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.
Initially 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.
I’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.
Since 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 .