Weeks 11 & 12: Bunking off!

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I had a very good week at the loom, good progress has been made – actually that’s a complete lie; I disliked the colour of some of the petals of the new plait, they were too similar so out they came. I’m really glad I did it, I think it had been nagging at me for a while, so it is progress of sorts. I got to the point where I really couldn’t go on without platforms. The chaps who are making them have just got their saw fixed and I was hopeful they might get done soon so it seemed a good point to have a few days off.

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Over the last few months I’ve been developing a lot of ideas for future projects and things I wanted to try out, but didn’t have the time or energy to do it once I got home of an evening, so it was a good chance to get organised and to experiment. One goal was to try to weave a small tapestry, something that could be put in a frame. I was told recently I was unlikely to get accepted for a tapestry exhibition due to the size of my work. I did try, honestly I did, I even sourced and painted some frames. But it just wasn’t me. I think tapestries should be large, monumental even, I do struggle to see the point of some smaller works (there are notable exceptions to that, of course!). Besides, do I really want to change my work just to fit in to current ideas of what tapestry should be? Nah, not really. I am not a weaver of small things and am happy to stay that way. I did hear recently that a group is forming for folk who do weave larger tapestries and I am mighty glad to hear it.

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I also spent quite a bit of time fattening up ideas for a series of potential workshops next year. More details to follow but they will focus on traditional textile techniques; tapestry, weaving, rag rugs, patchwork, crochet and blackwork. Oh oh oh that reminds me, did I mention this fantastic gismo I came across – I found it on a Pinterest board and was so overwhelmed with excitement I forgot to note where I saw it. One of the most irritating things for me about patchwork is cutting out the flipping templates, well this is a Fiskars squeeze punch for card making but it makes templates in seconds – and no sloppy edges either, all consistent size. Revelatory!

100_5483When I wasn’t putting hexagons into every piece of paper I could lay my hands on, I also cracked open my sketchbook and started work on some ideas for my next few projects. A lot of drawings had something of Maides Coign about them, in that they were quite abstract and blocky, and made use of more soumak. Perhaps that is my thing for now, which is fair enough and I am happy to go with it while I still feel it is worth exploring.

While I was away I did miss East Riddlesden desperately and I was very glad to get back there this morning. Alas the platforms still haven’t been made so I was getting ready to be on my feet all day. I did have a visit from a colleague who I respect greatly and that made the morning pass very quickly. But then by lunchtime the skies greyed over and the heavens opened and gone was my light and I was effectively weaving in the dark. I went for a slap up lunch in the tea rooms hoping it would brighten up but it never did and I ended up coming home early; I knew if I carried on I would just end up making mistakes. The forecast is bad tomorrow too, so wish me luck. Oh the joys of working in a National Trust house! The light above the loom is an eighteenth century lantern, and quite frankly, rubbish.

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Week 10: Pondering on a Mounting Block

I’m sitting on the mounting block outside of the hall waiting for a lift home after a busy day. The wind is rustling through the trees and the sky is greying turning everything around me emerald-green and bringing out the sweet damp scent from the ground. To my right the new ducklings nervously follow their parents around the pond, and to the left are the ruins of the Starkie wing, and the odd-shaped alcoves in a wall that once housed falcons and dogs. Come June and the finishing of the tapestry, I hope it won’t be the end of my connection here. I love it too much, the house and the people.

tapestry weaving Progress this week has been good, but the fell is too high for me to reach when seated so I’m now on my feet. It has changed my relationship with the tapestry, it seems a more intimate process, I don’t know if it is because I am parallel to the surface of the tapestry, or if it is because without the blocks I used to sit on, there are no barriers between me and the wool. It is also easier to jump to one area of the tapestry to another when weaving. But although I do like it, there will be a limit to the amount of time I can spend on my feet, not least because I managed to break them many moons ago during undergrad antics and an altercation with a wall, a ten-foot drop and a pavement that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Apparently an attempt is going to be made to try to raise funds to buy the tapestry for the hall. There is absolutely no guarantee of success so I am not getting my hopes high, but it would of course mean so much. I don’t have children and the thought that there would be something left on the earth once I am gone and which will be looked after gives me a sense of security and comfort that is hard to explain. It would also be a huge affirmation regarding the pretty drastic changes I’ve made to my life these last few years and of course it would mean I’ll have the financial space to weave the next project. I’m just going to remind myself here, that I’m not going to get my hopes up, but if everyone wouldn’t mind crossing their fingers and toes, I’d be very grateful.

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When the house was closed over the winter the Flemish tapestry hanging in the Great Hall was cleaned, basically hoovering it through a special membrane. The conservation team, one of whom I’m waiting for now to take me home, saved the several centuries worth of gunk and today they put it on display next to the tapestry. In the yellow porch chamber they have also set up a USB microscope so visitors will be able to see it close up. It is beyond mind-blowing to think that in a few hundred years someone might be cleaning my tapestry, long after my cremated remains have disintegrated into the soil and my name forgotten. And on that lovely cheery note I’ll say ta ta for now, and see you next week xxx

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Week 9: Chrissie & Gracie get on

East Riddlesden TapestryBit of a patchy week, what with colds, dental appointments and some grown up jobs to see to, but progress on the tapestry has been steady and good. I’ve decided to put some detail into the design of the foot, rather than the amorphous blob previously. Quite glad no one saw me trying to take a photograph of the sole of my foot – not too easy.

100_5134Also very glad with how the hatching has turned out at her waist; I had thought earlier about taking it out but resisted the temptation. It adds a bit of interest, a contrast to the more blocky areas of colour and breaks up the dress area. It’s also a bit of homage to the Flemish tapestry in the Great Hall downstairs which inevitably has a lot of hatching.

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Of course I’ve always enjoyed going to the hall, very honoured to be there; tired yes, but I knew it would be a pretty intense few months. But I noticed this week a palpable change, a very real looking forward to going in and getting on with it. I think having reached the half way mark I can accept that the design is now established and turning out well, those tricky areas of vertical soumak are now in the bag, the colours are set and the warps are – miraculously – still where they should be. I’m also on schedule. Now I needn’t worry about the actual weaving so much, I can let myself truly enjoy the experience. Many of the staff here are becoming good friends and there are laughs aplenty, and the grounds are changing weekly, the blossom largely gone, the clematis climbing up one of the ever-greener trees coming into its own.

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It is another bank holiday tomorrow so I ought to have an early night. But before I go I thought I’d share my system for organising my bobbins in case it is of use to others. This has been somewhat of an evolution from baskets to jars to these divided wooden boxes.

On a plastic plant label I write the name of the colour/area (‘nice’ brown, ‘slug’ brown etc) and on the reverse I record what colours go into making up that bobbin in case I forget and I keep it in place with a small blob of blu-tack. There are plenty of compartments including one for empty bobbins, tools, and my radio and phone.

Right, bath and bed. Do all have a lovely week x

 

Week 8: Halfway!

It is Monday morning and I am in front of the laptop and not the loom – I am an unwell sniffley bunny, cuddling a hot water bottle and a tub of Vicks. Ah well, at least it gives me a moment to catch up with my posts.

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I’m now halfway through the project and miraculously I also hit the halfway mark on the tapestry – it is nice when one’s calculations actually work out. The design is now clearer to anyone looking at her, she no longer exists just in my head, she is no longer just mine – I don’t know if any of that makes any sense, but I guess she has been part of my life quite intensely for a long time and there comes a point where one has to accept that she is not mine to keep and is hopefully destined to live elsewhere.

I’ve been taking photographs at the end of each day and putting them together and have enjoyed watching her build up – I was going to leave this until I had finished it completely, but it seemed a way to celebrate the half way stage. Oh it seems I can’t add videos here without coughing up some loot, but it is over on my FB page is you want to take a gander.

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I got a lovely present from a wood-turning visitor keen to try something  new. It really is my favourite bobbin now, such a great shape, and it has got me thinking about having a go on a lathe myself. I know there is one over at the Hive in Shipley, perhaps once this is over I think about it seriously.

Another nice surprise was the project getting a little mention in the Guardian Guide which was an unexpected loveliness; my very missed brother – who was the real artist in our family – must be looking down and having quite a chuckle.

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As for Riddlesden, the breeze brings is bringing in the smell of the buxus from the sunken rose garden below my window, and it takes me back to my grandparents’ garden every time. The falling blossom is coating everything white and pink, and ducklings have started appearing on the pond in front of the house. I am going to be so sorry to leave all this behind.

This isn’t me by the way, but such an ace picture and one I’ve been meaning to share for an age. Ta ta for now x

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Weeks 6 & 7: Skullduggery!

So it is Easter weekend, I’ve got home and am about the head for the bath but thought I ought to catch up with the posts as I know I am behind. I wondered – apart from the skullduggery I am about to relay below – what I actually had to report, but looking back at the photographs of the past fortnight I realise how easy it is to forget what one has actually achieved.

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The petals of Gracie’s hair are broken up with soumak weaving, a technique of wrapping the weft around the warps. It is a technique best done horizontally, if you try it vertically you only end up spiralling the weft up the warp like a barber’s pole. You can do it to about 45 degrees and I have pushed it beyond this in some areas of the tapestry. I knew during the design process there would be other parts where I would have to push it even further. I told myself I would cross that bridge when I came to it, but last week I crashed right into it. I knew Peter Collingwood had outlined a method of vertical soumak but it was too disjointed a look compared to what I was after. It took about two days weaving and re-weaving to come up with a way of doing it but I am really pleased with the results, I’m not saying I’ve invented anything, but in Chrissieland, I am feeling rather epic. I am learning to experiment more on the loom and to have faith that I will eventually come up with the answers I need.

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I’ve also managed to make a start on the face, a strangely personal thing and I was anxious to do it while I was alone, weird I know. I was happy weaving away, keen to work fast and get it done and lost in an audio book and unwittingly managed to pull in my selvage too much for me to be happy with it and so out it came. When re-weaving I toyed around with hatching a cheek for her, but it was such a weak gesture in an otherwise strong design it just didn’t work and so out that came too. I must have been over packing the weft in her face because a few ridges have appeared, but actually I like it, I don’t want her face to be smooth and flawless, in my mind she’s a girl who has lived and toiled and so I have decided to keep it as it is.

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that the frames donated by the Weaver’s Bazaar are up and running in the sewing room and have been a great hit. I had initially thought I would have to make some cardboard looms for the kids, but they have had no problems working on the frames.

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Now then, that there skullduggery. In my little area there is a table with some FAQs and my sketchbook and the original drawing for the design of the tapestry and this is what I use to show what the finished work will look like. I had my grown up job to see to and as I would be away from Riddlesden for a couple of days I left all the material out as a good way for visitors to better understand what is on the loom when I am not there to explain it. Alas yesterday I realised that the drawing had gone missing and a hunt of the house in case someone picked it up and left it in another room, proved fruitless. Whether a visitor took it as a souvenir or stole it with more nefarious purposes in mind I don’t know but it felt like a real kick in the teeth after all the work I have put in and to be honest I was quite tempted to call it a day (did I mention I am a complete drama queen?). Despite being maniacal busy in the run up to Easter a member of staff managed to calm me down. She is so composed and consolatory and thoughtful I am quite sure she could find a way through the Israel/Palestine conflict if she had a mind to.

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In the evenings I’ve begun work on the design for my next project, something quite personal to me and it has been raking up a lot of rather unpleasant feelings and it has I think put me in a bit of a funk, that and the missing artwork. But yesterday the sun was shinning, there were snowstorms of white blossom, the grounds was full of kids hunting Easter eggs and families having picnics on the lawns and it was impossible not to cheer up. I also had a lovely visit from Barry who helped set up the loom and his wife Claire who runs the fabulous Imaginarium Gallery in Haworth and they did much to revive my good will and energy.

So another week ahead. The tip of the brown petal marks the half way point and the end of April marks the middle of my time here so with a straight forward area to weave ahead of me and a good wind hopefully I will catch up next week. I need to start thinking seriously about how to keep growing my sitting height with the tapestry I am starting to get a lot of pain in my shoulders now the fell is so high. I would normally have used palettes but of course one has to think carefully about what wood one brings into a National Trust property. Some scaffolding is another option, but it might well obscure the work done.

Right, bath. Oh, but first, some cake, from one of the room guides – I had a sneaky slither and it was to die for. Did I mention I am never going to leave?

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Week 5: Adventures with Gracie’s Bottom

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I am working in one of the lighter areas of East Riddlesden Hall but if it is overcast outside it does get quite grim – one day I couldn’t even tell one ball of yarn from the other! Even so, I finally got going on the red skirt and was weaving like a demon, feeling pretty damn smug if truth be told. And then the sun came out – and I could see what I was doing. Gracie’s bottom was full of blotches and streaks. It was clear where one bobbin ended and another began. To some extent it is inevitable with the yarns all being hand-dyed – I just wish I had seen it earlier! Slowly on Wednesday I began to accept all that work was going to have to come out.

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It took a goodly while to cut it all out, being careful not to cut through the warps. But it was the right thing to do. if I am not a perfectionist, I have no right to sit in front of a loom. It took a few days to begin re-weaving it, this time hatching the different bobbins and fortunately the blotches have gone. The red dress is such a huge area of the tapestry it simply had to be right. One wants some variation, that’s the reason for dyeing it the way I do but there is a balance to be struck. And although hatching is a slower process it is actually making the weaving more enjoyable and interesting.

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She is really taking shape, she is becoming the tapestry I saw in my head, and that, to be honest, kinda blows my mind. It will be a bit weird weaving her face and having her watch me working on her over the next few months but we are very nearly at that point.

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We’ve had some really lovely visitors this week and I am getting much more used to being an ‘exhibit’. I’m used to working on my own, and so it has been a real c-change for me, having to have conversations throughout the day. I am also managing without putting my rope up and cutting off the area, in fact I only needed it once, when I had to concentrate cutting out Gracie’s bottom. I am also beginning to accept that however many ‘please don’t touch signs’ I put on her, folk just can’t help themselves having a fondle!

I do love her muchly and I am really proud of her. Anyway, I have started a board on Pinterest if anyone is interested.

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Do you remember I mentioned in the mornings the more feathery inhabitants of East Riddlesden queue up outside the door to the tearooms for their breakfast? Well I finally got a pic – to me it looks like a scene from a Hitchcock movie – but also kinda cute! Right, I have a lasagne to pop in the oven. Mind you I have been having a bit of a hankering of late for a bit of duck with a nice rich port or cherry sauce…

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Weeks 3 & 4: Chrissie & Gracie fall out

Officially my tapestry is called Maides Coign after the inscription that inspired it, referring to daughters as cornerstones. But I call her Gracie, after the supposed daughter of the man who remodelled East Riddlesden. Up until last Saturday everything was going so swimmingly I wondered what I would blog about. But that was before I began weaving the first of her hands.

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I really didn’t like the shape and initially assumed it was just tricky because it was at the selvedge and I wove it and rewove it at least three times before I realised the problem was not actually the shape, but the colour. It was that damned Ginger of Doom I had such trouble dyeing that was causing the problem – it was too orange and Gracie started to remind me of David Dickinson from Bargain Hunt and once I got that into my head it was not to be borne. At first I tried softening it with other colours but it was only after weaving it another three or so times I realised the only thing to do was to ditch the ginger completely and weave some more colour samples from scratch.

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It was an incredibly frustrating time (you can see some of the wasted yarn from the unwoven hands above), and inevitably I began wondering if I even knew what I was doing. I didn’t help that I was so tired, having been working on the Hanging Tree in the evenings. We’ve also been open to the public this week and constantly dropping my bobbins to chat with the visitors meant I simply did not have the time or space to properly address the problem.

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Eventually I got there, but what should have taken a few hours, ended up taking five days. I am now behind and am working extra hard to catch up. I am learning to rope off my area when I need to focus and I have also done some FAQs to try to take the pressure off a bit. Needless to say the staff at East Riddlesden remain marvellously supportive and helpful.

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I am now very pleased with how she is turning out and we are becoming friends again. I can’t quite believe it is me who is making her.

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A fabulous sight one morning was a queue of ducks at the tea room door – apparently they were waiting for breakfast – I’ll try and get a photograph next time I see them. There are a pair of ducks I am particularly fond of – two male white ones that are never apart from one another. But it seems they too fell out and only one was seen this week, but yesterday there they were together again and seem to have made friends once more – sorry for the blurry pic – I was running for the bus!

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Cheerio until next week. x