Tapestries at the V&A

Detail from The Otter and Swan Hunt

I’m really proud to be one of the trustees of the Heritage Crafts Association and yesterday I had to go to London for a committee meeting. I soon realised I’d have half an hour free to nip into the V&A, somewhere I’d never been before. It was quite hard keeping focused as I strode through the galleries, shielding my eyes from potential distraction, but my time was short and my goal was on level three, the gallery of tapestries.


The largest part of the exhibition were the early fifteenth century Flemish made Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, named as such because each of the four tapestries depict different forms of hunting. I’d read about them in detail so thought I knew what to expect, but as I stepped through the high glass doors and into the darkened climate controlled room I must confess I welled up quite a bit. Fortunately although the museum was busy, the gallery was deserted and I had it to myself.

Detail from The Bear Hunt

The first thing that grabs you about the tapestries is inevitably their size and their detail. I had baulked once when someone compared tapestry to the cinema entertainment of the day, but now I kinda get it. These aren’t passive pretty pictures up on a wall to be walked past, they were vast, something to sit before and stare at and engage with and drink in one inch at a time.

Detail from The Beer Hunt

The other thing I didn’t properly anticipate were their colours and vibrancy, this was especially so with a tapestry called The Three Fates. Again it was familiar to me from the text books but I had rather shamefully flicked over it as I never liked the composition of the disembodied figures against the milliefleur background.

The Three Fates, 1510-1520

But in the flesh it became apparent that no photograph could ever do it justice; it was mesmerizing, and the vibrancy of it was jewel-like, the dresses lifted off the surface and shone like sapphire, pearl and garnet. I could not take my eyes of it and it was the one I spent most time with. That the creation of such a thing be possible with thread astounds me.

Detail from The Three Fates

Quite rightly the room was kept dark to protect the tapestries and barriers stopped folk from getting too close. But it was quite frustrating for me as a weaver not to be able to get close enough to work out the sett, to mentally unpick what was before me, and to look at and understand how the shapes had been formed, how the shading was achieved, what decisions the weavers made.

Detail from The Deer Hunt

As I left I did give a bid of a nod to the weavers but as I write this and look over the photographs I realise it is so easy to overlook that all the thread used was handspun – presumably on a spindle if not a great-wheel, and the time that would have taken is monumental and the skill it would have taken to get the thread so universally fine and even, is unimaginable.

Detail from The Falconry Tapestry

Because my time was so limited, my visit could only ever be a reccie  and I will certainly be back armed with bags of time and a sketchbook. I left the gallery quite literally overwhelmed. I could have done with a sit down and a coffee, but instead it was back into the underground and then into a meeting. There was little time to digest what I had experienced, and that is a process that is still on going. But for now I can say that the seriousness, the life, the vibrancy, the sumptuousness, the comedy, which I saw yesterday was what tapestry could and should be. I think seeing these tapestries has made me grow up a bit as a weaver and they will always be the foundation I’ll go back to as I move forward. It’s not about imitating them of course, but about remembering what there is to live up to.

Detail from Pastoral tapestry

Also in the museum were the Raphael cartoons for a series of tapestries; they are of course stunning paintings, but the tapestries that came from them could only ever be an imitation of them. They mark, as Dirk Holger has said in a comment on an earlier post, the decline of tapestry as an autonomous art form.

Raphael cartoon

The tapestries on the third floor could only ever have been tapestries. Tapestry is so much more than an imitation of painting, something that has cursed it for centuries. Here in he UK there will be few of us who haven’t seen a tapestry in a stately home or castle, but many will have been post-Renaissance designs and the natural dyes faded into homogeneous blues and tans. My pics taken with an iPad in a darkened room cannot do them justice and I urge anyone who can, to visit them and see what tapestry really can be.

Detail from Pastoral tapestry, but kinda think you can make up your own caption!
Detail from Pastoral tapestry, but kinda think you can make up your own caption!

I managed to scoot across town and make my meeting in good time. It was held at Cockpits Arts in Holburn. I was familiar with the organisation through some writing I had done, and have met, albeit virtually, one of the artists based there. It was a warren of shared studios and it had a great atmosphere, such an amazing facility and I am really envious we don’t have something similar near me. The issue of studio space is particularly pertinent at the mo – my new loom arrived on Thursday, and next week I hope to be able to tell you all about it. I’ll be refitting what was once my bedroom into a studio, so I shall love you and leave you, I’ve got to start emptying out the wardrobe x

Week 18: Off the loom!


It seemed fitting that as my friends Kate and Paula had been so supportive throughout this whole process that they were with me as I cut Gracie from the loom.

It all happened very quickly and it was me doing the snipping so I never really saw it – which was probably for the best as I was totally over-emotional about the whole thing anyway.


Miraculously she stayed in one piece as we laid her down on some sheets. It was a shock how nimble she was – but there again I suppose she is a piece of cloth. Not only was it fitting Kate and Paula be there, they are also expert sewers – I’m not stupid! As they began plaiting the warps and sewing the turn back in place I knotted a few areas of weft at junction points.


I had assumed the way I had done the vertical soumak would mean I wouldn’t have to sew up the slits but the pedantic side of me came out and I have started sewing them up and this is ongoing, taking up much more time than I thought. A meeting in London on Saturday and the Tour de France bringing Yorkshire to a halt on Sunday meant I went in on Thursday and Friday when the hall was closed but it looked like I’ll have to go in next week as well – the staff must be wondering if they will ever see the back of me! tapestry bobbins

In the mean time Shelly at Toast of Leeds has put on her blog some of the images she took (above and below) – I am in awe at how she has managed to take the common place things I no longer notice and turned them into pictures of such beauty. I’m feeling very lucky to have had this opportunity – do go over and have a look at the rest of them.


Week 17: ….. and calm…..

Time for a confession. You know when I said in my last post that I wasn’t worried about that ripple in the tapestry? That was a complete lie – I’ve been wetting myself.

Was it a natural ripple that would disappear once it was hung? How would I know until I had cut it off the loom? And then it would be too late to fix it. What had I done wrong? My selvedges were straight, weren’t they? My warps were straight. Was it my sett or my beating? What hadn’t I noticed? What if the blocking didn’t work? Had I wasted four months of my life? Was I in fact a completely rubbish weaver and totally out of my depth? What had I done? What, what, what? And therein began many a sleepless night, especially last night. I decided to get to East Riddlesden early this morning and loosen the warps while we were closed so if there was still a problem I could smash my way through one of the rose windows and leap to a noble death in private.


I untied some lacing to the sides of the loom and huzzah, all remained well – the blocking had worked. I then slackened the warps and although there was a slight ripple it was clear this was a completely natural product of her still being on the loom and would drop out once she was hung. Within seconds all that worry was gone. But I wanted to hang around for the day just to keep an eye on her and so when the lady who looks after the day-to-day conservation said she could do with a hand cleaning the carved woodwork of some of the four-posters I was happy to volunteer my services.

100_6040 I can finally start relaxing a little and be proud of what I have done. I planned to go in next weekend to cut her off, but managed to remain ignorant of the impact of the Tour de Flipping France – the roads will be closed, there will be no public transport, the hall will be shut. So it looks like I may go in later in the week, even though we will be closed and cut her off then. From the picture below you’ll have to take my word for it that the edges are straight – I could’t get the angle of my crappy camera right.

Graie upright

This has been my first week at home for a while. Fortunately I had a lot to do with my weaving editor hat on, for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. I was also able to catch up on the housework (not that you’d notice that now). But it has been hard to settle down to work on the next project. I am waiting to hear about an opportunity but it won’t be for a few weeks yet; until then I don’t know if I’ll be weaving at home or elsewhere. If I am to weave it at home I can’t really start until I have revamped what was my bedroom into a proper weaving studio. I suppose I need a break and need to stop beating myself up about it. Now I know Gracie is ok I am sure I’ll be able to settle and will make use of some quality easel time.

I am trying to find a way to tell you about the next project, but it is hard and personal, but I will do so eventually. I showed my initial drawings to friends who I know will be honest and whose opinions I trust and respect and am much encouraged by their reaction. One of them suggested weaving it as a triptych and I am seriously considering it.

Right I’m starving so had better go see to my tea – besides, I don’t want to keep carping on x


Weeks 15 & 16? : End Game

To be honest I have lost track of what week it is; the closer I got to the end the harder I worked and I just kept my head down and wove like a demon. On Wednesday I planned to finished her but instead was lured out by artist Kate Bowles to a two hour picnic in the glorious sunshine under the rose covered ruins of the Starkie wing. After that going home early seemed the only decent thing to do. I had a snooze on the sofa for an hour; thinking of standing for MP.


So it was Thursday when I finished her, but not before deciding to take out one of the hair petals and so had to reweave it using the colour of the background and a needle. I was quite shocked when she was done, I knew it was coming but was still a quite sad, like I wasn’t expecting it. I guess there is a natural anticlimax – this project has been the main focus of my life for six months and now it was effectively over. I went in on Saturday to weave the header and then a volunteer and I loosened the tension on the loom ready to let her settle before I cut her off in a week or so. There was some slight buckling through the centre although I’m not too worried about it, the tapestry is quite close to the bottom beam so I suspect it is just a natural fold caused by the different tension between the top and bottom of the loom and it should just drop out once it is hung – it is a piece of cloth after all. But I was a good girl and blocked it, just in case. I’ll see what it looks like next Sunday and release the tension on the loom then. If need be I might have a bit of a re-weave of the top left corner, but I shouldn’t think it will be necessary (takes a deep breath and reminds herself perfectionism is a good thing).

Yesterday morning Shelly Mantovani from Toast of Leeds came to take some photographs. I usually hate having my picture taken but I really love her work and was happy to put myself in her hands.She made me feel very relaxed and although it will be a while yet before I see the results, I am very much looking forward to it. In the meantime here is a pic by Kate just after our picnic (yes, I am stroking Gracie’s cheek, she is my baby).

Chrissie Freeth TapestryStill no news on the fundraising, but one of the volunteers made a really touching point yesterday; East Riddlesden was empty when it was handed over to the National Trust in the 1930s and it has since been filled with furniture and pictures from other properties. Apart from a grain store, Gracie is the only thing that really does belong to the hall. So fingers crossed, you never know.

I have brought a few things home, bobbins, yarns, swift and winders and so it is starting to seem an emptier space already. But I am not sad, it is certainly not good-bye, there is still a lot to do getting her off the loom and once she is off it. But it is certainly the end game. This is my first Sunday to myself for a very long while, and I will absolutely see to the laundry and housework and under no circumstance whatsoever start moping or even consider doing any dyeing experiments for the next tapestry. I do hope my ducks aren’t missing me. 😦

So far she has taken 85 days weaving (approx 600 hours, not including the six weeks prep work), and 3kg of wool and an incalculable number of jacket potatoes from the tearooms. For some reason I thought I had woven the second half much quicker than the first, but it was about equal. Can’t wait to see her upright. Here’s the video in full. Ta ta for now x

Week 14: Getting High

East Riddlesden

I’ve reached the top selvedge and getting the bobbin through the ever tightening warps has been like dragging a reluctant elephant through a fence. The split rings were also jamming so I had to constantly re-thread them. It didn’t help that I was standing and reaching to the fell; it has been pretty unpleasant weaving experience for a while now.

The gardens here are spectacular and I took a walk one day and started lusting after some tower scaffolding in a van outside the hall; I assumed it belonged to the man fixing the boiler, but it was being used by the groundsman to cut hedges. The hall’s conservator made some calls and it turned out it would be ok for me to borrow it as long as the wood was wrapped in plastic to protect the house from any nasties in the wood. I am now at a comfortable height for weaving and although the plastic makes it look like I am incontinent, I am a very happy weaver. I don’t think it is going to be too long before it is finished.

Tapestry Weaving

I’ve mentioned in other posts about my next project; I’ve started talking about it in more detail to those who have asked, response has been positive and it is slowly becoming more real. But I am conscious that though the next project has come relatively easily and I am finding my voice as a weaver, I still have a lot to learn about exploring my ideas visually and translating them into tapestry.

I have dabbled at sketching but painting is something I have not done since I was a kid playing around in art class in middle school. I think this is why I jumped on photographic images like that of my great-grandmother; as I can’t paint or draw, I’d have to focus on pre-existing images. But I’ve begun to realise that for me tapestries should be based on original images designed specifically for them – the days of weavers simply reproducing someone else’s design are long past. But of course I can’t paint, I am not an artist, I’ve had no training. I knew this would be something I would just have to get over so when my friend Karen was getting rid of an easel I jumped on the chance of giving it a new home. I thought if I had an uncluttered space to work on then I would be more likely to go upstairs into the workroom and just play. I got the easel set up and headed to Homebase for a bit of MDF to make a drawing board.

Copy (3) of ap30-001

So there I stood, in front of the easel, a piece of the wallpaper lining I usually use to sketch on, clipped to the board. But what to paint? I remember as a child my mum telling me that there was someone in my grandmother’s family she was never allowed to ask about. It didn’t take much digging into the census to come across my great-great grandmother Delia, a schizophrenic who was put into a lunatic asylum in the 1920s and died there a few years later. She had six previous admissions and according to her records her mother and sister were also insane. I also discovered that her daughter, Delia Jo (above, in white), was transferred to the same asylum from a workhouse after becoming “un-co-operative”. She was admitted in 1925 and died there in the 1960s. Their story inspired me to become involved in helping to make sure such needless loss of freedom within the mental health system no longer continues, but I have always felt there is something more about them I wanted to explore. Included in their records is a photograph taken at admission and I had Delia snr’s on my worktop and I pinned it to my drawing board. I knew I didn’t want to reproduce the photograph, it was just part of the process, I wanted to get at something of the turmoil of her mental illness.

When tapestry-artist Janet Clarke visited last week and we chatted and discussed my fear of my inexperience, shee suggested I ditched the paintbrush and tried mark mak using something else to free myself up. I poured out some paint and reached for a sponge to hand and just went for it and this is the result. I don’t doubt that I am painting like a school girl and I am going to make clichéd mistakes, but as a first attempt at painting I am pretty chuffed. It will always be a means to an end for me, but I fully intend to keep going with it and am no longer as afraid. I am also encouraged to keep exploring more the life and experiences of Delia and Delia Jo and find out as much about them as I can. They were not to be spoken of, were meant to be forgotten and Delia Jo would have been were it not for a comment in a letter. I like the idea of going agaist their imposed invisibility, of making them permenant and visible and unmissible.


Anyway, more ducks. The twelve teeny weeney babies are now four – there is an evil heron hanging around that has been picking them off. These are my  ducks and I will I will have my revenge.


Week 13: When is a Tapestry a Tapestry?

It’s been another overcast week (it is nearly summer, after all) and it has been really hard to see what I’m doing. A no-nonsense member of staff on seeing my plight gathered up extensions leads and purloined a conservation lamp and set it all up. The difference is pretty amazing – fortunately Gracie holds her own under the glare, no obvious mistakes or colour problems showed themselves so I am very pleased. It sits behind me and if I turn I feel like an actor on a stage and can’t see beyond it. The sadly heretofore absent ghosties could be blowing me raspberries in the corridor and I wouldn’t know it.


I’ve hit my end of May deadline and I’m content the tapestry will get done in time – in one area I’m only a couple of inches from the top. I feel more relaxed about taking time off when we are closed to the public and I had a productive day at my desk working on the next project. My idea for it has come quite quickly and is pretty well-formed; although I do need to do some colour samples and explore a new dye palette. As I started a new sketchbook to consolidate my thoughts I still found it hard to just let myself play and do whatever my instincts told me to, in effect to play. But it was a very productive day nonetheless and helped honed down my idea.


After accepting last week that small format tapestries are not for me, the consequences are beginning to dawn. Weaving full-time I will only ever be able to make three or four pieces a year. This will reduce my chances of making the loot I need to live on and it also means I will no longer be eligible to take part in many designer-maker events where one is expected to fill a stall. But I am also learning to appreciate that the fear of what my life and my fridge will hold a few months hence will be the new norm, and there is nothing to be done but embrace it. I’ve also had to make the really hard decision to pull out of Art in the Pen. The invoice is long overdue and if Gracie does sell (and attempts are being made to raise the funds as I type) then I won’t have one of my key pieces to show. I am really sorry about it, it was one of my main events this year and I had been really looking forward to it, but I feel it is the right decision. Fortunately the organisers at AiP have been fantastically understanding and hopefully I will be able to show with them next year.

This week I had a surprise visit from a very well-known tapestry weaver and one of the founders of the British Tapestry Group and it was great to get a positive response from another weaver. Without doubt I am growing in confidence as a weaver and I am getting to know where I want to head next both technically and as a practitioner and for that I will always be grateful to my time at East Riddlesden, and whatever happens to Gracie I will always be able to consider this time a great success.

Now then, this is a post of two halves, if you are only interested in East Riddlesden updates, feel free to skip to the ducks.

I’ve been feeling a bit irked for some time, since reading an article in my local newspaper celebrating a recently commissioned tapestry for Bradford Council; the hanging was clearly not a tapestry, but an embroidery. Why was I so bothered about it? What did it really matter? But listening to LBC radio last night I heard Kirsty Allsop using the term tapestry incorrectly, and was piqued, especially as a guru of crafts, she should know better. I’ve avoided writing about this before now as I guess it is easy to be called a snob or a pedant but I do think there is more to it than this. The confusion as to what tapestry actually is has also been rife amongst the visitors to East Riddlesden Hall. Thankfully folk seem interested and glad to be put straight and they have emboldened me to abandon the washing up this afternoon, and instead try to hone down and articulate my thoughts.

Odo bayeux tapestry.png
Odo bayeux tapestry“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Quite rightly great fuss has been made of late about the Great Tapestry of Scotland which was unveiled late last year. It is the brainchild of the novelist Alexander McCall Smith and is a stunning piece of work and through its 160 panels this amazing community project tells the story of Scotland from prehistory to now. At 469ft Wikipedia claims it is the longest tapestry in the world, much longer even than the Bayeux tapestry (above) . But of course what seems to brushed aside is that neither the Bayeux tapestry or The Great Tapestry of Scotland are in fact tapestries, they are both embroideries.

Embroidery is an embellishment sewn onto a pre-existing cloth. Tapestry is a woven cloth made on a loom. Tapestry weavers build the picture at the same time creating the cloth; the structure and the image are intrinsic to one another. It is a slow going process, even recently it took a full-time team of weavers twelve years to make seven tapestries for Stirling Castle. The man-hours involved, not only in the weaving, but the spinning of yarn and dyeing, contributed to their huge value in the past as well as the use of gold thread and silks.


Over the last few decades in the UK the confusion between tapestry and needlepoint has become frustratingly ingrained. Needlepoint (above) is a small diagonal stitch sewn into a gridded canvas. It is perhaps can be seen as similar to the ‘bead’ created in true tapestry. Beautiful work can be produced in needlepoint, but it is essentially counted thread work. The embroiderer puts in stitches, often following a pattern, it is a skill easily picked up, and they make very enjoyable and popular kits. I have no wish to decry the craft, but it has become clear from talking to visitors to East Riddlesden that because the techniques share the name, there is an assumption that this is how true tapestries of old were made. Perpetuating and enabling this assumption is to rob centuries of weavers of their immense technical and artistic skill. But I also think there is a darker deep-rooted problem over this misappropriation.

Family of Henry VIII c 1545 detail.jpg
Family of Henry VIII c 1545 detail” by Unknown – Scanned from Campbell, Thomas P. Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Tapestries were owned by the great and the good, collected by kings, Henry VIII had two thousand of them. They were used at state occasions and used to send out very political messages. They were made in workshops often patronised by the great and the good – the founding of the Mortlake Tapestry works or example, was assisted by Charles I. The tapestries were woven by men and it has invariably through its history and evolutions straddled the worlds of fine art and craft. Whilst contemporary embroidery was also a man’s game, in recent centuries embroidery has become associated with the female, the domestic, and rarely enters consideration as a fine art. Nowadays it is decorative, a hobby. It is seen as a lesser medium. Consciously or unconsciously, by calling an embroidery a tapestry it immediately engenders it with a masculine gravitas. A tapestry has value, an embroidery does not. A tapestry is worthy of celebrating something monumental and historic, an embroidery is not. I cannot help but feel there is some blatant sexism going on here. For the phenomenal skill of embroiderers to be acknowledged in its own right it must stop being hidden behind the skirts of tapestry. The Great Tapestry of Scotland is an amazing embroidery and it should be allowed to be celebrated as such.


Well known contemporary artists are turning to the form and have the potential to expose a new generation of artists to the medium; Tracy Emin for example has had a number of tapestries woven at West Dean. And Grayson Perry’s magnificent series The Vanity of Small Differences has been hugely popular and is currently touring the UK. But unlike Emin’s tapestries, Perry’s designs were not woven by hand, but rather printed out in a matter of hours on a computerised loom. The use of a Jacquard loom is perfect for Perry’s exploration of the relationship between class and taste, juxtaposing the intrinsic and historical value of a tapestry with its production on a device often employed to produce rather tacky commercial hangings (and one of my sofa cushions, above). But does it have a right to be called a tapestry? An interesting debate on the fors and against can be found here lib_kcfinder_upload_files_articles_textile_forum. I have heard Perry refer to his tapestries as “digital tapestries” – I think it was during the Reith lectures, not sure – and I have no problem with that, we know instantly by that word ‘digital’, that it is going to be something quicker, perhaps more artificial, and it sets out clearly that they are something different to traditional handwoven tapestries.

Small format tapestries are beginning to dominate and be seen as the norm – it was suggested for example that Maides Coign might not be given space in an upcoming exhibition celebrating tapestry in “all its forms” because of her size. It is easy to understand why folk are reluctant to give up the time and space to make larger works but a weaver who worked with Jean Lurcat, the twentieth century artist credited with reviving tapestry as a contemporary art form, recently put the cat amongst the pigeons proclaiming, like Lurcat, that true tapestries should be large format. It is a stance I am not unsympathetic with, and does size matter is something I will come back to another time, but I just wanted to make the point that even within the discipline of tapestry there is debate as to what it actually is.

It certainly seems easier to say what it is not. I do firmly believe it should have a right to its own name, a name it has had for centuries. To deny it that seems little short of kicking a man when he is down, just at the moment he has a chance to rise again. And as they say up ‘ere in Yorkshire, ya can’t make a pig fat by weighin it.

Anyway, that is where I am at and I hope I haven’t offended anyone.

And now, some ducks. Trying to get in without paying.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?




Week 2: Settling In….

Tapestry Weaving

This week has been about getting a head start on the weaving before the hall is opened up to the public during the week. I’ve been really surprised at how quick the tapestry has come on – it’s amazing what one can achieve without the distractions of email, Facebook and a hundred and one other distractions. I once wondered how I would ever cope without having access to the internet but it has created a space that is just about the weaving, all the other jobs and dramas wait until I get home. It has been a real revelation and it definitely makes me think an internet-free studio is the way to go in the future.

The only downside is fitting in with a different clock and I am working a much shorter day than I am used to. I am a morning girl, and can achieve more in the first few hours of the day than the rest of it put together, but this time is now being spent on the bus with school kids jammed into my armpit, or sitting on the curbside with my chin on my knees waiting to be let in. I am a little worried about how all this will affect the progress of tapestry time-wise and I am going to have a think about how best to make the best out of the day. I’ve still got to finish the Hanging Tree so one option may be to work on that first thing in the morning and come along to Riddlesden later, or perhaps work later into the night at home and just get up later!

East Riddlesden

One other issue of being quite so focused on the weaving, is problems with my neck, back and shoulders, and so I have had to be quite strict about stopping for breaks. But I am off the floor now and sitting on a stool so hopefully the pain will lessen. It has to be said, with the sunshine we had last week, it wasn’t too hard to talk myself into having a cuppa in the lovely gardens at Riddlesden.

Soumak weaving

It has been a marvel seeing the colours coming together and I am really pleased – I know I had planned it as much as I could, but actually seeing it in the flesh I am quite surprised it is actually working out!

Soumak Weaving

I am using soumak to outline some of the shapes, break up the petals of hair and make the spirals in the skirt and I am really pleased with how this is turning out too – providing a good bit of texture, but nothing to overpower the tapestry. When she’s finished she is going to be very bold and very rich – and I cannot wait!

I’ve met some great visitors, including someone who meant a great deal when I was doing my PhD – a really lovely surprise. The most common questions/comments I am asked are what will happen to the tapestry once it is finished and that I must have a lot of patience. I really don’t. None at all. But weaving is one of those things that once you start time passes and you don’t realise it, and it is really hard to let the bobbins drop and do something else. Team Horris – artists/bookbinder Kate Bowles and Paula Perrins from Wychbury Designs – came by today and if you have read my other posts you’ll already know about the support they have given me. But today they actually started weaving and I think they got a taste for it and didn’t seem to want to stop when it was chucking out time. I am feeling a little like Dr Frankenstein! We were struggling with the light towards the end – it was quite grim outside today. They made me promise not to take their work out. We’ll see….

As for what will happen to the tapestry, that is all to be finalised. But I did learn this week I’ve been selected for Art in the Pen which is great news, but it will be laying on the pressure later in the year. Ah well, it’s all good!

And now, the view from my window….


Week 1 – God laughs. I don’t.

So we got the loom moved in. And then it all started to go wrong.


I left a few days before I was planning to start, to get the dyeing of the first batch of yarns done. The sun even shone, especially or me and the drying of my hanks. But then I started dyeing one of the colours I intended to use for the face, hands and legs. I did about 12 batches and none of them came out the same – I ended up with yellows and browns, and only the occasional ginger I was actually after. My supplier sent more dye in case it was at fault but still I could not get a consistent colour. I thought about abandoning it, but I loved the colour too much when it worked so I am going to have to see if I can mix the different shades into another colour blend, or just dye shed-loads and pull out the ones that work. I won’t reach her hands for a few weeks yet, so I have some time to make up my mind.


My friend Kate turned up on Saturday morning (with cake) and off we went to East Riddlesden to warp the loom. She was at the top of a ladder and I was at the bottom and it was so much easier to keep the tension even with the two of us. Frustratingly I ran out of warp a couple of feet before the end. Why, why, why? I had done the calculations, it should have been right.When I got home I fired off an email  asking for some emergency warp to be delivered at the hall, but still it wouldn’t come until mid-week. Very, very annoying. Kate was only planning to help on the Saturday but came along on the Sunday as well to help put the cartoon up and finish what we could before the new warp arrived. The cartoon was easier than I thought it would be – Kate could fit around the back of the loom whereas I, ahem, could not!


It was lovely talking to the visitors, but it was hard for them to see the cartoon behind the warps, so it was difficult to explain the design. I thought it odd but presumed it was because it was a line drawing. The next job was to put on the leashes, a nice sit down job, especially after all the bending and reaching the day before. But it was a bit difficult, the leashes were quite hard to pull through the warps. But Kate was great chatting to the visitors, especially the kids. Except she kept telling them there were 1200 warps on the loom – I didn’t want to contradict her in front of visitors so waited for a lull to let her know there were in fact 600, not 1200. Except she was adamant there were 1200. She had counted them. I started to recalculate everything in my head and that is when I realised – we had not only warped one loom, we had warped two – we had put twice as many warps in each inch than we needed to. A stoopid mistake, too much fun and chatting! It took a good few hours to see the funny side. And at least now I knew why I had run out of warp!

But at least things couldn’t get any worse, could they. As we left the house we talked to the house steward a man who has spent years researching the house and its habitants. And that is when he told me Grace Murgatroyd, the inspiration for the tapestry design wasn’t actually a member of the East Riddlesden family and a mistake was made long ago connecting her to them. He also told me that the inscription didn’t refer to any particular women but to the Psalm as a whole, an underground code refering to its message to get ready for war. As Kate drove me home, my face thick as thunder, I don’t think she stopped laughing.


On Monday I had grown up things to do and so wasn’t at the Hall. The tapestry has been a large part of my life for so long it was very strange leaving her at the hall and having nothing to do with her for a day. On Tuesday Kate came in again, this time to unwarp half the loom and reattached the leashes. On Wednesday I wove the header and on Thursday I actually got to weave. The house has been shut during the week and I’ve had it pretty much to myself and have slowly been settling in. I’ve been kicking off the boots, and started listening to Radio 4 for the first time in a good few months. It has also been great getting to know the staff there – they are all incredibly friendly. I get home pretty tired but have writing and editing jobs to do. I have given myself a week  off from the Hanging Tree but tomorrow I have to start working on it in the evenings.


When I am weaving at home I am generally watching rubbish on the laptop, tweeting and facebooking and dealing with emails, so it has been good discipline for me to just get in front of the loom and get on with the weaving and keep focused. Everything else, my other responsibilities and jobs, are not intruding and I would definitely like to keep this going in the future.

The house has been full of visitors again this weekend. There seems to be a lot of interest and many folk saying they will come back to watch it grow. A few younger visitors even had a go, and at the end of the day that’s what it is all about.


The week ahead should see some solid weaving. But now I know man plans and god laughs. Oh, did I mention I am loving every minute of it?