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

A scouring, dyeing, Otley Courthouse medley…

Been a couple of weeks since I posted but it’s been all go. I was very proud to have been featured in UK Handmade and next week there’s a wee exhibition of my rugs at Otley Courthouse; I’ve been promised a pic or two and will share when I get them.

In the meantime I’ve been making merry in the odd minute of sunshine and have got some fleece washing done (a stunning Cotswold from a lovely Wiltshire breeder) and have been messing around with my dyes.

It’s amazing what kitchen appliances and equipment one is willing to sacrifice for the cause. I’m afraid the state of my hob is a bit terrifying. I’ve also been drying some of my handspun after I’ve fulled it. I’ve grown rather fond of thwacking it as hard as I can against the side of the house. I don’t know what my neighbours think of me but it’s great stress relief and the skeins appear super soft because of it.

I’m building up a bit of a stash and I think I am going to dye it that deep wine colour at the top and I am, after writing this, going to try to design some sort of stole. My rather poorly ma is going on a cruise to Norway at the end of August and I thought I’d make her something to keep her warm in the evening. I doubt she ever reads this so I haven’t given the game away!

Cloth and Memory Exhibition at Salts Mill, Saltaire

The relationship between textiles and memory is something that resonates very strongly with me. We all have something of someone we once loved, I was recently given a rug made by my grandmother, I have a suitcase of my brother’s clothes, and we all associate clothes with particular events in our lives big and small. Textiles are something so intrinsic to us, we inhabit them, they are us, and although perhaps archaeologically they’re not given the attention they deserve compared to say more masculine topics such as ceramics or metallurgy, their importance can scarce be overestimated, both in its use to cover and protect the body, to portray status and of course in the staggering amount of time that would have been devoted to the production of fibre, the creation of thread and the construction of fabric.

The relationship of fabric and memory is also something that is intrinsic to rag rugs. They’re made of clothing which instantly imbues memory and association into their construction, and indeed some rugs are specifically made from the clothes of the dead to make ‘memory rugs’, or from the clothes of a now grown up child.

I have an original pre-war rag rug and it’s hard not to wonder what memories were once part of it and now, because of my ignorance, are gone. Who wore that coat, what were their names, what did they do, what happened to them wearing it, something good, something bad? And of course the rugs themselves evoke very strong memories in those who remember them in their grandparent’s homes or remember them being made; at the Arts Trail Emma and I constantly witnessed people being instantly transported to their childhood and the security and relationships they knew.

So you can imagine how chuffed I was when an invitation came my way to attend the opening of a new exhibition at Salts Mill, ‘Cloth and Memory’. A more apt place for such an exhibition is hard to imagine, Salt’s Mill of course famously produced astronomical quantities of fabric each year, and since the beginning of its more recent renaissance, thanks to Jonathon Silver, it has always been associated with art and not least with his collaboration with David Hockney.

The three exhibitions were specific responses to Salt’s Mill and the theme of cloth and memory. Of particular interest to me was Beverly Ayling-Smith’s use of cloth to explore the transition from bereavement to that eventual state where one learns to co-exist with one’s grief.

The first piece, ‘remembering, repeating and working through’ was made from scraps of thin black cloth sewn together and I don’t know if it was because of its overwhelming size, or its own attempt to hold itself together, but it instantly drew out something very dark, visceral and all consuming, it was bereavement.

Easy to miss, but equally stunning was ‘Embedded memory’, an outline of a child’s dress looking as though it had been sewn into the brick.

In a room previously not open by the public was Carol Quarini’s exhibition; she used the open and blocked windows to show the fossilisation of curtains into the mill’s brickwork, the curtains covered in pins tallying days much like a prisoner would.

As an exploration of the transition of the domestic into the industrial, both  in one’s life and the production of cloth, I thought it was fabulous.

As the saying goes, I’m not an artist, but I know what I like, and I can’t recommend a visit highly enough; it runs until the 27th of August.

You can find more details at the Cloth and Memory website here.

Fleece and Rugs at the Great Yorkshire Show

So, for the first time since World War II and the Foot and Mouth epidemic ten years ago, The Great Yorkshire Show has been cancelled. The apocalyptic rain we’ve been having since, well, forever, rendered the car parks useless.

How glad am I then, my friend took me yesterday, when it was still open. It was my first show and I looked over the itinerary the day before so I had some idea what I wanted to target, and yes, the sheep were number one! Goddamn they were cute. And as for the fleece tent, it was very hard to retain some dignity. I don’t know why they are all in cages, I think there was a mass escape attempt a few years ago.

The other event I wanted to see were the Ebor Ruggers; one of their members was kind enough to pop by and say hello during the arts trail, so when I saw they were going to be there, I wanted to return the favour. They could not have been any friendlier, and I would very much like to join one of their meetings sometime.

There were craft tents scattered all over the place and the most eye-catching stall for me belonged to the Braided Rug company. I must not, under any circumstances whatsoever even contemplate having a bash at this!

Anyways, it was all a bit of a recce really, and I’m looking forward to next year’s if the rain has lessened by then. In the meantime I can only extend my sympathies to everyone who has no doubt worked long and hard to prepare for this event.

I will just add this from the sheep pens, it did seem a little insensitive …..

My First Woolfest

5.45 am kick off; I walk into Shipley to  catch a train into Ilkley, conscious that  the man walking his dog with a mug of tea in his hand must think I’m doing the Walk of Shame. I hold my head up high, I’m going to Woolfest you berk.

At Shipley the man behind the counter tells me the trains have been cancelled; I wasn’t too surprised, it doesn’t take much rain/flooding to bring the trains on our line to a halt, but apparently there was a tree on the wire or the tracks, can’t remember which as I was already calling for a taxi expressing with some urgency that I had toi get to Ilkley PDQ. The taxi driver had started work at 7 the evening before, was about to go home, had not a single speck of white to be seen in his bloodshot eyeballs and seemed to take my sense of urgency rather too literally, and how I made it to Ilkley alive I do not know, but fought hard the urge to kiss the ground as I got out of the car. I was there picked up by my friend Heather who runs the Knit and Natter at Shipley College and we made our way to Headingly where we got on the coach organised by Baa Ram Ewe, a lovely shop I hadn’t heard of before but which now holds my unflinching fealty. It was a stunning journey through the hills up to Cockermouth, there was some concern over flood-induced delays, but obviously there is little in nature’s arsenal that would stop a coach load of middle-aged ladies getting to yarn.

The event was held at a livestock auction and the 277 were exhibitors set up in the pens. I made my way straight to the top corner where there was the fleece sale. Can I just say that moderation was always my intention and not least because I knew I would have to get the train back from Ilkley. When Heather picked me up (hereafter refered to as The Enabler), she said she wanted to be clear that she was driving me home and had emptied her boot. Hardly my fault then is it?  I couldn’t let her effort and generosity by swiped aside so ungratefully? I had an obligation really. And I didn’t break the record. But I was pretty damn close. So, ahem,  a Berrichon du Cher, Blue faced Leicester x Swaledale, Polled Dorset, Portland and a Texel later, I headed off – with some assistance – to the crèche run by the Air Ambulance to deposit my lovlies. I suppose it is rather bad when even they are shaking their heads.

So, the stalls. My plan of attack was to do a sweep through the aisles and then a more detailed and targeted strike. At the last Knitting and Stitching show I did find a lot of the stalls quite commercial, a little bit samey, lots of kits and all that. Woolfest is entirely different, more makers rather than just shops, everything of amazing quality, sold by people who love everything to do with woolcraft as much as you do and who are more than happy to help and explain. I got a a wrap-per-inch guage from Woodland Turnery, and it was lovely to see them getting back on their feet since the fire that devastated their workshop. He had some very beautiful wheels and I do think I deserve some credit for not succumbing. Elsewhere I also picked up a swift and nostepinne, all essentials, obviously. I have wanted a peg loom for a couple of years, so when I saw one at Hedgehog Equipment I could not resist, nor a new Lazy Kate made of Welsh Oak and both very well priced. This was the joy of Woolfest, meeting the makers face to face, knowing you are supporting their business, livelihood and skills. There were some exhibitors I wanted to meet in particular, not least Daniella of FeltStudioUK who I think of as Morag’s godmother because she read I was after a Haldane Hebridean and got in touch to tell me a friend of hers was selling one. Her dyed batts and yarns were simply stunning, the whole place was visual overload. There were also a couple of big names in rag rug making there, Jenni Stuart-Anderson and Cilla Cameron. The latter I knew through a rag rug facebook group and it was great to finally meet her.

Dyeing is the next step for me really, and there were plenty of stalls selling acid dyes, but I am quite keen to use natural dyes (obviously; why do things the easy way?) and at DT Crafts and Design the lovely lady there talked me through it all and I cannot wait to explore my starter pack and the endless possibilities therein. There was a stall selling all things Shetland, and yes, I picked up another fleece. I was too embarrassed to go back to the crèche so  lugged this one round with me. Funny thing is, the lady who sold it to me looked rather familair and as it turned out I went to university with her twenty years ago. Jolly small world. I think that is it, oh apart from a wee bit of Wensleydale fleece, oh and a giant 25mm crochet hook; first saw these at Harrogate and always regretted not getting one. So there we go, nothing too naughty, it’s not as if I brought a loom or anything is it?

As well as stalls selling their wares, there were lots of different breeds on show; as the day progressed something strange happened, they morphed from being fleece machines who rather rudely hogged onto coats that rightly belonged in my basket, into, well, rather beautiful and rather cute creatures. I found myself looking at sheep earings, and sheep mugs, and sheep posters all in a new light. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of Woolfest. There were of course stalls and stalls of yarns and batts which I have to say I never got to see, there was also live music, a number of talks and demonstrations, but how I could have packed more into my day I simply do  not know.

There were also several guilds and societies represented. A couple of weeks ago much maniacal cackling emanated from my home when I suddenly found myself doing long draw spinning. This was a bit of a holy grail to me, and the technique used on the first Medieval spinning wheels. The world was now my Great Wheel oyster. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Guild of Long Draw Spinners in action. I had a few questions about my technique and they were more than happy to help me and I even got to have a go on their Great Wheel and I don’t mean to boast (and obviously I do) but I pretty much got the record and drew the thread at least twice the length of the grating in the photograph, ending up walking backwards into the crowds yelling at people to get out of the way. I was declared a natural, much to my beaming pride – BEAMING – I tell you!  I am now a member of the Guild and have a swanky badge to prove it. I want a Great Wheel. Which reminds me of a t-shirt I saw someone wearing in the cafe – ‘I saw, I wanted, I threw a tantrum, I got’.

At half-five we set off home, me slightly embarrassed that I was the only one who needed to use the luggage compartment under the coach. Everyone showed off what they had brought, The Enabler had got some lovely yarns and other bits and pieces. I got home after nine, knackered but thrilled, and had an early night.

I would now be terribly grateful if the rain would stop long enough so I can make a start cleaning these fleeces; it is a good job I have become rather fond of the smell of wool as my living room smells like a farmyard. Hopefully the pong will deter visitors so I can get on with some spinning and, ahem, my search for a Great Wheel.

Knit and Natter at Shipley College

One thing that has started to make Mondays bearable is the thought of a Knit and Natter group I’ve started going to. It was set up and run by Heather, a lady whose determination and enthusiasm to get people knitting is boundless and very infectious. They meet in the Costa Coffee at Shipley College on Victoria Road on a Monday evening during term time, 5-7pm. (There’s a Ravelry group here) It’s largely college staff that go but anyone can be guaranteed  a very warm welcome. Heather has lots of ideas and plans, especially in the build up to the Saltaire Festival and she the group were behind the yarn bombing of the lions in the village during the Arts Trail.

One fab outcome of this group for me is the rekindling of my love for spinning. To my shame Morag (my Haldane Hebridean) had been gathering a wee bit of dust but when a member expressed an interest in meeting her I was happy to take her along. It was great to get her going again and for other people to have a go.

My problem was the unmitigated wrist-slitting, tear inducing horror that is handcarding. I’ve been shying away from the obvious solution, a drum carder, because of the cost but with some loot earned from the rag rugs I finally took the plunge and got my mitts on a lovely David G Barnett drum carder. I only hope I have the discipline to keep it in as good a condition as it arrived!

So this is my first batt; there are a few noils in it but it looks like the fleece might have had some second cuts in it so not my fault guv. I do though need to be more careful in checking over the fleece in the  future. The UK spinners forum of Ravelry were a splendid source of advice but by far the best was to spin it anyway and call it rustic. Love that –  it’s not crap, its rustic! I’ve also been doing a great job in carding my knuckles.

But should the nation be fearful all this means I have been neglecting the rug frame, fear not. Here’s one I finished off yesterday. It’s destined for a fab new shop in Shipley called Junc, and I’ll post more about that once I’ve gone down there with my camera. Ta ta for now!

Restored rag rug frames

You may or may not remember these, the mat making frames that belonged to an elderly neighbour. He saw me rug making in the garden and kindly offered to get them out of his cellar and lend them to me.

They were made for his mother by his father in the 1930s and he remembered playing under them as a child and driving his mother crazy. Well, a bit of soap, gallons of wood worm killer, a liberal smattering of Danish Oil, a new length of upholstery webbing and voila!

The wood is utterly lovely and there are some intriguing tell-tale signs of their previous owners, including the pencil lines drawn sixty/seventy years ago by Jim’s father as he made them, and the initials JD. Apparently Jim’s mother liked putting initials on everything using the end of a hot poker from the fire. There is a bit of confusion about who these initials actually belong to as they are more likely to belong to his grandmother Jenny.

It is just a little bit fab knowing the names of the ladies who used these frames before me – Nora and Jenny. They are 7 foot plus and took up the width of their living room in both Caroline Street and Mary Street here in Saltaire. They are too big for my little workroom so I will be setting them up in my own living room, just got to decide what to  make!