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

Rag Rugs and Nostalgia at Saltaire Maker’s Fair

Not only was I lucky enough to get selected for the arts trail, I was also asked if I would like to demonstrate rag rug making. I was thrilled to do so, but I had been warned by the organisers I would need someone to help run the stall. I immediately thought of my colleague Emma Brown, one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic people I know and although the deadline for her PhD on South American mummies was looming she very kindly agreed to give up her bank holiday weekend to help me out; and I could not have done it without her. And well, I’ll let her tell you the rest …

Rag rugs and nostalgia at Saltaire Maker’s Fair – a guest blog by Emma Brown

After a very busy and highly enjoyable three days helping Chrissie Freeth run her rag rug stand at Saltaire Makers’ Fair, I finally have a chance to sit down and write something about the wonderful people we met who came to see Chrissie’s rug making demonstration.

Some 2000 people passed through Victoria Hall each day. A good proportion of visitors had happy memories of rag rugs. They kindly shared these memories with us.

The conversations usually started with the line “oh, my grandmother used to make these out of old coats!” Many of these people were now grandparents themselves, often with grandchildren in tow. One gentleman, now in his 70s, was visiting the fair with his daughter and her two daughters. The gentleman used to help his grandmother make rag rugs as they did not have carpets. He had very fond memories of sitting with her on winter nights clipping up old clothes for her. He watched on as his own two grand-daughters, aged 7 and 8, had a go at making a proddy rug with Chrissie. They were naturals and had to be persuaded to let other children have a go.

One of the nicest things to see over the weekend was the happy memories that Chrissie’s rugs bought back. One lady, in her 80s, told us that her father was not really interested in her and her sisters. The only time he spent with them was in the evenings when they helped him as he sat at his frame and made rag rugs for the family home. This was a really happy memory for her.

A couple who married in the early 1950s told me that their mothers had made them rag rugs for them as gifts for them when they set up their first home. They are still together fifty years later. Sadly the rag rugs were lost when their kitchen flooded. They said the rugs soaked up most of the water – and they were so heavy it took two people to lift them!

Another lady told us how her and her mother used to sit in the kitchen and make rag rugs together. The kitchen floor was covered with rag rugs too. Her father used to mend clocks and watches. Apparently it caused great consternation when a tiny cog got lost in the thick pile of the rag rug. She laughed as she described her parents crawling around on the rugs, trying to find the errant machine part.

A common theme throughout the memories that people kindly shared with me is one of being poor and having to make do with whatever materials were available. Despite the memories being associated with not having much, everyone had happy memories, as often the making of rag rugs was done as a family, with each person having their own task to do. Rag rugging was not just mum’s work – fathers were involved in making the rugs too.

We noticed that there was huge variation in what people called rag rugs. They were proggy mats or peg rugs in Newcastle, bit rugs in Huddersfield, clip rugs in Lincolnshire, tatty rugs in Edinburgh and peggy rugs, tabbed rubs, rags rugs or list rugs in various parts of Yorkshire.

Emma tidying the stall

We had some inspiring moments in our three days at the Makers Fair. One lady sat down to have a go at the proddy technique, despite being registered blind. She picked up the technique instantly and bought one of Chrissie’s rag rug starter kits. She is hoping to make her own rug. Another wonderful moment for us was meeting a lady who has both little fingers missing. We asked her if she wanted to have a go at making the rug, she was hesitant, but gave it a go anyway. She picked up the prodder and mastered the technique straight away. She was delighted to discover something she could do that could be a creative outlet – something she didn’t think was possible before.

Although one of the best things about our time at the Saltaire Arts Trail was hearing these memories, it was also one of the saddest; in a few generations they will be gone forever. But fingers-crossed many new rag ruggers were made that weekend, and Emma was one of them!

Handmade business cards

Thought I ought to get some business cards done for the Arts Trail. I ordered some from Moo but I have to say I wasn’t thrilled with them, some of the text was a bit blurry and I was worried half the other exhibitors would have the same cards! I wanted something individual and something to do with rag rugs. Initially I thought about using hessian but it does tend to leave dust and threads everywhere, so in the end I plumped for some cottons I had been saving to make some patchwork curtains once the Trail is over. My printer actually hates me but was kind enough to produce the basic cards and with Copydex I glued on the backing. They’ll go in a basket rather than a bowl on the day but it was all I had to hand this morning. It only took an evening to make the 120 or so cards; hopefully that should be enough to see me through the three days. I’m a bit conscious of by name being  so large but need to get over it! Ooh it’s getting close now!

Counting down to the Maker’s Fair

The Institute provided Salt’s mill workers with a library, theatre, billiard room, gymnasium, art school, laboratories  and much more. Now known as the Victoria Hall, it will be housing the Maker’s Fair during the May bank holls.

Feeling really rather nervous and a tinsey winsey bit excited today – just got our room allocations for the arts trail this morning; I’m going to be in the Harmonium room of Victoria Hall. It is a new space – can you guess what used to be kept in here?

There are less than three weeks to go and I am panicking a little; this is the first time I have done anything like this and I am jumping in at the deep end big time! I’ll have all my kit there and visitors will be able  to contribute to a rug designed specifically for the event, so if you are around Saltaire on the 5th, 6th or 7th May do come along and have a go! There are some great artists all around the village and at the maker’s fair. Can’t wait!

More Rag Rugs

A couple more rag rugs just snipped from the frame, actually the first one I finished last week but the ground has been too wet outside to photograph it. I am a big  Bloomsbury fan and have always loved Vanessa Bell’s design for her sister Virginia Woolf’s posthumous book, A Writer’s Diary. Proddy rugs are not noted for being too accommodating when it comes to design but I am rather pleased with how it turned out. Although I do enjoy making proddys, they are severely depleting my fabric stash.  The cream background is nearly four metres worth!

This one is another flower proddy and I have to say it is my favourite so far. Some of the fabric in this one is so soft and lush.  This will be going on sale at the Arts Trail although if anyone buys it I will be utterly heartbroken. I haven’t sorted the edges and backing yet, just tucked it in underneath which is why it looks a bit funny in the corner.

Flower Proddy Brooches

Not the best piccie and for that I apologise – it is too cold to go outside for better light; but at least these flowers are faring better than my seedlings caught in the late snow last week. These proddy brooches are made from some stunning quality scarves that recently came my way and some lush woollen blankets from my stash. I raided my grandmother’s old button tin for the centres.

The clips are around 3 cm long and 3/4 an inch wide and cut to shape. The photograph below shows one of the brooches just about to be cut from the hessian backing. I hem the circle and draw a  ‘bullseye’ to guide the clips. I recently got my own bodger (Brown’s ?) and although it was in a sorry way, after a few taps with a hammer, a bit of WD40 and some sandpaper and elbow grease it was in tip-top condition again. I’m not normally a fan of using a bodger, I much prefer to work proddy mats the traditional way from the back; although I got used to it in the end, I don’t think I would use it for larger projects.

The bodger was from ebay and in amongst the job lot of rug making stuff was also a brass hook; the shank was stamped “RY BELL” and I was thrilled to realise it was one of the hooks made by John William Bell who was born in 1882 in Sunderland and who is mentioned in “From Rags to Riches: North Country Rag Rugs” written by the senior keeper at Beamish Open Air Museum, Rosemary Allan. Presumably the RY refers to the Ryhope Colliery where he worked as a blacksmith. I was ever so slightly thrilled!

As well as these vases of brooches there’s also a basket full of them. I just need to do some labels and they will be ready for the Arts Trail.

Rag Rug Frame and Trestles

I’ve been burning the midnight oil to get ready in time for the Saltaire Arts Trail in May but when my cousin invited me to stay for a few days I couldn’t resist and not just for a break. I’ve been asked by the Arts Trail to bring along my kit and get a bit of a demonstration going; all well and good, except my frame rests on a desk and a bookcase – I knew I needed to get my mitts on some rug making trestles – not actually a terribly easily thing to do. My cousin used to teach woodwork and I thought as he is currently building a boat (as you do) I might peer over his shoulder and pick up a few tips that could help me build some trestles myself. Divine intervention was clearly at play; the week  before my cousin had ordered some wood to make shutters but had written the wrong measurements on the order for the timber yard and had loads left over. Not only did  he make me a fabulous pair of trestles, he also made me a much larger frame. I had a rough idea of what I wanted having made some quick sketches of a pair in use at the Knitting and Stitching Show last year in Harrogate. My cousin made the trestles collapsible so they are easier for me to transport. I feel like a very, very lucky girl!

I was invited down because a quantity of fabric had come their way and they thought I might make some use of it – I ended up taking almost the lot and there is some cracking stuff amongst it all. It should keep me going for some time. Except I do now need to think about where I am going to store it. I am starting to think living rooms are entirely over-rated. As for kitchens, do we really need them?

As if any more of a sign was needed that I was on the right rug making path, my cousin’s wife and I took the dog for a walk and on the canal side we came across a  rag rug left by one of the barges – all a bit of a coincidence!

When we got back my cousin had popped to see a neighbour and ended up telling him what we were up to and came back with this fantastic pamphlet printed in 1942 given to him for me. It is packed with some really useful tips and ideas. Apparantly if I wanted the perfect hooking tool, I need only take my poker to my local blacksmith and he will fashion it for me. Alrighty then. Will do.

Such a fabulous time  – and on top of all that rag-rugging goodness I got to enjoy the company of my lovely family, glorious weather, gut-wrenchingly fabulous countryside, and astounding cooking. Can’t be bad. Well, I still have some unpacking to do and had better get on with it.

Oh, and in the meantime, if you want to check out the websites of some of the other artists and makers who will be at the Saltaire Arts Trail, do have a look at Jo Whitehead’s blog. I have a bit of a weak spot for her fused glass!