Blog of Chrissie Freeth tapestry weaver, features writer for UK Handmade, weaving features editor for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, Artist in Residence National Trust and trustee of the Heritage Crafts Association
Well, this is my latest, the pavilion in Roberts Park here in Saltaire. The original design was going to have the statue of Titus Salt and the steps either side of the pavilion but I couldn’t quite figure out how to work them! I’ve started to make a list of tips I’ve picked up along the way and for what it’s worth, I’ll make them into a post as soon as I can.
And it’s my birthday – I have finally taken the leap and given up my reading snug to make myself a workroom and here it is, my little birthday pressie to myself and something to take my mind off my astronomical age. A recent poll had it at 32, but there were numerous cocktails involved. Nevertheless I’d like to go with that if it is all the same.
No posts for a while due to utter addiction to rag rugs. Just after I finished the hooked rug of Salts mill I learned the West Riding Ruggers were meeting the next day at Bradford Industrial museum so I toddled on down there. I could not have been made to feel more welcome and I can’t wait for the next meeting. My rag rug has even made it onto their website *beams with pride*. Obviously my efforts are all but puerile compared to the work these ladies produce, but the only way is up!
I started a new project a week ago. The Salt’s rag rug was quite ‘blocky’, partly dictated by the fabrics I had available. I wanted to do something a bit more free and detailed and being as a box of red, green and brown fabric recently made its way to me, I decided on a moorland landscape abstract thingy. I am about two-thirds of the way through and can’t stop working on it. I haven’t seen my carpet for days, it’s covered in fabric.
I am not too sure about the sky, it was blue at first but it drained away the rest of the colours, so it may stay as it is, or it may not. The water was originally hooked with several different blues but I changed it as it was seeming too busy. Hopefully it won’t take much longer to finish but I already have an ever extending list of other projects to take its place.
I’ve been trying to take photographs to follow the rug’s progress but as it is usually towards the end of the day the pictures are coming out rather rubbish, for which, my apologies.
Hurrah – I’ve finished my first rug! Well nearly, still got to cut it from the frame and do a backing. Living in Saltaire, Salt’s Mill is an obvious choice of design. I had wanted to do something similar for a canvas work but never got round to it. I thought the design would be a good one for a hooky mat because it was quite linear, but as it turned out those windows were a real pain! I also had to do something quite rectangular thanks to the stupid way I had cut the hessian.
This time of year the hill that forms Saltaire’s backdrop has the most spectacular red stripe across it. Initially I wasn’t going to do a chimney but without it the building could have been anything; the chimney has meant things are more squashed to the side of it than I would have liked but it seems to be ok. At first I had thought to do spirals for the clouds but they just didn’t look right and I couldn’t see why I was doing something quite so abstract and so plumped for more traditional shapes in the end and am glad I did.
When I started this my fabric stash was quite limited and so there isn’t much in the way of shading, but actually, I quite like the blocks of colour, it seems to give a strong effect. Most of the fabrics are jerseys but the moorland and tree trunk are from some vintage suit lengths. The top of the moor and the layer beneath the red stripe are the same fabric with different sides of it showing. The clouds, windows and cobbles are from an old grey t-shirt. For the windows and clouds the fabric strips were cut and worked randomly but for the cobbles I ripped the fabric quite wide so they curled in on themselves forming more rounded and regular shapes. The grey did tend to flake but I used some sellotape to lift them from the fabric. There were also a few problems with threads of the hessian coming up with the fabric, but they were easily taken care of. I’m not sure of the weight of the hessian I used, but there were only few holes per inch; I can’t wait to experiment with different backing fabrics.
I was keen to use as many textures as possible. I wanted the top two layers of the moor to be quite regular to contrast with a jumbled layer to represent the layer of trees behind the mill. I also wanted the mill to be quite regular. I’m sure I’ve over packed the stitches but as this was my first ever rag rug and I hadn’t much of a clue what I was doing, I’m not going to be too hard on myself! It measures 40cm x 74cm. I have to confess I am entirely thrilled and completely addicted!
This rag rug is something I have had in my mind to do for a long time. I’ve loved rag rugs since catching sight on one at the Black Country Museum as a kid. Seeing the fantastic exhibition of rag rugs at the Bradford Industrial Museum and those on display at Beamish more recently, has spurred me on. I found myself with loads of hessian having brought too much by accident, and last week I got in touch with the Shades of Heather workshops for the special type of hook you need. The gentleman I talked to said it would take a few days because he hadn’t made any for a while – it came much sooner than I thought and is a thing of beauty in itself.
There are basically two types of rag rug. For a proddy or proggy rug you poke oblongs or ‘clips’ of fabric into a backing, creating a thick, mottled pile. These clips used to be measured out using matchboxes as templates, apparently! I’ve got an antique one of these that I came across at an auction. I got it for virtually nothing but it took a fair bit of tlc to be able to unroll it without a respirator – I’d take a photograph of it but it is looking rather indignant under a scatter of wool fibres at the mo! The type of rag rug I’ve attempted is called a hooky mat; longer strips of fabric are pulled up through the backing in small loops.
For those of you that don’t know Saltaire, the colossal mill here has as its backdrop what used to be called Hope Hill. Between bands of fields and woodland there is currently the most amazing burgundy stripe of moorland running across it. Alas, even though it is part of Saltaire’s buffer zone as a World Heritage Site, Bradford Council seem keen to smother it with houses, and the new ‘Heritage View’ estate is currently underway – so it’s nice to enjoy it while we can!