Tapestry at Art in the Pen

Art in the Pen, Tapestry Weaver

Art in the Pen was fantastic. If you are not familiar with it, the pens in Skipton’s cattle market are handed over to selected artists to turn into their own micro galleries.  It was my second time, and I did feel in the run up a bit more organised; the hard work thinking how to dress one’s pen and display one’s work had been done last year. Whilst I was proud of the new work I was showing, that which made me glow with pride every time my eyes fells upon it, was my stand for cards.  I dismantled a display stand and stapled hessian to it and balanced some other pieces of wood on some nails for the shelves. I did that! Me! And best of all, I can still use it as a display frame if need be. I had plenty of cards made for the event and they sold incredibly well. In the next couple of days I’ll be adding them to my online shop (links above).

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I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful Barry from Hawksbys gallery in Haworth who helped get me set up and taken down. Artist Ian Burdall very kindly ferried me about during the weekend. I even came away with a little pressie from Jill at Touchy Feely Textiles. My heretofore naked front door key now puts a smile on my face whenever I use it. As I am so tired these days, at least I can comfort myself in the knowledge it must be because I am extra-fabulous.

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I had intended to take some time off once it was over, but instead went back to basics, something I have been meaning to do for a while. I think it is easy to get stuck in a rut technique-wise, and with workshops in the offing it seemed like a good excuse to make some small samples. That I would have to treat myself to a new sketchbook to store them all had no influence on this decision at all. It proved a very useful exercise and has filled me with ideas. I know that experimenting and sketching is utterly essential to what I do, but I do find it hard to justify the time, and perhaps because I find it hard to call it work. But with a bit of breathing space between events I have let myself explore wherever my interest led me over this last week or so, and I am pretty pleased with the new tapestry design that has started to emerge from it. But more about that once it gets underway.

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There isn’t long left to catch the Weave exhibition at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff, but some photographs sent by its curator is making it pretty tough not to make the trip. Such a stunning array of how the idea of weave can be translated in different mediums, I can’t think of another exhibition like it. I am looking forward to getting No Longer Mourn returned though – I’ve missed her!

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One final bit of news. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride health-wise over the last few months. It was a really tough decision but it seemed sensible to delay my Winston Churchill fellowship travels until things settled down and I was fit enough and well enough to do this amazing journey justice. I’m now heading off in the Spring. On the one hand it is very frustrating, but it is absolutely the right decision, and on the plus side I’ve got plenty more time to get prepared.

Right I have a long list of admin to do, and am refusing myself access to the workroom until it is done, so better dash off. Ta ta for now x

Extreme Weaving! A new tapestry woven.

I should imagine I am pretty incoherent tonight, I am pretty tired, but I know you will forgive me.

Chrissie Freeth Tapestry 'Delia Jo' in Progress

Next weekend, 13th and 14th August, is Art in the Pen, in Skipton. I did it for the first time last year and loved it and am looking forward to it immensely. I always want to show new work, especially with my tapestries having changed so drastically over the last twelve months. But with one of my main new pieces over at the Weave exhibition in Craft in the Bay, I knew I was going to be pushing it. Nonetheless I felt I needed a new large piece, returning to the full width of the loom. I had enough left over warp to do it, and while I’d need to dye some new wool, I could use the colours and sampling I had done previously. The cartoon materialised quite quickly. I’ve long wanted to revisit the story of my female relatives needlessly trapped within a cycle of asylums in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, I didn’t do them justice last time.

When I got the cartoon on the loom I calculated how much time I would need to complete it, marking off where I would have to be at a certain date in order to finish it in time. I soon realised I was looking at several weeks of sixteen hour days. I’m not sure how I have done it, except to say I pretty much just battened down the hatches, gave myself over to the project and just got on with it. I’ve pretty much lived off what my workroom kettle could provide, and moving a comfy armchair into the workroom was a mark of total genius on my part.. I am quite surprised how unscathed I am considering my bleating in a previous post. There was something – can’t think of the right word – ?monastic, about the experience. I’ve actually enjoyed it. I have so many hats, juggle so many things, and although I felt rather selfish not making myself available for my other roles, it was good to focus on one thing so solidly.

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I do feel I have rushed her, but I am pleased with the results nonetheless. It was rather nerve-wracking unwinding the loom yesterday and seeing her complete. I was thrilled actually, and although I went straight to bed, I found myself getting up every now and then to check she was still there and I had really done it.

She is just shy of 120 cm x 130 cm. It was the first time I was able to utilise the style and techniques I have been developing on a larger scale, and I much prefer it, much more room for the tapestry and the technique to breathe. Although I say I rushed it, I’m not sure what I would change if I had the chance.

After such a concentrated period of uninterrupted Freeth-time, during which I’ve had plenty of space to think, my mind is so full of ideas, including lots that are quite embryonic but growing fast that I can’t wait to explore them further. Fortunately there is some space between events after Art in the Pen and I’ll be able to take some time to think things through as well as carrying on the prep for my Fellowship which is now due to start in the Spring. It will be good to regroup and think about future directions.

In amongst this weaving marathon , I did have some respite after being invited over to East Riddlesden Hall to do some demoing. They have a lovely collection of rag rugs and they were a good excuse to get folk having a go themselves. It is not often you get to poke a hole in something inside a National Trust property. I trust you will be able to tell which part of the rug was mine. It is such a simple activity for younger hands to try, and for older visitors it always seems to bring back memories. Although I am not making rugs myself anymore, I do love these opportunities to blow the dust off my prodders.

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It was also wonderful to see the volunteers again and to have been made so welcome. Strange to see Maides Coign after a year or so. I look at her and can’t quite believe I made her. Hopefully there will be lots more events at East Riddlesden in the future and I’ll keep you apprised here or over on my website or Facebook page.

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Talking of which, do have a look at the Facebook page or Instagram of Craft in the Bay. They are showcasing the work in the Weave exhibition and the quality and variety of the work is astounding. I really am terribly proud to be part of it.

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I do hope you can pop into Art in the Pen. I loved attending as a visitor before I started exhibiting there. As I am sure you know, the cattle pens of Skipton Auction Mart are given over to selected artists, including sculptors, painters, potters, jewellers and others to turn into mini-galleries. It is a great way to spend a day, and to meet artists and in a very friendly environment and if mooching is your thing there’s no pressure at all, but if you are after a little something, it is a great chance to buy work direct from artists, often at great value. You can find more details about Art in the Pen here.

Finally, my dear friend Moira Fuller, an incredibly talented designer, is about to embark on a new business adventure to help encourage and support creativity in others. She would love your input through a wee questionnaire (she’s Scottish, you know), it’ll only take ten minutes or so. Do please have a look if you can spare some time.

Anyway, I hope all this goes some way to explain my absence, for which, as always I am very sorry.

Cheerio for now xxx

Saying it with weft – a new tapestry finished

Putting weft in and out of warp, there’s only so much you can do without distorting the nature of the cloth. Whilst I’ve always tried to circumnavigate this rigidity by using textured weaves like soumak to create curves and flow, I’ve always felt I was somehow cheating the nature of the medium. But there are some weavers who seem able to just drip the weft from their fingertips and create incredibly expressive weavings; I’m thinking here of Finnish weaver Aino Kajaniemi, the twentieth century German weaver Johanna Schutz-Wolff and a weaver who I only know through a couple of small images of their tapestries, Rojane Lamego.

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The need to find a more expressive way to weave myself became increasingly apparent after embarking on the life drawing classes made freely available by Bradford College of Art. Turns out I wasn’t entirely rubbish at drawing. I learned I had scope to explore, that I needn’t jump on the first quarter-decent image I produced despite myself and subsequently devote the rest of my weaving life to it. I became much more liberated in the design stages, certainly less petrified. I’ve begun to draw for its own sake and not just to make something to weave. I also.learned when it came to drawing I leaned towards quick, loose, abstract images (and large-scale, gasp), and I wanted to find a way to translate that looseness in my weaving.

Initial samples focused on eccentric wefts, loose weaves, plain weaves, painted warps and textured surfaces, but I found I was still ducking away from what tapestry was. I was still hiding behind texture and gimmicks. I wanted to get back to basics; simple weft faced weaving. Writing this post I realise perhaps this is a result of my recent research into earlier tapestries.

Embrace insomnia is what is what I say, because the answer appeared in the wee hours one morning, in-between ‘did I close the freezer door properly’ and ‘when is the council tax due’. I had the answer all along, I had already woven the way I was seeking in the studies I had made for the DMV projects and the Hanging Tree tapestry. I reworked one of my sketches into a proper design, made the cartoon and worked some samples including the more complicated areas such as the face (below).

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I aimed to weave something where the figure and the background were intrinsic to one another, interwoven in design as well as structure, hoping this would make it more expressive than my previous tapestries.

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I also found myself finally being able to express something trapped for some time. A sonnet someone once shared with me came to mind as I was designing this (No Longer Mourn for Me), and I realised the figure was sinking into the blackness, but read differently, she was also emerging from it, and that was basically what I’ve been trying to say and failing miserably, as the graveyard of abandoned tapestries attests.

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I finished her today and I’m very pleased with the results. It took about three weeks to weave, but stupidly weaving 15+ hours a day, so probably more like five. She is 116cm x 82 cm, so smaller than what I normally go for, but she was a bit of a punt and I didn’t want to waste too much wool and warp in case she didn’t pan out. It was far more complicated than my previous tapestries but also far more addictive. I also found myself freely interpreting the original drawing at the loom which was a far more interesting way to work than being a slave to the cartoon.

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She’ll have to stay on the loom for a little while as there’s loads of left over warp to use up. But this piece, and others along similar lines, will be ready to show in May. I am very happy to say I’ve been selected as one of the exhibitors in the Open Houses Gallery at the Saltaire Arts Trail. I’ve never really had the chance to show my tapestries at this event before and I am really looking forward to the opportunity. I feel embarrassed to think of myself as an artist, but I do feel this piece is something I can be proud of and is unique to me and my voice. The Arts Trail takes place 28-30 May and the work of the artists will be on show in houses of the World Heritage Site and I’ll let you know where I’ll be as soon as I do.

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I am also thrilled to have been selected for Art in the Pen this year. This will take place in Skipton 13-14 August. I’ve also been selected for Crafted by Hand 5-6 November in Masham. I’ll update the events page on my website very soon, likewise workshops. It has been hard to plan for the year with my Fellowship travels in the offing, but as one of the places I want to visit won’t be open until the summer, it looks like I’ll be heading off later in the year. Obviously I want to go right now, now, now, but it does seem this will be more practical and give me a greater chance to prepare. It is Easter now and I am going to try to take a couple of days off. Whatever you have planned, I hope you enjoy it x

Sonnet 71: No Longer mourn for me (Shakespeare)

No longer mourn or me when I am dead

Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell

Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;

Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it; for I love you so,

That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,

If thinking on me then should make you woe.

O, if (I say) you look upon this verse,

When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,

But let your love even with my life decay,

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,

And mock you with me after I am gone.

New designs – back to the beginning

I think I am just about recovered. Art in the Pen was simply one of the best events I’ve ever done. It was so well organised and a huge number of visitors came along, a massive congratulations is due to all involved in the event.

Art in the PenBarry Foster of Hawksbys art gallery in Haworth, in an act of generosity and kindness so typical of him and his lovely wife Claire, loaded up all my gear in his van and took it over to Skipton and even helped me set up my pen ; stupidly I thought I would have managed it myself, but even with the two of us it still took all day (sorry for the pics, I only had my phone).

Art in the PenThere wasn’t a single hitch, apart from the main tapestry looking a bit creased after being rolled up, but apart from that all was good. I was thrilled with how the space worked and I feel I now have the set up I need for future events and it is very adaptable to different sized spaces.

There were several sales and heaps of interest, and lots of comments about how different my work was. There was a massive response to the poster sharing the story behind the Found Drowned tapestry; I think it touched a nerve with a lot of people.

Art in the PenI was really lucky to have two fabulous neighbours. Tony Dexter is an artist whose work couldn’t have been more different from mine, being very bright and vibrant; we were both first-time Art in the Penners and we had a total hoot. On the other side was Hugh Leishman, a woodturner and carver who I had long known by reputation, not least for the kindness of himself and his wife. I was thrilled to finally get a chance to meet them properly.

There were many other maker folk there I knew, and the whole event was very social, it was clear the event was much valued by the participants. I am really sorry I won’t be doing Craft in the Pen there later in the year, but I’ll be at the Art Market in Holmfirth. At the weekend I also received the very happy news that I’ve been selected for Crafted by Hand in Masham – again it is an event that is talked about with much affection by makers, so I am really excited to take part. I’ll be there with some frame looms, so there will be plenty of opportunities to have a go. This will be on 1st November.

After the event I had a few days genuine breathing space. After a bit of rest, and unpacking, and a studio sort out to make paints and paper and brushes more accessible (and thus more likely to be used!), it seemed a good time to set myself to experimenting and realising some ideas that have been brewing for a goodly while.

I’ve always been interested in the similarities between tapestry and archaeology, that both are slowly made up of layers. This informed much of the new work I exhibited at Art in the Pen and which I talked about in my last post, heavily textured pieces which were inspired by stratigraphy. Archaeology is an inevitable pull for me, I’ve been digging since I was a teenager and eventually went onto earn a PhD and spent over twenty years at Bradford University’s archaeology department. I remember reading somewhere that for inspiration one could do much worse than look to what first interested you as a child, because that is something unadulterated. For me, as a bit of a nerdy kid, it was DMVs, or Deserted Medieval Villages, until I came across my first skeleton.

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Gainsthorpe Medieval Village – Image from http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/gainsthorpe-medieval-village/

These are exactly what they say on the tin, abandoned settlements, often associated with the devastation left in the wake of the Black Death epidemic. All that is left are earthworks suggesting roadways, houses, plots of land, perhaps a church still standing, and usually encased in corrugated fields of ‘ridge and furrow’ left by the ancient ploughs. There has always been something intriguing to me about them and their similarities to one another; the stark lines of their plans hinting at untold lives and stories beneath the surface. I guess there is something about them that also reminded me of the once-beguiling maps found in the end papers of children’s books.

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Terry Frost – Walk along the Quay – 1950

I do enjoy the freedom to explore stories which tapestries give me, but the more I’ve been experimenting with textured tapestries, the more I’ve been wanting to realise some of my ideas for abstracts. This has also been fuelled by a visit to an exhibition of Terry Frost’s work at Leeds Art Gallery this summer.

Needless to say I loved the sombre colour palette he often used, especially in his early work, but I also loved the idea that his morning walks at St Ives served as the inspiration for the abstracts, that it was possible to explore something real so abstractly.

Further research lead me to his contemporary Peter Lanyon and his interest in aerial views of the landscape. I soon found myself seeking out plans of DMVs and reinterpreting them into abstract designs.

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Kirkby Hall DMV – Design for a tapestry

I am quietly fizzing with excitement. I feel so much of myself is coming together in these designs, my love of the medieval, of mythology and early literature, my past as an archaeologist, previous attempts to ‘do something’ with crop marks and aerial photography, of untold stories, of the macabre, of colour and shape and mid-century art, and themes such as abandonment and survival. There are so many DMVs to explore, and I am looking forward to investigating other types of site too.

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Nobold DMV – Design for a tapestry

I have a lot of work to do, figuring out how I can realise these into large scale tapestries, but my frame looms are warped ready for sampling and I hope it won’t be too long before I am warping up the big loom. What I do know is they will be heavily textured, mirroring something of the shapes of buried structures and ploughed fields.

West Knighton DMV – Design for a tapestry

So that’s where I’m heading next, right back where I started. They say you should never go back, but what do they know? Wish me luck!

Getting ready for Art in the Pen

On the 15th and 16th of August, Skipton cattle market will be turned over to 150 + selected artists who will each transform their cattle pen into a pop-up gallery. Art in the Pen is a great event and although I have visited many times, and nearly exhibited there last year, I am finally getting to do it this time round.

IMG_5384With Found Drowned finished a fortnight ago, it was time to focus on getting ready. First up, making sure I had enough work. Obviously I have Found Drowned, but I’ll also need lots of smaller pieces. Anyone who is a regular reader will know I do struggle with small format tapestries, I can’t always see their point. I’ve had many a late night ‘Eureka! moment’ over the last few months, but my hopes that I’d finally found a way to make something small that I liked, usually turned to dust in the cold light of day.

IMG_5400I was beginning to despair until I flicked through my notebooks and samples and refound a couple of pieces I had made some months back. A Pinterest Spiral of Doom when recuperating after the Arts Trail brought me to the work of Helena Hernmarck, a prolific and long-established tapestry weaver who produces very large-scale photo-realistic tapestries. Rather than the standard weft faced weave of most tapestries, her work utilises exposed warps and floating wefts. I’ve always sought to create some element of texture in my work, but the surfaces she creates are very vibrant and organic; her technique also provides unending opportunities to explore and experiment with colour. I had a go using her technique, having in mind a large-scale tapestry I had long wanted to weave but couldn’t work out how to do it with any ‘pop’. Although I thought this might be a way, I knew it wasn’t the time and Found Drowned had to be my focus and the samples were put away. I began to wonder if they could be the answer to my small format problem – they did look rather spiffy when I put them in a simple chunky frame, and behind glass they arn’t pretending to be a tapestry, but are something else in their own right.

Over the last ten days I’ve woven fourteen pieces and used up the left over warp on the loom. I haven’t seen much of the world except for my workroom, but these fourteen as well as some other samples I had done previously means I have nearly two dozen pieces to show alongside Found Drowned. I did take some time out though, to meet up with friends and fellow AIP exhibitors for a few hours over coffee, cake, lunch, more cake and more coffee, to discuss our ideas for our pens and to get advice from those who have done it before. I came out very inspired and encouraged, and with a clear vision of what my pen will look like, playing to natural and traditional materials and trying to build some structure into the space. IMG_5409I realised too that perhaps I needed some sort of explanation about Found Drowned,; there’s a very specific story behind it and I guess I knew I would only be able to reiterate it a few times before being overcome by an urge to bash in my frontal bone on the metal sides of the pen. You can take a girl out of academia, but not academia out of the girl, and one night I designed a poster which is at the printers now, and which will hopefully answer most questions folk may have about her.

CaptureThe printers are also making me some leaflets in case anyone is particularly interested in my work. I’ve also ordered some business cards, moving away from the more handmade style that I used for my handloom weaving.

IMG_5249I took Found Downed off the loom this afternoon and still have to hem and line her. Once I’ve done that and all the other things I have to do (I have a Gantt chart which has to stay in my eye line at all times), if I’ve got time I’d quite like to make some more small format pieces, and I really hadn’t thought those were words that would ever be tapped out by my fingertips.

I am really looking forward to Art in the Pen, almost like a child before Christmas. This is my first big juried event outside of Saltaire, and the first one as a tapestry weaver amongst other artists, so I guess it is quite a big deal for me. I know there is still a lot to be done, but I am feeling relatively calm and that is in no small way thanks to the support and encouragement of friends and fellow exhibitors, especially Jo at Glassprimitif, Tracy at Ruby Spirit Designs, Liz at Inkylinky and Paula at Wychbury Designs. If you want to see who else will be there, do check out the brochure of exhibitors here.

Ta ta for now x

A bit of a break, and fortunately no breaks

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I’ve had a fabulous few days with family in Leicestershire. On Tuesday my cousin-in-law (is that a term? Actually my first-cousin-once-removed-in-law) and I visited the King Richard III Visitor Centre which seeks to explore the life of the king and his discovery back in 2012. It was basically text on a wall with a half dozen objects including a high vis jacket and a microphone. Is that really how museums are heading? I have to say I left none the wiser and not terribly inspired. For the price of the entrance fee one might as well have just bought a book – there would have been far more information, and you could have read it at your convenience and repeatedly.

A totally different experience awaited us the next day when we visited Calke Abbey, a National Trust property left pretty much how it was when it was handed over in order to demonstrate the decline of the country house in the twentieth century. It was owned by several generations of kooks and recluses including a collector of taxidermy and natural history,  much of which has been left as they were displayed, jumbled in glass cases with handwritten labels (pics above and below). I can’t help but feel this was far more inspiring than a bit of text and it certainly makes me want to find out more and visit again.

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We became rather fond of Nanette Hawkins, a lady’s maid who married one of the baronets (you go, girl!) and amongst the junk that had accumulated over the years in what was once her bedroom it was not hard to spot a boudoir spinning wheel. But the most stunning thing at Calke was an 18th century state bed, never unpacked and still crated up until it was recently discovered and put together in very tightly controlled environmental conditions (hence the dark photo). The colours were of course entirely stunning and a stark reminder of how faded the textiles are that have been left to us.

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On my last day yesterday I stupidly took a tumble down the stairs and twisted my knee but nothing was going to stop me visiting Art in the Pen, a cattle auction mart in Skipton turned over to artists this weekend. I was so thrilled to have been accepted as an exhibitor but when it looked like attempts were afoot to buy Maides Coign I realised I could be left with little to show and had to pull out. Armed with a vintage crutch dug up from the cellar, I had a great time; it was amazing to see so many fabulous artists ranging from printmakers, painters, potters, sculptors and jewellers all under one corrugated roof. Many exhibitors are members of Craft Soup, a Facebook community for designer makers in Yorkshire and you can see a selection of the work on show at Skipton over here. It is on all weekend and certainly worth the visit. Below is a snap by Paula Perrins of a piece from the display of talented jeweller Liz Samways aka Inkylinky jewellery.

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Alas in the night my knee was causing a lot of pain and I ended up in A&E and I’ve not long got back. I felt so guilty going, even though the last time was 21 years ago. It seems I have done some damage to the soft tissue and my knee is now splinted up and I’m on crutches and I have to keep it straight so I suspect I won’t be weaving for a couple of weeks. My holiday was a great incentive to get all the prep done for the next tapestry so I would be able to dive right into it when I got back. Arh well – I’ve said it before, man plans, god laughs. I suspect I may be having some quality time with my sketchbook and perhaps catch up on some reading. Time for a bit of a snooze I think, it has been a long day – ta ta for now – AND BE CAREFUL ON YOUR STAIRS xxxx

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