A Month in the Life of a Tapestry Weaver

Since getting back from New York things have been pretty manic and I am only now managing to grab some time with you, so I am sorry this is a bit of a round-up post.

I was, alas, too jet-lagged and exhausted to make it to the Heritage Craft Association’s launch of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts at the House of Lords. The HCA has been undertaking magnificent research identifying UK crafts most at risk. The resulting database is an amazing resource and overview; I do encourage you to have a look. I’m terribly honoured to be one of their trustees, but have been too wrapped up with Winston Churchill to get involved myself, but did witness the amazing hard work and dedication that went into the project and the launch. For such a small organisation I am incessantly in awe of all they do.

A few days later was the HCA’s conference in London, I went down the day before and meant to visit the Dovecot’s new tapestry at the National Gallery but in the end got to the hotel and slept – the bed was rather good! There was an amazing line up the next day including the key note speaker, Kaffee Fassett, a man who can find the most amazing palettes everywhere as his colourful slides showed (below). I first went to one of his talks twenty or so years ago, so it was wonderful to hear him again.

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All the talkers were exemplary, and I learned heaps. Of particular note was the Queen’s wheelwright, Greg Rowland talking about some of the challenges craft practitioners face taking on an apprentice. It was incredibly interesting – and yes, moving – to see their relationship develop and someone bloom into a young man and spectacular craftsman in their own right. Lisa Hammond’s apprentice and Instagram super star Florian Gadsby gave a fascinating talk on the importance of social media to practitioners, and especially Instagram, a platform perfect for crafts folk. He stressed the importance of not just sticking up a picture and fleeing, but rather to take time to explore and share one’s thoughts and processes regarding one’s work. I have been inspired to try to do the same, posting daily and being more explicit in what I am doing and why. If you follow me on Facebook, I am sorry for the relative silence of late, but this is where you can find me. I floundered during a week of meltdown (see below) but have found the experience very useful and rewarding.

I also headed up to Blackburn in Lancashire. A manufacturer of rug making looms (Cobble van de Wiele) is interested in using some of my designs to make some show-pieces to demonstrate the versatility of their looms. I was invited up to the factory to discuss it and see what the looms can do. If you are a regular reader you will know I am a bit of a tapestry purist, but it was clear that the resulting textiles would be entirely different to my hand woven tapestries, something in their own right, rather than a cheap knock-off, and actually it is going to be incredibly exciting to see how my techniques might get translated by the looms. They were things of absolute beauty, the mechanism was like a ballet of needles and thread. I love the idea of the mixing of the modern and ancient techniques. My grandfather was an engineer and I couldn’t help thinking how much he would have loved it. Anyway, fingers crossed we can make it work!

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I also headed up to the Platform Gallery in Clitheroe with my long suffering friend who mistakenly once offered to help move some tapestries around and has been paying for it ever since. I needed to pick up some pieces that were on display during their Craft Open exhibition, it was also a great chance to see again the space I’ll need to fill for my exhibition running alongside the Craft Open next year. Eeeeeeven better it was a chance to spend my voucher which I won as part of the Selectors Prize. I treated myself to a pair of ge-orgeous earrings by Kate Rhodes. I am swinging my hair about quite a bit now to show them off. I love the colours and shapes. I don’t usually wear jewellery, so it is quite nice to feel like a girl after all! I did try to take my own picture, but it is very hard to take a selfie of one’s ear!

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Of course in amongst all this I had to get ready for the Saltaire Arts Trail. I love this event, I’ve grown up with it as an artist, and it is such a great privilege to chat to visitors. If you haven’t been, houses and other venues across the World Heritage Site are opened as mini galleries, there’s also a makers fair, events and exhibitions and workshops. I have been very lucky to have been selected to do it pretty regularly, but a big part of that is having new work to show, a big ask when it takes months to make a tapestry.

Whilst I hadn’t shown Delia Jo before, I knew I had make new work. I was also conscious that I needed to find a way to digest all I had seen in New York. I have written up my notes and I’ve been sorting through the photographs but I also needed to interpret it all on the loom. I don’t like weaving small, but there was no time to do anything else. One answer was to start working on some samples for a larger piece. Obviously an overriding element of medieval tapestries is their narrative nature, and this is something I have been keen to explore and not least because thanks to my Fellowship I am much more confident that I can weave whatever I choose to draw.

Chrissie Freeth Face Sample

I decided to kick off with some faces, my theory being if I can manage those then anything was possible. I still wanted to keep an element of the techniques I’ve been developing in my previous work, and there was as much unweaving as weaving to try to make it work, but I did feel much more liberated and unshackled at the loom. I suppose a big part of that was being more relaxed when it came to working with the original design, being more disposed to interpret it as I saw fit, rather than just copying it. Before I would have to weave big to capture every nuance of the original, but now I should be able to get full figures on the larger loom.

I couldn’t just stick a small tapestry on the wall, for me tapestries are mural. I thought if I put them in a frame I wouldn’t be pretending they were anything other than samples. However by this time, a week to go, I had also decided that the samples were rubbish, and I was rubbish, and tapestry was stupid and I was wasting my life (it was a bad weekend). I was making the frames myself and managed to successful muck up totally the sawing of the wood. Without the frames I couldn’t show them. I would be saved the ridicule.

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I spend most of the week with my head in the sand, the Arts Trail looming. I suppose part of me was reliant on the thought that panic would be the mother of invention. The only other answer I could come up with was a new pair of jeggings. I was walking back from my shopping expedition when I bumped into another artist in the village and berated them for being so organised in the run up to the trail. They promptly offered me some spare frames they were in two minds about using and which might do. SAVED – they were perfect!!!!! I didn’t have time to do the backs of the frames so wouldn’t be able to sell them, but at least I wouldn’t have an empty wall. Now I wasn’t feeling so sorry for myself I also realised I had some smaller archaeology-inspired pieces that I hadn’t shown before, and I could also throw in No Longer Mourn in the hope no one would remember it from last year.

Chrissie Freeth Tapestries Saltaire Arts Trail 1

I was in a lovely house, beautiful, large and high dark walls, perfect for my work – I was incredibly lucky! It was the home of Jolly Bean Roastery and I was showing with an artist I already knew through a mutual friend, the wonderful print maker Cath Brooke. I began to think that I shouldn’t show the two faces after all, thinking perhaps they were too rubbish, but there were a couple of spaces that needed filling.

Chrissie Freeth Tapestries Saltaire Arts Trail

Although both were labelled NFS, they did gather quite a bit of attention, and requests were made, despite the framing, to buy them. They were both sold before the morning of the first day was out. They remained on show though and continued to generate interest and comment, and it became clear that I needed to get over myself and that the way forward for me was glaringly obvious.

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The Arts Trail is fabulous for connecting with fellow artists. I don’t usually get out to see other work as one feels one ought to be with one’s own work, but this year I was determined to see the other venues. Of particular note was Hannah Robson who weaves with metals to create spectacular sculptural pieces, I loved the juxtaposition of the more formal woven elements with the more open areas. One of my favourite artists is Paula Dunn (and frame offering hero), who has been working in cold wax and it was great to see her eye for spectacular landscapes translated this way. Ian Burdall creates very evocative maritime paintings and is again defo worth a gander. Textile artists Claire Wellesley-Smith and Hannah Lamb followed up their work last year, Lasting Impressions, by using weaving to archive some of the findings. It was great to see a row of beautiful Harris Looms in the spinning room at the top of Salts Mill and to see folk weaving on them. The results looked lovely. Such a great idea.

I am determined to have the weekend off (blog posting and the reading of some meeting papers excepted). I knew if I don’t fill it with something I’d just end up weaving so last night blew the dust off my needle case and transferred one of the tapestry designs I’ve been working on this week onto some cloth.

Chrissie Freeth Embroidery Sample

One thing I did do in that week before the Arts Trail was to set up a workbench just for sketching – why I never did that before is a mystery, but it is making a big difference having a dedicated space with everything I need at hand. It is good having this space away from the looms too, gives me space to think just on the sketching and not the weaving.

Art in the Pen in Skipton in August is the next event, I am working on designs for that and am very excited by the possibilities. I could do with an extra month though! I also need to get my Fellowship trips to Germany and Switzerland organised. But for now, needle and thread in the sunny yarden is calling. Ttfn xxx

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Arts Trail – Thank you!

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I know I ‘m a week late, but I wanted to thank everyone who came to the Saltaire Arts Trail. One reader of this blog came all the way up from Leicester!

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I wanted to get in early on Friday to hang my work, just in case there were any problems. From the start the plan had been to hang the tapestries using hooks over some unused doors. But the doors proved too thick for the hooks. June Russell, the chair of Saltaire Inspired arrived with helper, an array of tools, fixings and fearless determination and managed to hang the pieces nonetheless. It was a strange thing to see my work hanging all proper like! I was really thrilled with how it looked, and not a little proud.

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The event was fabulous, lots of wonderful visitors, very engaged and full of questions. But without doubt the best part for me was meeting the artists I was sharing the space with, especially Janis Goodman, Salma Patel, Gemma Lacey,, and of course our host, Jacky Al-Samarraie who looked after us so well. They all made the whole experience absolutely delightful and a laugh a minute. In truth I didn’t want the event to end, I had such a great time. It was also great to get feedback on the work and observe people’s responses to it. I certainly feel a few feet taller as an artist. My only regret was not getting to look round the other houses and exhibitions, but it was clear there was a fabulous atmosphere across the village.

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The gift cards were a virtual sell out so I will definitely be doing those again! The frames were a big hit too, so I am going to look at doing some smaller framed pieces that are more affordable for Art in the Pen in August.

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I am really glad I did some little samples that folk could touch, they were very popular and certainly helped reduce the amount of folk going for the tapestries themselves. There were a few. I know who you are.

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With the Arts Trail done with, I’ve taken a few days to catch up with my Fellowship plans. I know where I want to go, but it has been good to start getting in touch with potential contacts. I’ve also made plans to do some experiments with different cameras to see how best I might best photograph the tapestries I’ll be visiting. The sixteenth-century tapestry at East Riddlesden Hall will serve as a stand-in. Talking of which, on the 30th July I’ll be at East Riddlesden doing some demos. Once it is all confirmed and I have more details I’ll let you know. Later this month I’ll be heading to a rather grander stately pile here in Yorkshire to discuss some conservation issues, but more on that in a later post.

hyIn the meantime, the loom needs warping, and I need to get some more work underway! Cheerio for now x

 

 

 

New new tapestry!

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you’ll know it has taken a long time for me to find a way to weave that is unique to me and which gives me a way to say what I want to. The last tapestry, No Longer Mourn, was a bit of a breakthrough. All I had to do next, was do it again. Was it, perhaps, a fluke?

I had plenty of warp left over so I was quick to make another cartoon and to get it on the loom. The design was something I’ve been playing with for a good while but couldn’t quite get it how I wanted it, but now, with this new way of thinking I was able to create a version I liked pretty quickly. I suppose in my head it is about strength in the face of regret, but no real title as yet. It is pretty nerve-wracking unwinding the beams and seeing the completed tapestry for the first time, but I have to say I was pleased with the result and I sat down and looked at it with a sense that I have finally found my feet as a weaver and as an artist. I know what I want to do – and I know now exactly how to do it. I’ve got more ideas and designs in my head and in my notebooks than I’ll ever probably have enough lifespan left to weave. This is a massive change and relief for me (not the lifespan thing). I feel in some way, like I am just starting out.

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This tapestry was woven in a slightly different way technically to the last and once they are both cut off the loom I’ll go into a bit more detail about that. This tapestry is destined, as with the last one, to go to the Saltaire Arts Trail. It will be the first time I’ll have slapped my insides onto a wall for other people to look at and I am rather nervous about it, and if truth be told, rather excited too.

The event takes place here in Saltaire on 28-30 May. I’ll be in the Art Rooms in Salts Mill – just follow the signs to the Tourist Information Centre. The list of artists taking part in the Arts Trail has just been released. As well as the juried exhibitors in the Open Houses there will be local people opening up their homes and showing their work too. There is also the Makers Fair and lots of exhibitions and activities. In the Art Rooms I’ll be exhibiting alongside Janis Goodman, Salma Patel, Steve Rayner, Gemma Lacey, Dave Gowers, and the owner of the Art Rooms, Jacky Al-Samarraie. Do please come and say hello. Pictured below is one of Dave Gower’s amazing paintings; I can’t wait to see more.

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David Gowers, No 10

I’ve also been selected for Weave, a summer show at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff – it’ll explore the act of weaving across different mediums, not just with yarn, and I’ll share more about the exhibition in due course. It does sound rather exciting!

Cheerio for now and I hope to see you later this month x

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 the DMV projects and the Hanging Tree tapestry. 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.

Saltaire Arts Trail Looms

I’m taking time out from the week thing, as I haven’t really got a chance to work on Found Drowned. It proved too hard to settle knowing I had so much to do in preparation for the Saltaire Arts Trail this weekend, so I decided to ban myself from the studio and just get it done. It proved a wise decision as it took me twice as long as expected. On Monday I am running a day of weaving activities for around 200 children (gulp) on behalf of Sponge Tree. I had all the instructions for the activities to write-up and get tested, as well as getting all the yarns and equipment ready. There will be peg loom weaving (which also involved dyeing a lot of fleece and carding it), tapestry weaving (did I mention I am still waiting for the tapestry frames and peg looms to arrive? Calm, aren’t I?) And then there’s the straw weaving and card loom weaving. IMG_2973 IMG_3191 IMG_3251I was also going to take along a table top loom and a replica Viking warp weighted loom, but then I had a call from an old friend from my archaeology days asking me if I had any use for some ancient Egyptian ground looms he had to get rid of. It was, as a friend of his outrageously suggested, like offering vodka to an alcoholic but how could I say no? There are five of them and perfect for children, simple to set up, easy to understand and perfect for folk who like to crawl about on the floor. And I wove on them myself twenty years ago as an undergraduate, of course I would make room!. I set them up, quite counter intuitively as the closed shed is kept open and it is the open shed that’s manipulated, if you know what I mean. I love, love, love them and quite frankly the children will have a great deal of difficulty getting me to let them have a go. But I think they will make the warp-weighted loom and table loom rather superfluous and so will leave them for another time. The ground looms will also be able to involve more kids at any one time than the warp weighted one. IMG_3344I’ve also had to get my smaller upright loom ready for demonstrations on the Saturday and Sunday. I’ve just finished the cartoon now and will warp it up tomorrow. With time so short, I wanted to weave something that I can actually use of later in the year, rather than something I will just cut off and throw away the minute the event is over. I’ve ended up with a similar design to a previous tapestry, but one I have longed to rework, and it will be quite different once it is woven. Cripes I’ll need to dye the wool tomorrow too. IMG_3402I think I’ve managed one day on the larger tapestry though, and have wound it on. It is quite frankly a wonderful thing to see more of the cartoon, and to have something different to look at over the coming months (although my g-g-g-grandmother does look a bit ghostly behind those warps). And that has what has got me through the last two weeks, knowing that the next two months should be clear weaving in time for Art in the Pen and the Art Market later in the year. IMG_3291There’s no where to hang tapestries this year at the Arts Trail and in the end this has worked in my favour, and I’m able to make use of extant stock rather than produce new work, I suspect that would have tipped me over the edge (although it was a good excuse to make a few new buttons). I am happy to report btw that I have been injury free these last two weeks, apart from walking into a kitchen cupboard this afternoon and bruising my forehead. I call that a successful fortnight, what with no broken bones.

IMG_3244Before I go, I do just want to share this rather fantastic video about one of my favourite artists, Claire Wellesley-Smith. She has a book coming out in September, ‘Slow Stitch; mindful and contemplative textile art’ published by Batsford, and quite frankly, I cannot wait.

So there we are. Please pray for me this weekend, I care not to whom. Ta, ta x

Creativity, Making Mistakes and Happy Accidents

Got my wrists slapped last night for not updating my blog. Truth is I have been enjoying some pretty serious Chrissie time, mucking about in my workroom.

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I’ve been playing, sketching for the first time since school, printing, painting, exploring with my camera. I’ve been thinking about my Nan a lot too, the making and doing we used to do at her table, I guess I have been tapping into that freedom to explore and create we enjoy as children but shun as adults, doing things for their own sake, not worrying why you are doing it or how they will turn out.

At the same time I put a small warp on my scaffold loom Evil Norris. The project I had planned of my great-grandmother will involve such a big time commitment I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. I did another sample area of the rose and wasn’t too happy with it – rather than a flower, I was merely reproducing the artefacts intrinsic to the blown up photograph; I realised I would have to start the design process again.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” Scott Adams.

But one afternoon I spent printing, the images I made were quick and spontaneous, they were also quite dark and atmospheric – all aspects at odds with the methodical, slow going, warmth traditionally associated with tapestry weaving and I liked that contrast. I also saw a mythological element in the images and felt that link to the past which as an archaeologist I crave. The images just seemed darker and deeper and a bit more ‘me’.  One in particular I started to like, it reminded me of a tree and with its nine branches it brought to mind the Yggdrasil from Norse mythology and I made some samples on the loom that seemed to look ok. Initially I thought if I was going to try to weave it I would be sensible and do it on a smaller scale, but it didn’t seem right, these images are landscapes and I want to weave a ‘gateway’ into them, plugging into that link between weaving and myths, and for that the tapestry needed to be large and I’ve made a cartoon a couple of metres long. It will be woven on the side so that will be the finished height.

I haven’t seen tapestry like this before, and of course there may be a good reason for that and it might not work – will the atmosphere of the print translate into a tapestry? Nevertheless I have decided to give it a go – if it works it could be brilliant, and perhaps I have found a voice intrinsic to me as a weaver, and if it doesn’t well so be it – it will be a lesson learned and the skills I develop can be used for the next project. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be doing my great-grandmother project at some point, but it will be on the back burners for a while.

Saltaire Makers Fair Festival SpecialSaltaire Makers Fair Festival Special

I have a busy month ahead, the Maker’s Fair Special for the Saltaire Festival will be on the 14th and 15th September (please note I am on the leaflets – a legend in my own postcode 😉 )

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And I’ve also have an order to fill for the lovely Imaginarium Gallery in Haworth, and have been weaving some of my ‘Rainbow Twill’ for that, working hard to clear the decks as much a I can and plan to put the warp for the tapestry onto Evil Norris tomorrow.

Patchwork Hexagons

Today – I am sorry to confess – I am nursing a hangover but it is a good excuse to add to my stash of patchwork hexagons – they are a great way to relax away from the looms, very addictive and easy to do but which will one day hopefully end up as a bed spread of black-framed flowers. For some reason I thought it was really difficult until someone showed me how to do it a month or so back. I am sorry to say I was eyeing up a perfectly good dress of mine though wanting to use the fabric.

Before I go it seems right to link to this great post by Dixie Nicholls from Handmade Lives  –  Creativity The Elephant in the Workroom which I hope you find as interesting as I did. So ta-ta for now, and I’ll try not to leave it so long next time. x

Hexagon Patchwork

On the loom today

Summer Scarf in Progress

Thought I’d share what I’ve been up today. I made the warp yesterday, it take a goodly while it has to be said, about 3 hours. It was the first time I made a warp on the go – I just picked some colours I liked and that worked well together, and went for it, all random. I am a red and rust type of gal but forced myself to stick in some blues, greens and yellows and am really pleased with the results. summer scarf on loom

Initially I had it in my mind to do a rosepath weave but the pattern was drowned out by the multi-coloured warp. The twill instead gave some interest but did not detract from the colours and I’m thrilled with the result and will be making it again very soon. It was very fast to weave, just under 2 metres in about 5  hours; the only problem was the left selvage which kept breaking, I think I need to move the beater more, the reed must have kept wearing through the threads – very frustrating!

Summer scarf handwoven

Also today the artists taking part in the Saltaire Arts Trail have been revealed. There does seem to be fewer painters this year,  but plenty of printmakers. Less jewellery and photography too, but plenty of textiles and ceramics – looks like a great line up and lots of new faces. I’ll be at 75 Albert Road, the house of friend and artist Dave Starley. If the weather is good I hope to have my loom there too so folk can have a go. Also at the same house is a printmaker, Cath Brooke, who I have long been a fan of, so it should be a fun few days.