. I had just enough time to nip into the British Museum. I was almost scuppered by the most horrendous queue due to bag checks but kindly one of the guards told me about the entrance round the back and I got in in no time.

Coptic TapestryCoptic TapestryI was heading for the Coptic tapestries, the Copts being Christians in Roman Egypt from the 4th century AD onwards. They are famous for their textiles which have mostly come from burials and have survived due to the dry conditions. The photographs were taken through glass with an ipad so I know you will forgive me for their quality.

Coptic Tapestry

Coptic TapestryI was surprised, seeing them in the flesh, how finely woven they were – as a guide the medallions are roughly a handspan in width. And how vibrant are they? Take a moment to remember someone spun and dyed these yarns around 1500 years ago (and yes, those are my legs int he reflection above, I have very shapely pins).

Coptic TapestryMany of the examples on display like the first two above were appliquéd onto linen tunics. But in another example the linen warp used for the tapestry was doubled up. It was then split, doubling the sett, and used to form the tabby ground. The tapestry was integral to the cloth. The weft incidently, is wool.

Coptic Tapestry

Coptic TapestryThe use of soumak was heavily evident, outlining various elements in the border and main figures.

Coptic TapestryCoptic TapestryCoptic TapestryCoptic TapestryThe tapestries were behind glass, but it did mean one could get very close (except those near the floor and which would have involved getting down on one’s hands and knees (!!!)) and the area was well lit so it was fabulous to see these tapestries in the flesh. If I am totally honest they aren’t really my cup of tea aesthetically, but they are growing on me, and it is impossible not to marvel at the stagering technical expertise behind them, or their vibrancy, or their survival. If you ever get a chance to see them , I whole-heartedly recommend them.

I’ll try not to leave it so long until next time. Ta ra x









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