Weeks 17 & 18: Finished! And thoughts on scaffold vs traditional loom

tapestry weavingI think I was so grateful for getting the opportunity to finish the tapestry after all the horrors with the dyes a few weeks ago, I just put my head down and got it done. I finished it last night.

tapestry weavingI’ve unwound as much as I can to get a sense of it and I think I am pleased. It does seem like an anticlimax, but I am beginning to think that’s a natural response. The actual weaving has only taken a couple of months; granted I’ve been working fifteen hour days, but it has still come together a lot faster than Maides Coign. There’s quite a lot of warp left so I am going to wind the tapestry back onto the beams and make use of the warp. I’ve still got an awful lot of pieces to make before Art in the Pen in a month, as well as to think about the stall design. I’m having an admin day today, and a tidy up tomorrow and back to it on Monday, but hopefully not quite so intensely. 10940497_928828950485021_5878933473570143150_nI did manage to have a couple of days away, in fact I knew I had to take a break as I was starting to develop a lot of twinges in my forearm, and RSI was the last thing I had time to go down with. I’ve mentioned the Leeds based jeweller Liz Samways before on this blog. I am a huge of her work (above) and she invited me to stay and see how she works. There is a huge symbiosis in her work between jewellery making and printing. She makes etching plates, but instead of making prints from them, she makes them into jewellery, creating very individual pieces of the most amazing colours and quirky designs. Etching is something I’ve never done before, and Liz was incredibly generous with her materials, skills and techniques. I’m working on some future designs that will be encompassing this work.

IMG_4699I’m really lucky to know some of the most amazing craftspeople and Fiona Drake is one of the most supportive and good-natured people I know. She is such a great listener, and very intuitive and a great person to bounce ideas off. She knows so many people, and is so generous, she acts as a bit of a pimp to folk with items that are looking for a new home. So when I got a phone call one evening asking if I could take in some weaving silks and equipment another friend of hers was looking to relocate, I was thrilled and willing. I’ve learnt you can’t have too many spool racks!

IMG_4667I also had to take some time out to spend a day in London. There was a meeting of the trustees of the Heritage Crafts Association at the Art Workers Guild, one of my favourite places; I do love strutting around Bloomsbury like I’m all that. A late morning start meant I was able to nip into the British Library to have a look at the Magna Carta embroidery by Cornelia Parker.

Magna Carta EmbroideryMagna Carta embroideryI also saw there my first Dovecot tapestry in the flesh, RB Kitaj’s If Not, Not woven in the mid 90s I also had a bit of time to run into the British Library. It was quite a busy day, but I do love the meetings so much. For a such a small organisation, the HCA is achieving so much.

IMG_4607It is with massive regret I’ve decided to take a less active role on the committee for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. Instead of being their weaving editor, I’ll be a consultant editor. I’ve really loved working with authors, and quite proud of some of the articles we’ve produced. There are a lot of articles halfway through the process and I’m going to be really sorry not to see them through to publication, but I know it is the right decision.

But before I totter off to bed, having now completed a tapestry on my George Maxwell upright loom, it seems a good opportunity to explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of this type of loom and opposed to scaffold looms.Scaffold vs traditional loomIt seems there is little difference in how long it takes to warp the two looms, although warping the traditional loom is less physical but a more complicated process. It does seem easier to get a good consistent tension on the scaffold loom (but I suspect this might be because mine needs some cords replacing). Obviously with the traditional loom the only restriction on size is the width, whereas the scaffold loom will be dictated by the size of the scaffold/ceiling.

Being able to adjust the fell on the traditional loom resulted in a far more comfortable weaving position, which also meant I could weave much longer. Using the scaffold loom I generally end up balancing on whatever I can grab in order to reach the height of the weaving. Weaving on the traditional loom is also much quicker as one doesn’t need to pick out the closed shed, it’s there instantly at the press of a treadle.

But the traditional loom does have a major disadvantage; with the scaffold loom one can watch the tapestry grow, but with a traditional loom the woven areas are wound onto the beam out of sight. I’ve been quite surprised that despite the amount of planning I do before weaving, I still make a vast number of decisions at the loom including adjustments to the colour and design and some of those decisions can be difficult to make and assess, if you can’t see what you’ve woven beforehand.

For me the speed of weaving and the greater comfort means I’ll be sticking with the traditional loom. I will however have to think more carefully about how to compensate for not seeing the whole tapestry as I weave, I don’t know if that means more careful planning, but it would be a shame to lose any spontaneity at the loom.

Right, bed beckons; I’ll be back very soon. Ta ta for now x

Weeks 15 & 16: Calamity!!!

Just a short catch-up post from me today. I am very, very hungover but with good cause. All the wool I use is hand-dyed, so I am very careful about mixing my batches when I weave so any slight colour differences can be smoothed out. I thought this was less of an issue with the hair of the figure in Found Drowned because it was such a jumble, and the colours I was using were staples of my palette so I knew they were very reproducible.

tapestry weaver, tapestry artistSo I didn’t think anything of it when I ran out of my light rust colour and toddled off to my dye lab (aka my kitchen) to make some more. I wove with it and it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Too light, too yellow and it was really obvious on the tapestry. I could not for the life of me figure out why it was wrong – it matched all my wraps and swatches and even seemed to match earlier sections of the tapestry. I cut off a tail from the back of the tapestry and saw one of the original rusts was slightly pinker and that threw the whole thing off when blended. I was pretty devastated and it did cross my mind I would have to abandon the whole thing. I even started going through some of my earlier tapestries to see if it had any of that elusive colour I could pull out. The only other option was to pull out all the hair and redo all that work, but no way would the tapestry to be ready in time. I went to bed feeling pretty miserable and very, very tired. I haven’t had a break for a long time so I wondered if a couple of days off would help me figure out the solution. But instead I woke the next morning determined to try to recreate that pinkish-rust colour. I’m grateful to the scientist in me for meticulous record keeping in my dye book, but it still took over a dozen attempts to redo  it, but I got there. It’s not the an exact replica, but it doesn’t show as different when blended.IMG_4439I’m grateful that I had plenty of wool to do all these experiments guilt-free, but it was a very frustrating experience, changing slight elements of the formula each time to try to recreate whatever it was I did last time; many were too brown, or too orange, but no doubt I will be able to put them to use in a later project. So I deserved a drink last night, and fortunately I had been invited along to the Beer Club at the Saltaire Brewery by chums from East Riddlesden Hall. There is nothing like Plum Porter, hog roast, good company and a dusky grey sky streaked with flamingo pink to cure the soul. I went to bed thinking I would work today, but I am too hungover to trust myself at the loom and it is probably not a bad thing to have a break from it for a day.

Phew. Phew. Phew. And Phew again.

The offending wrong colour on the left and the correct version on the right
The offending wrong colour on the left and the correct version on the right


Weeks 13 & 14: Back at the tapestry loom

The Makers Fair of the Saltaire Arts Trail was great, I really enjoyed it. Much quieter than previous years, but fabulous to have a loom there, it seemed a real hit and definitely worth the effort bringing it over – it was a lot heavier than I thought it would be! It was lovely to meet so many people who are readers of this blog – thanks so much for stopping by to say hello.

Tapestry loom, Saltaire Arts Trail, tapestry weaverA major highlight for me was doing the weaving activities on Monday. Paula and Nicola of Sponge Tree were spectacularly friendly and were there to help set up and run the event too. It was so lovely to see kids weaving and enjoying it so much many took supplies with them so they could continue weaving at home. The card loom weaving and the peg looms were clear favourites. I’m really grateful for the opportunity and hope to do it again.

Saltaire Arts Trail, weaving workshops Saltaire Arts Trail, weaving workshops Saltaire Arts Trail, weaving workshops I took a couple of days off to recover, but was soon back at the loom. I had exiled myself from the studio whilst getting ready for the Arts Trail and it was great stepping back in there. It almost felt like I had had a break. One thing that had been bugging me before I downed tools was the blending of her skin, it seemed too tweedy. I wanted some tweediness to contrast with the more solid blends elsewhere in the tapestry, but it didn’t look right. I sampled a dozen or so more blends that would have looked exactly  the same to any sane person, and picked its replacement although still with doubts. With a fresh eye it was clear there was absolutely nothing wrong with the new colour and I was making a fuss about nothing. I did have a play around adding some shading to her neck area but in the end it just made it more fussy than it needed to be. I’ve had to be very careful weaving the hair as I know it won’t take much for the structure of the cloth to turn into a tumour once it is removed from the loom, but I’ve had a good look with the tension released and – hurrah! – it all looks remarkably good. tapestry weaver, tapestry loom, tapestry artist, tapestry studioYesterday I wove her face and at that point it all became a bit poignant, as, no doubt, it should. I’m finding it a bit odd not having the whole image before me as I would with one of my scaffold looms; I’m spending quite a bit of time on my hands and knees looking under the loom and referring back to what has already been woven. At least I’m not having to balance myself on boxes and goodness knows what else to keep level with the fell. That I am relatively comfortable has meant I can work much longer and I am pretty much living off toast and a loom-bed-loom-bed cycle at the moment in order to get her ready for Art in the Pen in Skipton in (gulp) August.

tapestry weaver, tapestry artist, chrissie freeth

My role as the weaving features editor of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, involves me working with authors to forge their articles into something publishable. It is very much a background and rather invisible role, so I was a bit nervous when asked to write something about Maides Coign and my time at East Riddlesden Hall to fill a couple of empty pages in another department of the Journal. It was quite an experience being on the other end of all those comments and edits in red type! But it was lovely to see the article in print. In the same edition was an account of Katharine Swailes’s tapestry Play woven at the West Dean, so I was in very good company!

tapestry weaver, east riddlesden hall, maides coign, journal for weavers spinners and dyersTapestry has also been in the newspapers recently with a feature on Maureen Hodge in the Independent and the resurgence of tapestry in The Telegraph.  I’m looking forward to the next episode of How to Be Bohemian on the iPlayer which will include Eric Gill, currently one of my favourite artists, despite the shagging of his dog and daughters. He was also a chum of the man who built my loom, so I will certainly be tuning in.

I did have some rather lovely news on Wednesday. I’ve been approved as a  Member of the Society for Designer Craftsmen. This was originally the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society as in Walter Crane and William Morris, before it changed its name a few decades ago. It champions the work of contemporary designer makers and they foster emerging talent through their licentiate programme. I’m very pleased and honoured and looking forward to getting involved.Capture (2)So that’s what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, give or take a bit of website updating, researching and general pondering. I’ve also been posting regularly on Instagram, so please drop by if you use it. Right, I’m back to the loom for a couple of hours before bed. I’ve got a good few days ahead of me blissfully empty of jobs so I’m looking forward to putting my head down and just getting on with weaving.

Ta ta for now x

Chrissie freeth, instagram, tapestry weaver

Weeks 11&12: Artist in Residence at the BRI

Well not quite the new artist in residence at my local hospital, the BRI, but I might as well be. I had a fight with one of my dismantled scaffold looms and ended up in A&E. Again. I had an open fracture of a toe, lost a nail and sliced the nail bed. The plastic surgeon did talk at one point of putting stitches into the nail bed. No vomiting please.


At the end of my last post I was pretty much ready for a full-blown panic attack with how busy May was already. This was the last thing I needed. And after twenty years, this was the second time I’ve ended up in A&E in a matter of months. I wallowed, feeling sorry for myself for a couple of days, but then brushed myself down and got on with it. I can still weave and get around, I just can’t wear shoes or slippers. I have a pair of sandals but am petrified of being trodden on (until I saw a way to put my old crocheting skills to use, sometimes, my own genius scares me.) The real downside of all this was missing the Heritage Crafts Association’s conference A Place for Craft yesterday. I watched it all unfolding on twitter and it looks like it was an amazing day with great speakers. Here’s hoping I will be injury free next year! IMG_2795

Despite everything good progress has been made on the new tapestry. The way I am weaving the hair is slowing me down and it is rather tedious to do, but it is starting to pay off.

IMG_2760Whilst it may well be the making of this tapestry, I will be thinking twice before doing it again. Despite the delay it should still be finished in time for Art in the Pen in August. card weaving

I’ve also been working on the children’s workshops for the Saltaire Arts Trail on the 25th May. There will be card weaving, straw weaving as well as tapestry weaving and peg loom weaving. It has been a lot of fun trying to remember what it was like to be a kid and what they would enjoy doing. The straw weaving in particular was pretty addictive and everyone will be getting a woven bracelet for the next two Christmases at least.

straw weavingI have banned myself from the studio for a few days to focus on getting ready for SAT, but am looking forward to getting back to her. My first job will be to wind some of the finished tapestry onto the cloth beam and then I will be able to start work on the middle of the figure. You can just see her hands and face/mouth in the cartoon.

IMG_2769So that’s where I’m at.  Here’s hoping I can make it through the next fortnight or so accident free!

Weeks 8-10: Finally weaving Found Drowned

IMG_2332 I have been massively busy, hence the shockingly rubbish frequency of posts. I am sorry, I will give myself a good slapping later. At last I have been able to source some local wool;  it will reduce my costs quite drastically although I have had to buy in bulk, and I now need to climb over a huge box as well as the now residence scaffolding poles and acrow props to get anywhere. But it is a worthy sacrifice – having this stock of wool has made a big difference to how I work, I’m no longer penny-pinching over ever inch of yarn too afraid to waste it, I’m much happier to experiment with dye colours and to tweak things when they aren’t quite right, and at the back of my mind, I know I have plenty to see me through this tapestry and several others.


The loom is now warped (and the studio nowhere near as tidy as this). It took a little while to tie the warps onto the lower beam and get an even tension but overall I suspect it didn’t take any longer than warping the scaffold loom, and it was certainly a calmer more gentle process and I think I prefer it. I am some slight trouble getting the level of tension I want but the cables on the cloth beam (which I should have replaced but didn’t), are protesting wildly, but hopefully as I wind on more of the completed tapestry I should be able to push the loom more. Meantime I’ve been able to compensate by putting in some shed sticks.


The tapestry is building up astonishingly quickly, that’s about a week’s worth above, not including a couple of days dyeing. I knew the treadles would make for faster weaving, but it is also so much more comfortable to use so I can work for longer. I really couldn’t be happier with this loom. IMG_1856In case you need reminding, this is the design. It is quite strange working with only part of the image before me, that is one of the advantages of the scaffold loom, having the complete cartoon/tapestry before me. It will be a real treat to see the whole thing once it is finished. At the moment I am working on the right margin. IMG_2481I wanted the finished tapestry to be calm and still, and so sought to use horizontal lines when I could, especially with the water. I had researched long and hard about how I might translate the idea of water into woven cloth, especially at night. I didn’t want to go down the rippled moonlight route; knowing the area Jane might have drowned herself in, I looked at images of the River Trent, one of which was just a stretch of brown. I couldn’t quite shake it off thinking it would work well with a palette of blacks, greens and rusts. At the end of the day, it is the colours that are one of the most important things for me as a weaver.  However, weaving the tapestry on its side has meant a compromise has had to be made in that the hatching from light to dark in the water is now vertical rather than horizontal once the piece is hung. But I am really pleased with how it has worked out; looking down the length of the loom I keep thinking the surface of the tapestry has become distorted. It hasn’t, there is just a natural shimmer and dappling that has materialised and one no amount of planning could have come up with.


My confidence was knocked by the last tapestry which didn’t really work and which I wasn’t too sorry for when it I had to cut it off prematurely from the scaffold loom to make way for the new one. But this one is turning out just as I had it in my head, better, in fact. I am certainly learning to trust my own eye more. Part of that has been to make sure I have done all the planning and preparation I can, before the weaving starts. But despite all that work there has been some tweaking when at the loom. I have toned down the green of the dress, it was too yellow and it needed to be stronger to counterbalance the black background. I’ve also decided to intermingle the heavily textured hair with more normal weaving. It happened by accident as I was thinking it might be easier to ditch the time-consuming textured weaving, but I am going to do both – I think the contrast is going to add even more to the texture in the end, as well as to save a bit of time. IMG_2438The only problem with weaving faster, is getting through bushels of bobbins. I’ve rigged up my old pirn winder with tubes and elastic bands (to give the tubes some grip) and it has helped muchly in the winding department. I will have to take some time out to get ready for the Saltaire Arts Trail next month (23rd-25th May). I don’t have anywhere to hang tapestries so will instead be selling some of my older woven accessories. On behalf of Sponge Tree on Monday (25th) I will be organising and running a day of family orientated weaving activities and demonstrations. I’ve only ever heard good things about Sponge Tree and of course public engagement is very important to me so I jumped at the chance when it came my way. It will mean I’m only at the Makers Fair on Saturday and Sunday, but the opportunity to get kids weaving is just too much of an opportunity to pass up. I’m very keen to get some workshops going, so it will also be a good chance to make a start on that. I also like to think Titus Salt, the Victorian mill owner who built the village I live in, would be pleased children weaving in Saltaire once more, we just need to see them malnourished and suffering from rickets and we’ll be all set. Photo1503I’ve not long got back from a jolly this morning out to the Platform Gallery in Clitheroe. My small tapestry Apologies was selected for the Yorkshire and Lancashire Craft Open and it was great to see such an eclectic mix of exhibits from crafts folk across Yorkshire and Lancashire. My little tapestry was in a space all to herself, quite prominent. It was strange to see her like that; again I felt that sense of divorce from my work, like with Maides Coign. She simply isn’t mine anymore. Photo1510Jo Whitehead from Glassprimitif also had some of her lovely glass selected and very kindly took me to the opening today as well as delivering the tapestry itself last weekend rather than risk it to Royal Mail. The exhibition is on until 4th July; I’d never been to Clitheroe before and definitely want to go back and explore it more. 11160582_670847713019258_2619126881025349429_nA couple of weeks ago I went to another opening. The Imaginarium Gallery in Haworth has not only had a rebrand but has moved to much bigger premises across the famous cobbled street. Hawksbys as it is now named was full of spectacular work by artists and craftspeople, its owner Claire has a stunning eye. I wish I had photographs to show you, mine, as it turns out, are of the spectacular spread they put on for everyone (how predictable was that?) This picture above I’ve nicked (with apologies) from their Facebook page. They are such lovely people, one can only hope they have all the success they rightly deserve. IMG_2446 - CopyAaaaaaaanyhoo, talking of spectacular spreads, this, ahem, little thing, landed on my doormat this week. April was manic to be honest, and May is not looking much better what with the Arts Trail, Sponge Tree, the Heritage Crafts Association’s conference, A Place for Craft, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a copy deadline for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, ongoing work for my events later in the year, my grown-up job, and now this and the inevitable shopping for a new frock it will entail. …And….And….Anyone else feeling light headed?……… I am trying to be good and not over do things, but I am just so happy and excited by everything at the moment it is quite hard to rein myself in.  Here’s hoping I am still here to post next time and not some dribbling wreck crouching in a corner. I will try not to leave it so long next time. x

Weeks 6 & 7: Warp Factor Freeth!

Tapestry WarpI had been nervous about putting the warp for the new tapestry onto the loom. I’ve put on small narrow warps for samples; the first time I beamed it, it took all day, by the third it only took an hour. But I was conscious putting on a full width was ripe with potential disaster. As it happens it was a bit of a breeze, I think the loom was built to take wide warps so it was actually much easier, the loom seemed was balanced and weighted the right way. I suppose it was no more time-consuming than warping the scaffold loom – I thought it would have taken much longer – in the end it just required a bit of patience and to go through all the steps properly. Tapestry WarpsAll the warp has now been threaded through the heddles and the reed (and with only three mistakes!) and now I need only tie it onto the lower beam. I’m trying to source some weft, and while I am waiting for that to arrive I have the headers to weave. IMG_2177I have spent quite a lot of time sketching and designing too and I am feeling awash with ideas and inspiration, which is certainly the reverse of a few months ago. I think having found a version of Found Drowned I am happy  with,, I’ve have broken some sort of barrier and have a bit more confidence.IMG_1970My sketching marathons have been ably assisted by (ahem, running out of warp and having to order more) and by spending a lot of time on trains including a trip to London for a meeting of the trustees of the Heritage Crafts Association. It was five years old this March, and it’s amazing to think of all they have achieved in that time. There. Was. Cake. IMG_2247I also have a bit to cheer about, and it has all happened in the last couple of days so I am still all of a tizz. Firstly, the Crafts Council has launched a new Directory of British craftspeople and I am very happy to say I have been selected to join it.

Tapestry faceThe following day I got a call from the Platform Gallery to tell me that Apologies (above) has been selected to take part in the Lancashire and Yorkshire Craft Open 2015 and just today I learned I’ve got into The Art Market Holmfirth in November. I am considering buying my first lottery ticket for decades.I am very excited and honoured to be taking part in these events, and the practicalities I will worry about a little later on.  I’ve added a new page to my website outlining the events I’ve got going this year. I don’t know how I am going to make enough tapestries, but I need to keep reminding myself that getting stressed over weaving is somewhat ridiculous!

Anyways, Happy Easter folks – may it be abundant in chocolate! x


Week 5: Fragments

Even as I wrote last week’s post, I  knew there was something not right with the cartoon. It just wasn’t me, it was too sincere and too uptight. But I woke the following day with an entirely different take on the image. Actually, I woke with just a fragment of it, the angle of the head, but once I drew that everything else fell into place immediately. It is looser, I am more comfortable with it, and it is more akin to Maides Coign. So I think I may be going with this. It does seem less about my ancestor in those last minutes before she drowned herself and more about the legacy of that act to subsequent generations, but that is no bad thing.

IMG_1856 I usually scale up cartoons by drawing a grid, but was conscious that using something like an overhead projector would be much more easier. I posted on my Facebook page asking if anyone had one I could borrow, not really expecting an answer knowing they are pretty obsolete these days. But my friend Fiona from The Stitch Society had a brand new one sitting under her sofa that she never used and would be happy to let me have it. It is a great piece of kit and I am terribly grateful, I drew up the new cartoon in very little time. I was going to redraw it and play around with scale but came down with a cold. I knew I had to go to London this weekend for a meeting with fellow trustees of the Heritage Crafts Association so I pinned myself to the sofa in an effort to get shot of it in time.

Sutton_Hoo_(5)It was frustrating trying to force myself to do nothing, when in fact I have so much to do and eventually little bits from the studio began trickling their way down the stairs including my sewing tin. As an archaeologist I have, of course, long lamented the relative absence of textiles in the archaeological record. This became acute when I was looking for material for a lecture on early tapestry. I was thrilled to discover references to tapestry fragments found at the famous Anglo-Saxon shop burial at Sutton Hoo, but of course all that is left are scraps of colourless threads. The finds that are celebrated are the jewellery and metal work as above, yet the textiles would have been just as lush and rich and well executed. The skills, the vision, the hours of toil by the spinners, dyers, weavers and embroiderers is lost, unseen, and unsung.

IMG_1950I am beginning to accept I am never going to be able to weave small tapestries. My heart simply isn’t in it, they are not what I want to weave, I struggle to see them as tapestry. But I have several events this year and can only weave so many large tapestries and I am faced with empty walls. I began to wonder if instead of my tapestry weaving I could make use of my cloth. I wondered if there was a way to explore the idea of woven textiles of the past being out of sight and out of mind. I threw aside my blankets and hot water bottle, stumbled through the tubs of vicks and bottles of cough medicine and reached for my sewing tin and tubs of weaving scraps and began to experiment.  I’m beginning to wonder if there is something to celebrate in the elements of weaving that make it weaving, the exposed warps and weft, the frayed edges, complex structures, a landscape of its own making. Placing value on worn and scraps of fabric has links with recent interest in traditional Japanese techniques such as boro and sashiko, the slow stitch movement and visible mending and the work of contemporary textile artists such as Claire Wellesley-Smith.

IMG_1898I don’t know where all this will lead, but I am willing to find out. At least I am panicking less about my empty walls. And although my tasks next week are exactly the same as I stated in my last post, I feel I have achieved quite a bit and that is despite being poorly for most of it!

Ta ta for now x