Week 18: Off the loom!

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It seemed fitting that as my friends Kate and Paula had been so supportive throughout this whole process that they were with me as I cut Gracie from the loom.

It all happened very quickly and it was me doing the snipping so I never really saw it – which was probably for the best as I was totally over-emotional about the whole thing anyway.

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Miraculously she stayed in one piece as we laid her down on some sheets. It was a shock how nimble she was – but there again I suppose she is a piece of cloth. Not only was it fitting Kate and Paula be there, they are also expert sewers – I’m not stupid! As they began plaiting the warps and sewing the turn back in place I knotted a few areas of weft at junction points.

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I had assumed the way I had done the vertical soumak would mean I wouldn’t have to sew up the slits but the pedantic side of me came out and I have started sewing them up and this is ongoing, taking up much more time than I thought. A meeting in London on Saturday and the Tour de France bringing Yorkshire to a halt on Sunday meant I went in on Thursday and Friday when the hall was closed but it looked like I’ll have to go in next week as well – the staff must be wondering if they will ever see the back of me! tapestry bobbins

In the mean time Shelly at Toast of Leeds has put on her blog some of the images she took (above and below) – I am in awe at how she has managed to take the common place things I no longer notice and turned them into pictures of such beauty. I’m feeling very lucky to have had this opportunity – do go over and have a look at the rest of them.

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Week 17: ….. and calm…..

Time for a confession. You know when I said in my last post that I wasn’t worried about that ripple in the tapestry? That was a complete lie – I’ve been wetting myself.

Was it a natural ripple that would disappear once it was hung? How would I know until I had cut it off the loom? And then it would be too late to fix it. What had I done wrong? My selvedges were straight, weren’t they? My warps were straight. Was it my sett or my beating? What hadn’t I noticed? What if the blocking didn’t work? Had I wasted four months of my life? Was I in fact a completely rubbish weaver and totally out of my depth? What had I done? What, what, what? And therein began many a sleepless night, especially last night. I decided to get to East Riddlesden early this morning and loosen the warps while we were closed so if there was still a problem I could smash my way through one of the rose windows and leap to a noble death in private.

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I untied some lacing to the sides of the loom and huzzah, all remained well – the blocking had worked. I then slackened the warps and although there was a slight ripple it was clear this was a completely natural product of her still being on the loom and would drop out once she was hung. Within seconds all that worry was gone. But I wanted to hang around for the day just to keep an eye on her and so when the lady who looks after the day-to-day conservation said she could do with a hand cleaning the carved woodwork of some of the four-posters I was happy to volunteer my services.

100_6040 I can finally start relaxing a little and be proud of what I have done. I planned to go in next weekend to cut her off, but managed to remain ignorant of the impact of the Tour de Flipping France – the roads will be closed, there will be no public transport, the hall will be shut. So it looks like I may go in later in the week, even though we will be closed and cut her off then. From the picture below you’ll have to take my word for it that the edges are straight – I could’t get the angle of my crappy camera right.

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This has been my first week at home for a while. Fortunately I had a lot to do with my weaving editor hat on, for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. I was also able to catch up on the housework (not that you’d notice that now). But it has been hard to settle down to work on the next project. I am waiting to hear about an opportunity but it won’t be for a few weeks yet; until then I don’t know if I’ll be weaving at home or elsewhere. If I am to weave it at home I can’t really start until I have revamped what was my bedroom into a proper weaving studio. I suppose I need a break and need to stop beating myself up about it. Now I know Gracie is ok I am sure I’ll be able to settle and will make use of some quality easel time.

I am trying to find a way to tell you about the next project, but it is hard and personal, but I will do so eventually. I showed my initial drawings to friends who I know will be honest and whose opinions I trust and respect and am much encouraged by their reaction. One of them suggested weaving it as a triptych and I am seriously considering it.

Right I’m starving so had better go see to my tea – besides, I don’t want to keep carping on x

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Weeks 15 & 16? : End Game

To be honest I have lost track of what week it is; the closer I got to the end the harder I worked and I just kept my head down and wove like a demon. On Wednesday I planned to finished her but instead was lured out by artist Kate Bowles to a two hour picnic in the glorious sunshine under the rose covered ruins of the Starkie wing. After that going home early seemed the only decent thing to do. I had a snooze on the sofa for an hour; thinking of standing for MP.

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So it was Thursday when I finished her, but not before deciding to take out one of the hair petals and so had to reweave it using the colour of the background and a needle. I was quite shocked when she was done, I knew it was coming but was still a quite sad, like I wasn’t expecting it. I guess there is a natural anticlimax – this project has been the main focus of my life for six months and now it was effectively over. I went in on Saturday to weave the header and then a volunteer and I loosened the tension on the loom ready to let her settle before I cut her off in a week or so. There was some slight buckling through the centre although I’m not too worried about it, the tapestry is quite close to the bottom beam so I suspect it is just a natural fold caused by the different tension between the top and bottom of the loom and it should just drop out once it is hung – it is a piece of cloth after all. But I was a good girl and blocked it, just in case. I’ll see what it looks like next Sunday and release the tension on the loom then. If need be I might have a bit of a re-weave of the top left corner, but I shouldn’t think it will be necessary (takes a deep breath and reminds herself perfectionism is a good thing).

Yesterday morning Shelly Mantovani from Toast of Leeds came to take some photographs. I usually hate having my picture taken but I really love her work and was happy to put myself in her hands.She made me feel very relaxed and although it will be a while yet before I see the results, I am very much looking forward to it. In the meantime here is a pic by Kate just after our picnic (yes, I am stroking Gracie’s cheek, she is my baby).

Chrissie Freeth TapestryStill no news on the fundraising, but one of the volunteers made a really touching point yesterday; East Riddlesden was empty when it was handed over to the National Trust in the 1930s and it has since been filled with furniture and pictures from other properties. Apart from a grain store, Gracie is the only thing that really does belong to the hall. So fingers crossed, you never know.

I have brought a few things home, bobbins, yarns, swift and winders and so it is starting to seem an emptier space already. But I am not sad, it is certainly not good-bye, there is still a lot to do getting her off the loom and once she is off it. But it is certainly the end game. This is my first Sunday to myself for a very long while, and I will absolutely see to the laundry and housework and under no circumstance whatsoever start moping or even consider doing any dyeing experiments for the next tapestry. I do hope my ducks aren’t missing me. 😦

So far she has taken 85 days weaving (approx 600 hours, not including the six weeks prep work), and 3kg of wool and an incalculable number of jacket potatoes from the tearooms. For some reason I thought I had woven the second half much quicker than the first, but it was about equal. Can’t wait to see her upright. Here’s the video in full. Ta ta for now x

Week 14: Getting High

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I’ve reached the top selvedge and getting the bobbin through the ever tightening warps has been like dragging a reluctant elephant through a fence. The split rings were also jamming so I had to constantly re-thread them. It didn’t help that I was standing and reaching to the fell; it has been pretty unpleasant weaving experience for a while now.

The gardens here are spectacular and I took a walk one day and started lusting after some tower scaffolding in a van outside the hall; I assumed it belonged to the man fixing the boiler, but it was being used by the groundsman to cut hedges. The hall’s conservator made some calls and it turned out it would be ok for me to borrow it as long as the wood was wrapped in plastic to protect the house from any nasties in the wood. I am now at a comfortable height for weaving and although the plastic makes it look like I am incontinent, I am a very happy weaver. I don’t think it is going to be too long before it is finished.

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I’ve mentioned in other posts about my next project; I’ve started talking about it in more detail to those who have asked, response has been positive and it is slowly becoming more real. But I am conscious that though the next project has come relatively easily and I am finding my voice as a weaver, I still have a lot to learn about exploring my ideas visually and translating them into tapestry.

I have dabbled at sketching but painting is something I have not done since I was a kid playing around in art class in middle school. I think this is why I jumped on photographic images like that of my great-grandmother; as I can’t paint or draw, I’d have to focus on pre-existing images. But I’ve begun to realise that for me tapestries should be based on original images designed specifically for them – the days of weavers simply reproducing someone else’s design are long past. But of course I can’t paint, I am not an artist, I’ve had no training. I knew this would be something I would just have to get over so when my friend Karen was getting rid of an easel I jumped on the chance of giving it a new home. I thought if I had an uncluttered space to work on then I would be more likely to go upstairs into the workroom and just play. I got the easel set up and headed to Homebase for a bit of MDF to make a drawing board.

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So there I stood, in front of the easel, a piece of the wallpaper lining I usually use to sketch on, clipped to the board. But what to paint? I remember as a child my mum telling me that there was someone in my grandmother’s family she was never allowed to ask about. It didn’t take much digging into the census to come across my great-great grandmother Delia, a schizophrenic who was put into a lunatic asylum in the 1920s and died there a few years later. She had six previous admissions and according to her records her mother and sister were also insane. I also discovered that her daughter, Delia Jo (above, in white), was transferred to the same asylum from a workhouse after becoming “un-co-operative”. She was admitted in 1925 and died there in the 1960s. Their story inspired me to become involved in helping to make sure such needless loss of freedom within the mental health system no longer continues, but I have always felt there is something more about them I wanted to explore. Included in their records is a photograph taken at admission and I had Delia snr’s on my worktop and I pinned it to my drawing board. I knew I didn’t want to reproduce the photograph, it was just part of the process, I wanted to get at something of the turmoil of her mental illness.

When tapestry-artist Janet Clarke visited last week and we chatted and discussed my fear of my inexperience, shee suggested I ditched the paintbrush and tried mark mak using something else to free myself up. I poured out some paint and reached for a sponge to hand and just went for it and this is the result. I don’t doubt that I am painting like a school girl and I am going to make clichéd mistakes, but as a first attempt at painting I am pretty chuffed. It will always be a means to an end for me, but I fully intend to keep going with it and am no longer as afraid. I am also encouraged to keep exploring more the life and experiences of Delia and Delia Jo and find out as much about them as I can. They were not to be spoken of, were meant to be forgotten and Delia Jo would have been were it not for a comment in a letter. I like the idea of going agaist their imposed invisibility, of making them permenant and visible and unmissible.

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Anyway, more ducks. The twelve teeny weeney babies are now four – there is an evil heron hanging around that has been picking them off. These are my  ducks and I will I will have my revenge.

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Weeks 11 & 12: Bunking off!

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I had a very good week at the loom, good progress has been made – actually that’s a complete lie; I disliked the colour of some of the petals of the new plait, they were too similar so out they came. I’m really glad I did it, I think it had been nagging at me for a while, so it is progress of sorts. I got to the point where I really couldn’t go on without platforms. The chaps who are making them have just got their saw fixed and I was hopeful they might get done soon so it seemed a good point to have a few days off.

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Over the last few months I’ve been developing a lot of ideas for future projects and things I wanted to try out, but didn’t have the time or energy to do it once I got home of an evening, so it was a good chance to get organised and to experiment. One goal was to try to weave a small tapestry, something that could be put in a frame. I was told recently I was unlikely to get accepted for a tapestry exhibition due to the size of my work. I did try, honestly I did, I even sourced and painted some frames. But it just wasn’t me. I think tapestries should be large, monumental even, I do struggle to see the point of some smaller works (there are notable exceptions to that, of course!). Besides, do I really want to change my work just to fit in to current ideas of what tapestry should be? Nah, not really. I am not a weaver of small things and am happy to stay that way. I did hear recently that a group is forming for folk who do weave larger tapestries and I am mighty glad to hear it.

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I also spent quite a bit of time fattening up ideas for a series of potential workshops next year. More details to follow but they will focus on traditional textile techniques; tapestry, weaving, rag rugs, patchwork, crochet and blackwork. Oh oh oh that reminds me, did I mention this fantastic gismo I came across – I found it on a Pinterest board and was so overwhelmed with excitement I forgot to note where I saw it. One of the most irritating things for me about patchwork is cutting out the flipping templates, well this is a Fiskars squeeze punch for card making but it makes templates in seconds – and no sloppy edges either, all consistent size. Revelatory!

100_5483When I wasn’t putting hexagons into every piece of paper I could lay my hands on, I also cracked open my sketchbook and started work on some ideas for my next few projects. A lot of drawings had something of Maides Coign about them, in that they were quite abstract and blocky, and made use of more soumak. Perhaps that is my thing for now, which is fair enough and I am happy to go with it while I still feel it is worth exploring.

While I was away I did miss East Riddlesden desperately and I was very glad to get back there this morning. Alas the platforms still haven’t been made so I was getting ready to be on my feet all day. I did have a visit from a colleague who I respect greatly and that made the morning pass very quickly. But then by lunchtime the skies greyed over and the heavens opened and gone was my light and I was effectively weaving in the dark. I went for a slap up lunch in the tea rooms hoping it would brighten up but it never did and I ended up coming home early; I knew if I carried on I would just end up making mistakes. The forecast is bad tomorrow too, so wish me luck. Oh the joys of working in a National Trust house! The light above the loom is an eighteenth century lantern, and quite frankly, rubbish.

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Week 10: Pondering on a Mounting Block

I’m sitting on the mounting block outside of the hall waiting for a lift home after a busy day. The wind is rustling through the trees and the sky is greying turning everything around me emerald-green and bringing out the sweet damp scent from the ground. To my right the new ducklings nervously follow their parents around the pond, and to the left are the ruins of the Starkie wing, and the odd-shaped alcoves in a wall that once housed falcons and dogs. Come June and the finishing of the tapestry, I hope it won’t be the end of my connection here. I love it too much, the house and the people.

tapestry weaving Progress this week has been good, but the fell is too high for me to reach when seated so I’m now on my feet. It has changed my relationship with the tapestry, it seems a more intimate process, I don’t know if it is because I am parallel to the surface of the tapestry, or if it is because without the blocks I used to sit on, there are no barriers between me and the wool. It is also easier to jump to one area of the tapestry to another when weaving. But although I do like it, there will be a limit to the amount of time I can spend on my feet, not least because I managed to break them many moons ago during undergrad antics and an altercation with a wall, a ten-foot drop and a pavement that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Apparently an attempt is going to be made to try to raise funds to buy the tapestry for the hall. There is absolutely no guarantee of success so I am not getting my hopes high, but it would of course mean so much. I don’t have children and the thought that there would be something left on the earth once I am gone and which will be looked after gives me a sense of security and comfort that is hard to explain. It would also be a huge affirmation regarding the pretty drastic changes I’ve made to my life these last few years and of course it would mean I’ll have the financial space to weave the next project. I’m just going to remind myself here, that I’m not going to get my hopes up, but if everyone wouldn’t mind crossing their fingers and toes, I’d be very grateful.

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When the house was closed over the winter the Flemish tapestry hanging in the Great Hall was cleaned, basically hoovering it through a special membrane. The conservation team, one of whom I’m waiting for now to take me home, saved the several centuries worth of gunk and today they put it on display next to the tapestry. In the yellow porch chamber they have also set up a USB microscope so visitors will be able to see it close up. It is beyond mind-blowing to think that in a few hundred years someone might be cleaning my tapestry, long after my cremated remains have disintegrated into the soil and my name forgotten. And on that lovely cheery note I’ll say ta ta for now, and see you next week xxx

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Week 9: Chrissie & Gracie get on

East Riddlesden TapestryBit of a patchy week, what with colds, dental appointments and some grown up jobs to see to, but progress on the tapestry has been steady and good. I’ve decided to put some detail into the design of the foot, rather than the amorphous blob previously. Quite glad no one saw me trying to take a photograph of the sole of my foot – not too easy.

100_5134Also very glad with how the hatching has turned out at her waist; I had thought earlier about taking it out but resisted the temptation. It adds a bit of interest, a contrast to the more blocky areas of colour and breaks up the dress area. It’s also a bit of homage to the Flemish tapestry in the Great Hall downstairs which inevitably has a lot of hatching.

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Of course I’ve always enjoyed going to the hall, very honoured to be there; tired yes, but I knew it would be a pretty intense few months. But I noticed this week a palpable change, a very real looking forward to going in and getting on with it. I think having reached the half way mark I can accept that the design is now established and turning out well, those tricky areas of vertical soumak are now in the bag, the colours are set and the warps are – miraculously – still where they should be. I’m also on schedule. Now I needn’t worry about the actual weaving so much, I can let myself truly enjoy the experience. Many of the staff here are becoming good friends and there are laughs aplenty, and the grounds are changing weekly, the blossom largely gone, the clematis climbing up one of the ever-greener trees coming into its own.

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It is another bank holiday tomorrow so I ought to have an early night. But before I go I thought I’d share my system for organising my bobbins in case it is of use to others. This has been somewhat of an evolution from baskets to jars to these divided wooden boxes.

On a plastic plant label I write the name of the colour/area (‘nice’ brown, ‘slug’ brown etc) and on the reverse I record what colours go into making up that bobbin in case I forget and I keep it in place with a small blob of blu-tack. There are plenty of compartments including one for empty bobbins, tools, and my radio and phone.

Right, bath and bed. Do all have a lovely week x