Building on my WCMT Fellowship in Medieval Tapestry

I have tried numerous times to update this blog, but it has proved impossible, how can I articulate all that has happened in this last year? It is of course my fault for not keeping on top of it, but to be honest there has been very little time when I have been off loom. I wonder if instead of trying to go over everything, I might just start with the last tapestry I’ve finished and hope that that will give a sense of what has been going on and the progress made.

Chrissie Freeth Medieval Tapestry The Nook

I cut off The Nook (above) just before Christmas. Last time we spoke, I was coming to terms with the decision to turn my back on my old way of working and embrace the more formal ways of weaving more familiar to the medieval weaver, hoping that the expressiveness I have always been looking for will materialise in other ways.

However, I knew that before I moved back up to full sized tapestries like this, I would need to focus on samples and initially I focused on some experimental archaeology at the loom, trying to work out how the Halberstadt tapestries had been woven the way they were (below). I loved the results but as I tried to scale them up into a mural tapestry, pastiche took over and that is always something I have been petrified about.

One of the experiments I had long wanted to do was to see see how small I could go to work out if I could comfortably weave full figures within the width of my loom. Girl with Flowers (below) began as a quick sample to experiment with scale, I was reweaving an earlier cartoon at a smaller size, and that’s why the frock is so plain and the hair short. I found myself wanting to keep going with her and rummaged about in the photographic archive for the flowers and leaves. This was a turning point for me, as simple as it sounds, I was responding to the figure on the loom, making things up as I went, instead of having it all planned out and sampled before I started as I usually do. Remember, with tapestry you cannot undo something that has been woven over unless you take all of it out, it is not really a medium that endears itself to winging it, but that is exactly what I did. I realised that I had the skills now to do that, there was no problem I could not work out on the loom.

Chrissie Freeth Medieval Tapestry Girl with Flowers

I realised then it was time to move back to a full sized tapestry, I drew out a cartoon for The Nook, the figure based on one I had abandoned earlier. The cartoon only initially consisted of the first half and I began weaving not having a clue what colours I would be using or how I was going to turn a drawing outline into a tapestry, all those decisions would be made at the loom and in response to what was already growing beneath my fingertips. Some details are below.

Now I am not going to say there wasn’t a great deal of reweaving every now and then, but the difference was that I was not in a panic about it, I didn’t see it as a failure but as all part of the process, I knew in my bones that I would figure things out. I could not be happier with the result and the whole process felt far more engaging, it was about me and the loom, not just turning into tapestry a painting I had done earlier. In fact there was no original image for The Nook tapestry, it is not based on anything that pre-existed. I was able to draw upon, from my mental toolbox, all the techniques I had seen and could use them with ease and confidence, I had a mirad of possibilities at my fingers. It seems, dear reader, I now know what I am doing.

Chrissie Freeth Medieval Tapestry Hush in progress

The Nook is still relatively small for me and a new tapestry the full width of the loom is well on the way, but one which again I am developing on the fly (above). Apart from vague positioning of its elements and colour distribution, all likely to be tossed out of the window at any minute, I have no idea how it will look, and I love it. The happy accidents far out way the occasional re-weaving when things go a little bit pants.

The overall design of these tapestries, the cartoon, I won’t lie, remains a challenge, but I feel I am getting my vocabulary firmer. It helps too that the place they will come to life is on the loom, not the paper before me. I’ve brought up into my workroom am old drawing board that was decomposing in my cellar and it has proved invaluable. I have also learned to accept I can spend a month on these cartoons, then abandon it for another that materialises fully formed in an afternoon. I suppose it is all part of that process, of letting things marinate and letting them spurt out when they are done (feel free to remind me of this statement when I am bitching about designing cartoons on Facebook). One thing with The Nook that I find so interesting, is that I have always here spoken at length of the inspirations behind my tapestries, yet with this one I feel no need to explain it, I know what it draws on, I think I know what it means, but for once this is a tapestry I have made which can speak for itself, it needs no bolstering and blustering from me; that can only be progress too.

The strides I’ve made have been helped in no small way by not having to hit the ground running when I got back from Switzerland and Germany. Normally I have events peppered through the year and that has usually meant making more sellable smaller pieces, and pieces I knew would work, there was not the time for experimentation, there was not scope for things to go wrong. But some breathing space has really helped me to start to explore all I have seen and learnt. But that is not to say I have been completely cloistered. I did Art in the Pen in August (above) and as always it was fantastic, I love it so much, such wonderful visitors (including the lovely lady I bored to death talking tapestry when she ended up sitting next to me on the plane to Berlin!!!!) and of course it was lovely talking to fellow artists, and one in particular who really helped me break some barriers on the design front. I’m such an overthinker, it really helps for someone to see your body of work and just go, Have you thought about this, this and this. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made the progress I have without her insight and her willingness to share it and I am more confident than ever of being able to draw on my medieval inspirations without my work being pastiche.

Ripon Cathedral

Unbeknownst to me at the time, someone from Ripon Cathedral (above) saw my work at Art in the Pen and a couple of months later I was invited to have an exhibition there in May next year. This is, as you can imagine, a wonderful opportunity for me, and to see my work in a cathedral such as Ripon is incredibly exciting, and wonderful to keep the tradition of the church supporting artists and artisans. The theme of the exhibition will be storytelling and it is going to be great to be able to showcase this new work and the influence the Fellowship has had.

The way I now work, not least because my sett and materials are so much finer, takes longer and so I am having to work all hours to make enough work to do the space justice. It has been a difficult decision but the need to focus on larger pieces for Ripon also means I am unlikely to be out and about at events this year, but it will pay off I am sure. I’ve also been working on proposals for a commission which may or may not happen, and I can’t say too much, or in fact anything, but if it does come off I will of course let you know all about it. There is a price to pay for such a productive year. I’ve been having physio for months for a dodgy shoulder, and an injection into the joint the other week, but nothing seems to have worked, but at at least it seems it won’t get any worse. Well apart from today which is why I have banned myself from the loom and have been able to catch up on my chores and emails. Lastly I will confess that I have been using Instagram quite a bit, which may also explain why this blog has been abandoned a little. It has provided me with a way of articulating what is going on at the loom whilst I am at the loom, rather than having to wait until some part of my musculature has gone ping, forcing me to take an admin day and fire up the laptop. I will, however try to be more mindful of this blog going into the future. I accept this post has been a bit of a catch up and a few folk had commented on its lack of update, and again, I apologise and will try not to let it happen again.

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 other tapestries. 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.

Awarded Churchill Fellowship

Time to let a cat out of the tapestry-woven bag – there’s a reason this blog has been a bit quiet of late. Something rather spectacular has been in the offing and I’m sorry I’ve been so coy about it up til now.

As an archaeologist I’ve always tended to take a long view. There’s not much I see without wondering how it came to be as it is. As a textiles practitioner I am also very much rooted in the past, I started mucking about *coughs* twenty-five years ago, as a result of working in a textile-related museum, and I’ve been mentored and supported by conservators since. As I’ve moved into tapestry the work of medieval weavers has been at the core of my work. I don’t mean that I am trying to replicate their work, but there is a link to the past, an inheritance, for me weaving is a way to connect with those that came before me. Their work is also of major relevance to contemporary weavers whether they are conscious of it or not. Jean Lurcat, the artist responsible for the French Revival in tapestry during the mid twentieth century, and who rescued it from shepherdesses and turned it into a contemporary fine art, was himself directly inspired by pre-Renaissance work.

I’ve studied early tapestry veraciously, albeit through online museum collections and the few texts that are out there. But when this time last year I went to the V&A and saw the Devonshire Hunting tapestries and others I realised that nothing could have prepared me for the vivacity and the skills on display. After all, how can you really transpose tapestries 100 feet long into the few centimetres afforded in a text book? Even online I only know of one image were you can zoom in close enough to see the work as a weaver would, to get close enough to the bead of the weaving, to see how the weavers laid down the weft, to see what they did and why, to explore the decisions they made, the techniques they used, the technical choices they had to make.

So although I walked out of that gallery inspired and thrilled, I was also a little deflated. I realised I would always be stunted as a weaver unless I managed to study firsthand early tapestries and those that were inspired by them. There would always be a lack of depth and context to my own understanding and work. I also realised that with the dearth of formal training in tapestry, I wouldn’t be the only one.

The only thought I could comfort myself with, was that if I was ever given six months to live, I would sell my house, buy a camper van and trundle off to the museums and abbeys of Europe to study them. But then along came Winston Churchill. After his death in 1965 a living memorial was established – the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. They provide travelling fellowships to individuals who wish to study abroad and bring back findings of relevance to all within their field. These Fellowships were established to perpetuate and honour the memory of Winston Churchill and their joy is that they are not restricted to academics attached to a university, and in fact anyone can apply regardless of their qualifications. They announce ten categories each year and for this round they included a Crafts and Makers group in partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association.

Here was a chance to fulfil my dream and without the shadow of a terminal illness. I would also be able to put to use what I saw and share it with others. Here was a chance to grow up as a weaver, to see things that would change me and my practice forever and to pass that knowledge on. I had to go for it – no question.

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Detail from a 15th century tapestry at the V&A

It meant turning away from my loom and hitting the books. I had to flesh out my original inspiration into a comprehensive research project. I may have slightly over worked this part, partly because that’s just what I generally tend to do, partly because, ahem, I didn’t realise there was a word limit. But it was to pay off in the end. I also had to identify places and collections that held the work I needed to see and which would give me an overview chronologically, geographically and technically, and which would answer my questions and all still be do-able within the confines of the Fellowship. In the end I identified places in Belgium, Switzerland and France and in the US including New York. I also had to select places that would give me the best opportunity to engage with practitioners, curators, historians and gallerists. I also had to identify how best I could disseminate this learning when the time came. Yee gads it all sounds so easy written like that, but it was a lot of work. I was able to console myself at the time that if I didn’t get the Fellowship I had at least learned a tremendous amount during the course of the application process and was perhaps pushing myself in a direction I hadn’t thought about before.

Fabulously, I was shortlisted. I had to provide further details about the project, which is where all that extra work came in handy and not least because this was precisely when I contracted the pox for several weeks and which may have put all this in jeopardy had I not done the bulk of the work beforehand.

I had my interview a few weeks ago, at the end of January. Obviously one tries to convince oneself that it doesn’t really matter if one doesn’t get it, but I knew I would never fulfil my potential if I didn’t. It also turned out that I knew a couple of Churchill Fellows in my grown up job, and their support and encouragement just made me want to be part of the fold even more, I liked that you became a Churchill Fellow for life, I liked the idea that I would have a responsibility to encourage others to do it too. As my interview was in the afternoon I had time to nip back to the V&A to see some tapestries I hadn’t seen last time I was there (pictured above), and it only made me realise how utterly crucial it was for me to do this. There was just no way I could be a weaver without seeing the work of my predecessors. The interview panel were incredibly supportive and friendly, in fact the whole process has been tremendously smooth and well-organised and professional. I left the room as high as a tapestry kite, but knew there was a long wait for the decisions to be announced. That was supposed to be the 19th Feb, well it turned out it wasn’t, it was today. And I got it and I am utterly thrilled and very proud, and not quite sure what to do now. Except it may well involve fish and chips and Saltaire brewery. Apparently just shy of a 1000 people applied, 236 were interviewed and 150 Fellowships were awarded across the 10 categories. I’ll get to meet the others in my group in March, which I am really looking forward to. Oh, and the title of my project is Exploring early European tapestries and their relevance to contemporary practice.

I will explain in more detail in future posts what the specific aims of the project are and where exactly I will be going and when, and how I will be sharing what I have learned with others. I just wanted to share this news with you now and as a bit of an explanation for my absence. Can I add I also totally bossed it at life drawing today? Right. Beer.

Tapestries at the V&A

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Detail from The Otter and Swan Hunt

I’m really proud to be one of the trustees of the Heritage Crafts Association and yesterday I had to go to London for a committee meeting. I soon realised I’d have half an hour free to nip into the V&A, somewhere I’d never been before. It was quite hard keeping focused as I strode through the galleries, shielding my eyes from potential distraction, but my time was short and my goal was on level three, the gallery of tapestries.

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The largest part of the exhibition were the early fifteenth century Flemish made Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, named as such because each of the four tapestries depict different forms of hunting. I’d read about them in detail so thought I knew what to expect, but as I stepped through the high glass doors and into the darkened climate controlled room I must confess I welled up quite a bit. Fortunately although the museum was busy, the gallery was deserted and I had it to myself.

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Detail from The Bear Hunt

The first thing that grabs you about the tapestries is inevitably their size and their detail. I had baulked once when someone compared tapestry to the cinema entertainment of the day, but now I kinda get it. These aren’t passive pretty pictures up on a wall to be walked past, they were vast, something to sit before and stare at and engage with and drink in one inch at a time.

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Detail from The Beer Hunt

The other thing I didn’t properly anticipate were their colours and vibrancy, this was especially so with a tapestry called The Three Fates. Again it was familiar to me from the text books but I had rather shamefully flicked over it as I never liked the composition of the disembodied figures against the milliefleur background.

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The Three Fates, 1510-1520

But in the flesh it became apparent that no photograph could ever do it justice; it was mesmerizing, and the vibrancy of it was jewel-like, the dresses lifted off the surface and shone like sapphire, pearl and garnet. I could not take my eyes of it and it was the one I spent most time with. That the creation of such a thing be possible with thread astounds me.

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Detail from The Three Fates

Quite rightly the room was kept dark to protect the tapestries and barriers stopped folk from getting too close. But it was quite frustrating for me as a weaver not to be able to get close enough to work out the sett, to mentally unpick what was before me, and to look at and understand how the shapes had been formed, how the shading was achieved, what decisions the weavers made.

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Detail from The Deer Hunt

As I left I did give a bid of a nod to the weavers but as I write this and look over the photographs I realise it is so easy to overlook that all the thread used was handspun – presumably on a spindle if not a great-wheel, and the time that would have taken is monumental and the skill it would have taken to get the thread so universally fine and even, is unimaginable.

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Detail from The Falconry Tapestry

Because my time was so limited, my visit could only ever be a reccie  and I will certainly be back armed with bags of time and a sketchbook. I left the gallery quite literally overwhelmed. I could have done with a sit down and a coffee, but instead it was back into the underground and then into a meeting. There was little time to digest what I had experienced, and that is a process that is still on going. But for now I can say that the seriousness, the life, the vibrancy, the sumptuousness, the comedy, which I saw yesterday was what tapestry could and should be. I think seeing these tapestries has made me grow up a bit as a weaver and they will always be the foundation I’ll go back to as I move forward. It’s not about imitating them of course, but about remembering what there is to live up to.

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Detail from Pastoral tapestry

Also in the museum were the Raphael cartoons for a series of tapestries; they are of course stunning paintings, but the tapestries that came from them could only ever be an imitation of them. They mark, as Dirk Holger has said in a comment on an earlier post, the decline of tapestry as an autonomous art form.

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Raphael cartoon

The tapestries on the third floor could only ever have been tapestries. Tapestry is so much more than an imitation of painting, something that has cursed it for centuries. Here in he UK there will be few of us who haven’t seen a tapestry in a stately home or castle, but many will have been post-Renaissance designs and the natural dyes faded into homogeneous blues and tans. My pics taken with an iPad in a darkened room cannot do them justice and I urge anyone who can, to visit them and see what tapestry really can be.

Detail from Pastoral tapestry, but kinda think you can make up your own caption!
Detail from Pastoral tapestry, but kinda think you can make up your own caption!

I managed to scoot across town and make my meeting in good time. It was held at Cockpits Arts in Holburn. I was familiar with the organisation through some writing I had done, and have met, albeit virtually, one of the artists based there. It was a warren of shared studios and it had a great atmosphere, such an amazing facility and I am really envious we don’t have something similar near me. The issue of studio space is particularly pertinent at the mo – my new loom arrived on Thursday, and next week I hope to be able to tell you all about it. I’ll be refitting what was once my bedroom into a studio, so I shall love you and leave you, I’ve got to start emptying out the wardrobe x

Week 18: Off the loom!

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

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

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

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

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

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