New tapestry – update

I’m sorry but this is a bit of another round-up post. I am finally off crutches and getting around much more easily, and I am also high enough on the new tapestry to be able to get off the floor and use a chair, so I am a much happier bunny. I’ve also tentatively started to try treadling.

I am about quarter of the way up the new tapestry. Working from home I’ve been able to put the hours in, which has been a bit of a good job. A reminder of the design, as it is so long since I posted about it – a dreaming figure is on the left, and like Maides Coign her hair is made up of petals textured with soumak. These brush across the width of the design creating a landscape for a figure to the right falling through a star-filled night sky.

100_6287Initially I had thought to use similar colours and combinations for the petals as in Maides Coign, but then decided I wanted the mass of hair to be more homogeneous – but although I wanted them to be the same, each petal of hair also had to be distinguishable. Also no combination could be in adjacent petals, and well-distributed across the tapestry. Not so easy to pull off as it turns out. At least two of the petals have been picked out and re-woven at twice. One of them I decided to pluck out once I had woven over it, so it was quite a surgical procedure putting it back in with a needle.

100_6727I’ve ended up with four blends, although one has only been used once. There is a mix of solid blocks of colour and more pixellated ones too, and the difference adds a good bit of interest and texture. I’m really pleased with how it has worked out and to be honest there were times, staring at it late at night, chin on my hands, when I never thought I would be able to say that.

It is no secret that I hate blue. I had worked hard to find colours I could stomach and the intention was to graduate from light to dark up the height of the work to add interest and movement. But it soon became clear once I had put in the first lighter blue that it wasn’t going to work, it looked weak and washed out. Even when I experimented with darker blues it didn’t, work. I started to wonder why on earth it ever got in my head to combine blues and orangey browns, until I saw Matisse’s Dance staring at me from my inspiration board. I took a break for a few days and focused on other things and came back to it, putting in a much darker colour than I had anticipated, but it worked. I also added a brown into the mix to add some continuity with the hair. You look at it and it is quite hard to tell if it is black, blue or grey, which I quite like. It makes the browns pop rather than fight against them. There’s no real scope to darken the sky further up the design, but actually that solid colour, especially in contrast to the busyness of the soumak really works and lends the tapestry a sense of calmness and stillness I had never anticipated. It makes the work richer and darker, which makes me very happy.


I could only go so far with the sky before I had to start work on the figure of the girl on the left. So much of this tapestry is lying on top of each other, the order of working has very much been dictated by the design. The skin colour is a mix of a pearly-greys and pinky-shell colours. I had thought to add highlights to her shoulder and neck to mimic moonlight, but that lighter colour simply didn’t work, it was too wishy-washy and in contrast to the solid darkness of the rest of the tapestry (below). I took it out and instead hatched in more of the pinky-shell colour, but it seemed a total waste of time as the graduation of shades was so subtle, it was invisible. I didn’t just want a block of colour for the figure, it needed some life to it, so I was mightily disappointed; I worked some more samples but in truth I really liked the colours I had chosen, they worked well with the browns and blues. I decided to try to finish up to the neck to see if I was making too much of it and accidentally used one of the original pearl-pink bobbins and suddenly the subtle hatching I had done became visible by contrast. Hurray!


I remember with Maides Coign it took me to about the quarter way mark to have any confidence that the design would work, and I am now at this point with the new one, and now the foundation is finally settled I can really start enjoying it, instead of wallowing in a quiet blind panic.

The last few weeks haven’t just been about weaving. I’ve been settling into my new role with the Heritage Crafts Association and quite frankly loving every minute. I also went to see the Grayson Perry tapestries over at Temple Newsam. I am such a mega-fan of Grayson Perry, and Temple Newsam is one of my favourite places in the known universe so you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn the taps were being exhibited there. My joy was quickly tempered by the realisation that Temple Newsam was inaccessible to those without a car; thankfully my friend Lorrain was going and took me along, but it did seem rather inexcusable to hold such an amazing exhibition out of the reach of so many. I was also a little unnerved by a rather churlish response by the Leeds Art Fund to concerns raised by a visitor with disabilities regarding access to the tapestries – I was still on crutches at the time. It turned out the car park attendant let us off the parking fee, and Lorrain was let in free as my carer – it was only a matter of time. There was only one point where I had to be assisted up some particular narrow stairs, but I did ok.


I love that thanks to the success of The Vanity of Small Differences people are talking about tapestries again and it is hard to imagine that it is just a coincidence that the first tapestry was admitted to the RA Summer exhibition this year. But of course Perry’s hangings are not strictly tapestries. The designing process aside, they were produced on a computerised loom in a matter of hours (and this is something I’ve discussed before). I thought the idea of exhibiting them in a stately home, the natural habitat of tapestry was genius, but in reality, I am not entirely sure it worked for me. Don’t get me wrong, the design of them was spectacular, but I suppose I read them a little differently, I saw them as Jacquard weaves rather than tapestries, and so they seemed out of place. The last tapestry of the series hung in a plain uncluttered room, more like a gallery, and it took my breath away. I would have loved to have seen the others in a similar distraction-free setting – I would have loved to have had an opportunity to appreciate them more for what they were, than what they were trying to do, if that makes sense. Nonetheless it was such a great privilege to see them and I am really glad I got the chance. Unexpectedly there was one of Perry’s pots on another floor opposite a collection of ceramics, and that I thought worked really well. As for the tapestries, it was a great experiment having them at Temple Newsam, but for me it did not did it justify having them somewhere inaccessible to public transport users or wheelchair users.

Photo1352Since I last posted I’ve also been featured in UK Handmade. If you don’t know about it, it is a fabulous online magazine highlighting UK creative talent and I am really proud to occasionally write for them, but it was an experience having the tables turned and being interviewed myself, but it was a very useful exercise in trying to help myself understand what I am doing .

gjldfjglfdjglkfdjglkOoh that’s quite a lot isn’t it, I do go on! I am having a day off, spending it on the sofa drinking lots of tea, and mucking about with my sketchbook. Ta ta for now x

Weaving & Wellbeing


I know it has been a while since I posted, but things went a little bit pants. You know I said I hurt my knee when I fell down some stairs? Well it turns out I tore a layer of cartilage in the joint and it has taken a goodly while to start getting back on my feet  (seewhatIdidthere).

I got everything ready before my holiday so I could jump right into the next project when I got back. However I soon had to accept this was not going to be the case. I couldn’t bend my knee and I couldn’t put any weight on it. It meant I couldn’t get down on the floor to draw the cartoon or to start weaving; I also couldn’t climb my step-ladder to warp the loom. I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at my empty loom and it has been beyond frustrating.

I wasn’t entirely idle when I couldn’t weave. I used the downtime to think hard about what I am trying to do and I put together a pretty comprehensive business plan, I usually manage with a few sides of A4 each year looking at what worked in the last 12 months and what didn’t, but stripping down on paper what I do to the bare bones and building it up again and facing up to what my aspirations are has been incredibly useful and I am really glad I did it. I feel like I have got a good foundation for moving onwards, although it has brought home how much I have to do. There are lots of templates and guides out there, but the one provided by the Prince’s Trust I found particularly useful.

Also, an opportunity arose to get involved with the Heritage Crafts Association, and  I hobbled with the aid of my crutches onto a train down to London. I’ve been a huge fan of the organisation since it started and quite frankly in awe of what they have achieved in so short a period of time, so it was very strange sitting around a table with them. But they were all incredibly friendly and I am really excited to say I’ll be joining them as a trustee and I’ll be helping them out with their newsletter and a few other things. If you are not already aware of them, the HCA works with the government and other agencies to support traditional craft workers and to safeguard their skills as part of the UK’s intangible cultural heritage. If you support, or are engaged in, traditional crafts and are not already a member you should really think about it. Membership includes a place in their directory which is about to be re-launched as well as plenty of opportunities to keep up to date with what is happening in the heady whirl that is basket weaving and blacksmithing. There’s a story in my family that my grandfather was one of the last to do the job he did. I hope he would be proud.


Eventually I found a willing victim to help me warp the loom (top pic), a colleague from my grown up job, although I’m not entirely sure she knew what she was letting herself in for. But at last *falls to her metaphorical knees and shakes her clasped hands to the skies in gratitude* my loom is warped. I look like a drunk spider trying to get up from the floor but at least I can do it and I am now actually weaving. However much I love my scaffold looms it has made me think seriously about switching to a more traditional loom that I can warp myself and which is more knee-friendly to sit at. I do, ahem, have my eye on one.

I’ve been wondering whether to weave the design as one tapestry or as a triptych. I’ve grown used to the idea of the separate panels and I like the spread of the design across the three of them, but I am worried that their individual sizes will mean the impact will be lost and I’m left with three rags on a wall. But I think I have found the solution – weaving the tapestry as a single piece but breaking the design into three with some vertical soumak; hopefully this will give me the best of both worlds, the impact of a single piece and the shape of the three panels. Also, the two figures will be both connected and separated at the same time, which I really kinda like.

I’m working on the project in my workroom at home. I was very generously offered some space in a fabulous location, but it was in a very noisy and busy area and I knew I wouldn’t be able to weave there. I couldn’t understand why at first, after all East Riddlesden was busy, so why the difference. I suppose at least at Riddlesden I was cocooned in an enclosed area, whereas the new space was quite exposed. The noise from a nearby diner also seemed to puncture the space. Many folk have talked about the meditative nature of weaving, something I never realised I valued as much as I did until I was faced with working in an area where it would not be possible. I resisted the idea of working from home at first, especially as promoting tapestry is so important to me, but in truth, considering the nature of the project, it seems right to weave this one in private, it is between me and the loom.

When I first talked about the new project and the story behind it, many of you were kind enough to leave me messages hoping I’d find the project a healing experience. Although grateful I couldn’t really see how weaving a tapestry could help, until I realised I stopped doing something I’d done ever since my brother died. He was killed in Malia and when I was over there for one of the court cases I bought a reproduction of a Minoan pendant found in the palace there. It would be something I’d wear every day, a sign between me and him that I missed him and I was thinking about him. I wore it for fourteen years until a few weeks ago when I began to feel the weight of it around my neck. One morning I didn’t put it back on. I couldn’t figure out why until I realised that through this tapestry I was saying something that I never before realised I needed to say or acknowledge – that this thing had happened to me too. And having said it, or at least being in the process of doing so, I’m feeling that I am ready to let something go, I no longer have to have it around my neck day in and day out. All good progress and a rather unexpected development.

It has been quite a shock to me how quickly my own sense of well-being and self deteriorated when I could not work, or rather, could not weave. But I am on the mend now and coming out of it all stronger, more resilient and remembering the importance of self-reliance. Ooh something just pinged in the kitchen which means I have to go check on some wool being dyed. I shall try to stand up properly ‘nose over toes’ as my rather lovely physio would say.

Ta ta for now xxxx


Gracie Finds a Home and Abbie Takes Shape

I have been tardy posting, but in truth I didn’t know where to start – it seems the funds have been raised to keep Maides Coign at East Riddlesden. That the money has been raised largely through the donations of the volunteers at the hall is incredibly humbling. There is no doubt that East Riddlesden is the right place for her, and she has already been hung in the space where she was woven, something pretty unique I should imagine. I’ve not seen her yet but as soon as I do I’ll take a picture and share. She’s been lying on the floor for a few weeks so I suspect she’ll take time to settle.

I really didn’t think it would happen, but now it has I am finding great comfort in the thought that something of mine will be looked after forever and that there will be something of me left long after I am gone to show I was once here. I am also feeling incredibly indebted to those who have contributed, and this has left me with a huge sense of obligation to knuckle down and make a go of things, to take myself and my weaving, and my ambitions, seriously. I guess the purchase of the tapestry is making me feel like I can see a future for myself.


To this end I’ve been working hard on the preparation for next tapestry. If you remember I initially had in mind a triptych but unable to make it work I abandoned it to focus on an image of a single figure and got quite excited by it, but it didn’t last. I was still making do, it wasn’t worthy of the idea behind it, I suppose it was trite. My friend Kate suggested returning to the original triptych and pulling the hair across all three panels. It fixed everything in a stroke – they were separate but joined, it gave a focus from left to right, and it meant I could return to a more familiar and comfortable palette.

It was a salient lesson 1) always have friends who are cleverer than you 2) don’t write blog posts until you are ready 3) trust your initial instincts and instead of abandoning an idea, play with it, mould it and knead it until you get it to work.

At the start of the project I got a notebook and initially thought that the idea was so well formed I would only fill the first few pages – oh how I laugh now. I am already having trouble shutting it, but it is proving an invaluable resource.


Once I was happy with the design everything else fell into place. I’ve spent several days focusing on the blending and I have as of today pretty much locked them down. The sky will be varied greeny-blues from dark to light with dark gold stars. The hair of the main figure will be in browns and her skin a golden grey. The colours are rich and lush and have that ‘dive in’ factor I was after. As with Maides Coign, soumak will feature prominently in both the hair and the stars.


I’m having a few days off and will come back to it with a fresh eye just to make sure I am happy with it all. As long as I don’t change my mind yet again, there really should be nothing left but to get the cartoon drawn up and the loom warped, but it will have to wait until I’ve had a break. Until then ta ta x

Chrissie gets the blues

For a week that was supposed to be me in a sunny garden dyeing and weaving samples, it has been an incredibly frustrating time.

I managed to dye some lovely blues but when I began blending them I was generally stuck within a scale of “god I can’t use that’, to ‘I suppse I can use that if I have to’. Not good.

100_6181 - Copy

It didn’t help that I’ve been having trouble ‘seeing’ the finished tapestry. I couldn’t see it on a wall – I couldn’t see where it would hang. I thought if I drew the cartoon it would help, but I simply could not motivate myself to do so.

I looked through the notebook for Gracie and when I saw the samples I wove for her they were lush and rich and I could dive right into them, especially compared to my flaccid blues. Why, when colour is so important to me, was I planning to weave something using colours I didn’t even like? But how could I weave something so focused on a night sky without using blues? How could I do a moonlit face a couple of feet high without blues? I tried some golds and greens, but she would just look sick!


I started to think about abandoning the project, but remembering I could have so easily abandoned Gracie had I not been forced to continue, I told myself to acknowledge there was a problem, identify it and sorted it.

I was going to give myself the weekend off and come to it afresh. But as I settled down in the evening I started to flick through one of my notebooks and the various sketches and doodles that have filled it over the last few weeks. I stumbled on a drawing based on a family photograph and in a couple of minutes I had a completely new design before me – a single tapestry of a girl in the foreground, with a black background (poss with some nice blues, but a highlight now, not the be all and end all!) with silvery/white dots for stars and the falling figure in the background. She’s holding a stem as a sign of potential, regeneration and hope.

I guess the alarm bells are in the previous post when I said I felt I disconnected from the image, as if it was a good thing. This one I can see and I went to bed last night with the image in my head – not only seeing it, but weaving it and re weaving it – I can see it on the loom, I can see it on the wall, I can see the colours and I can change them in my head. I guess too the original design didn’t represent much of a difference weaving-wise to the last tapestry; there was nothing in it to challenge me and move me forward.

I think it’s funny the design for Gracie started as one thing and then changed completely, just like this one. Perhaps that will always be the case – good to know! But also good to know that perseverance wins out yet again.

I have to start the blending from scratch but I am excited about the project now – it is not just something I feel I have to get out of my system, I really do want to weave this image for its own sake.

So I hope you can bear with my flitting about, but I suppose it is all part of the process. It was a help during the week knowing I would have to report something!

I should just mention I’ve been using Twitter a lot more, so if you are interested you can find me @ChrissieFreeth. The British Tapestry Group has also started tweeting and you can follow them too @britishtapestry.

Til next week. Lets hope I’m still liking this idea! xxx

New tapestry – Sketchbook peek

My mum isn’t very well, and she lives a fair distance away and I don’t have a car and my role has pretty much been given over to another. This is what fed into Maides Coign – the difficulties about being a daughter in a family, especially when one has failed to live up to expectations. I am explaining this as a bit of a precursor, to show that although a situation can be grim, the tapestry it inspires can still be beautiful.

Right, ok, all aboard?

Chrissie Freeth

So this is me, fourteen years ago. I had just finished my PhD in biocultural anthropology (the study of human remains), I was young, I had job offers and the world was my oyster in every way. My grandmother died not long after this picture was taken and once everything settled down I went with an aunt and my grandfather up to Scotland for a break. We were heading for Mull but stopped off overnight at my aunt’s house in Aboyne.

Meanwhile my brother had headed off to Crete with friends. The night I was in Aboyne he was hit by a speeding driver and killed. He was 27. It is an event that has inevitably shaped my life ever since. No fit state to take up the job offers and finding my research area distasteful I lost purpose and direction, I had wanted to study human remains since I was a teenager and when one has been that focused for that long it is hard to find a new path. My self-confidence didn’t hang around, and I was in no fit state to date either, and as my youth diluted so did the hope of family and all that. I would say, not to be too dramatic, that until I started weaving I was lost. All is well, I have found life again; this is not a pity-me post!

Anyway, it is an event I tried to explore with words and no doubt that served its purpose. But as I am learning to explore things visually and as I let myself tap into that inner dark it seems natural that I should try to ‘do something’ with this as a tapestry. But as with Maides Coign and honing something as large as the civil war into one image, it was difficult finding that one thing that encapsulates all that happened and what it meant. I explored ideas of showing grief but it was just too big an idea and it also seemed too generic and my response to it too superficial. I thought about it from my brother’s perspective, the loss of potential and dared even to think of the event itself – one of the most horrid thoughts is that when he was hit (he was on a scooter) he was thrown so high into the air he totalled the car he landed on. Was he conscious during that time in the air, did he know what was happening, that he was going to die, was he thinking of us? I started making sketches of a figure in the air but it didn’t work, the image lacked context and so I dismissed it.


It was only when I tried to think about what it meant to me, as selfish as that sounds, that I was able to start building a whole. However many dreams and aspirations one may have sleeping in a bed in Scotland, there could be happening under the same skies something beyond one’s knowledge that will destroy those dreams. That is the crux of it I guess. The image came quite quickly after that, of a girl dreaming of her future, a breadth of sky, and beyond that a man falling through the air. Obviously it is hard for me to write all this, but for some reason the image itself does not upset me. I suppose I am becoming distanced from it a bit now, it is becoming something beyond me, but in truth the finished work –although its instigation is grim – is also something of hope; the fact that the tapestry has been woven and exists is a sign of healing and regeneration. That girl – although it took nigh on 14 years – has new hope and new aspirations and new dreams. Its previous titles included The Fall and then Same Skies, but I think I am settling on “Aboyne” – it brings it back to me, which is what I think I will need to make it work. Dunno – might change my mind again!


I had thought of it as a long single piece but it was suggested it would work as a triptych. I resisted the idea at first, I wanted the two images – the girl and the boy to be connected by the same skies but then I began to realise that by making some of the sky a separate tapestry it makes more of a feature of it, and in my mind the gaps between the tapestries have become geographical ellipses.


Developing the palette has been challenging. The most prominent element will be a night sky. But I don’t do blue. Don’t like it. Never have. It is flat and dead and doesn’t go with anything. It is the colour of uniforms. Blurgh. I couldn’t just have a tapestry of black; I thought I might go green, channelling my inner Grimshaw but it didn’t work. My mind kept tripping over medieval illuminated manuscripts and the rich variegated blues and their stylised gold stars; I like the legacy of that, of the early relationship between manuscripts and tapestries and slowly I began to accept there was simply no way around it.

With a grimace I twisted off the top of my pot of blue dye and began mixing and experimenting. After goodness knows how many fails I have started to build up some blues I can just about tolerate and have begun trialling blends with them.


I always planned for her to have brown/rust hair, I liked the juxtaposition with the blue but that too didn’t work; it seemed to lift the figure out off the rest of the image so I have started to think about doing the entire tapestry in blues and greys, with lighter greys for a moonlit face. I suppose it will give it a calmness that might be said to reflect something of the innocence/ignorance of what is about to happen, it also gives it a cold flat deadness which reflects something of the after. I suppose the colour captures her in a moment of transition which is what it is all about. I suppose too the coldness juxtaposes the traditional warmth associated with tapestries.

So that’s the next project; in a way I don’t think I can move on as a weaver until I have got this one out of my system. I’m waiting for the postman as I type this, he should have some yarn for me so I can carry on with my dyeing experiments. Hopefully by next week I should be well on the way to having my blends sorted and the cartoon finalised. Wish me luck x