Willow Workshop

Just a few days after the Medieval Tapestry workshop (see previous post) I went to a Willow Craft workshop at my local library. This was just two hours on  Wednesday morning and was free of charge, all materials provided. I talked my daughter-in-law into coming along with me.

Fresh from the weaving workshop, which has occupied a whole weekend, I really didn’t know what to expect and could not imagine what we could produce in a mere two hours. In the event I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out that is was not exactly weaving but merely wrapping the willow canes round a wire armature and so work progressed quite quickly. Most of the 15 or so people there produced at least two items, usually a wreath and something else slightly more complex.

Willow Craft Bird

I started with the bird (above) while my daughter-in-law made a butterfly (sorry, no photos) then, with still at least three-quarters of an hour left, we both produced a wreath (see mine below). The only real problem, once you got the hang of the simple technique was that as time progressed the willow was becoming rather dry and brittle which made it less workable. The workshop tutor had brought along a vast bundle of willow which had been well soaked and was wrapped in damp towels and polythene, but she did inform us that two hours is about the maximum time it will stay workable before needing resoaking.

Willow Wreath

At the end of the session she told us to help ourselves to some of willow if we wished, so I came home with a bundle big enough to make another wreath. I have not used it yet as I have to finish preparing for the tapestry exhibition. The willow will need soaking again for at least two hours and then I think I will tackle a heart-shaped wreath.

Just last week I noticed an advertisement in my local paper for a day long willow weaving workshop at a garden centre a few miles away. This time it would be weaving and I was very tempted as I have always fancied having a go at basket making, but I decided against it as I have plenty of work to get on with. Another time perhaps!

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Weaving Workshop

A few weeks ago, over the weekend of 22nd/23rd March I attended a weaving workshop on the techniques of Medieval Tapestry weaving. This was held in Shrewsbury, not too far from where I live. The weekend was arranged by a couple of my fellow weavers and the  tutor was  tapestry artist Louise Martin. I had worried that I might be out of my depth but this proved to be unfounded and I was pleased to find that several others attending the course were no more experienced than me.

Smal Medieval SamplerFirst we had to warp up our small frame looms with two separate warps, one was just 1 inch wide and the other was 3 inches wide, both at 10 epi, finer than anything I had worked on to date.  Then Louise showed us how to produce some of the intricate shapes used in medieval tapestries and set us to work on the 1 inch warp sett. I must say we were all amazed at how little we managed to do on that first day, barely a couple of inches! (But you must allow for demonstration time, time spent undoing and of course nattering – although very little time was wasted on this; we nattered while we worked).

On the Saturday evening several of us went out for a meal together and then went to a local coffee shop where Louise gave a most interesting illustrated talk about the major tapestry project she had spent some 10 years working on at Stirling Castle in Scotland.  This is the biggest tapestry weaving project undertaken in the UK for the last two centuries. Teams of three weavers at a time worked to reproduce a series of Medieval Tapestries called ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’. The originals of these can be seen in The Metropolitan Museum in New York, USA. The tapestries, which now hang in Stirling Castle, were sponsored by Scottish Heritage and the work was split into two teams, one working at the castle and one at West Dean College in West Sussex. You can click ‘Unicorn’ to read more about this project.

The next day we were given the option of continuing with our 1 inch strip or starting something new on the 3 inch wide warp. Most of us, me included, elected to carry on with the original small strip and proceeded to achieve quite an increase in production. My effort is pictured above and all but the top inch, which I finished at home, was completed at the workshop. I’m sorry that the size of this picture does not do the detail justice, but even I cannot call it a masterpiece.

Small flower samplerOnce back home I still had the 3 inch warp to use and decided to work something trying to use some of the techniques I had learned at the workshop. I also fancied doing something I had never done before, something from life, such as flowers and leaves, but something not too complex. As you can see from the picture, it is not yet finished. Please note that the leaves and flower are not intended to represent any specific species.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any yarn of a suitable thickness (or should I say thinness!), at least not in the colours I required, so I decided to ‘unply ‘some of my two ply carpet wools. This worked well for the sandy background colour and the dark brown flower centre.  However, ‘unplying’ the green yarns and the gold yarn used for the flower markings proved to make them  unstable and easily broken and I have to work very carefully. The pale yellow for the flower is the only colour that I did not need to ‘unply’, but it is slightly thicker than the other yarns.  Despite these problems I am quite pleased with my first attempt at detailed weaving, although the closeness of shade between the three greens used does make it difficult to see the ‘hachure’ shading techniques I have attempted to use. I did not use a cartoon for this design; the lines you can see at the top of the weaving have been drawn on the warp with marker pen.

I really enjoyed the weekend, which was sponsored by Weavers Bazaar, and know I learnt a lot from the experience. My fears about attending were unfounded and I look forward to attending more workshopes in future, as I also look forward to using some of these newly acquired techniques in my weaving.

Hanging

Finishing off and preparing for hanging is the next job. It was at this point that I decided to weave tabs at the top of ‘Goodnight Mr. Moon’ (previously just ‘Goodnight’, but often referred to as ‘Mr. Moon’, so I combined the two!). It seemed to me that, with the planned tassels along the bottom, it would look better hanging rather like a banner than simply attached to a batten with velcro or similar hooked tape. This latter method, an accepted way of hanging tapestries, is what I will use for the two bigger pieces, ‘Red Swirl’ and ‘Zig-Zag’, (which I have now renamed ‘Passing Through Gilded Peaks’  – a bit less mundane and with a touch of mystery don’t you think?).

Fortunately I had not, at this stage, cut the weaving from the loom, but I had already woven a hem. So I unwove this and wove hanging tabs instead. Here is the finished piece, complete with tassels:

Goodnight Mr. Moon

Well almost finished. Have you ever wondered what a tapestry looks like from the back? Have a look at Mr. Moon:

Back view

You can see all the thread ends dangling. This is fairly tidy as there are not too many colour changes, but a more complex  and detailed weaving would look like a shag pile carpet. You can also see the white area along the bottom which is the hem turned back, and the same between the tabs at the top. The beige ends are the warp threads, which were ‘plaited’ along the hem-line before being sewn down with the hem. It is acceptable to leave the back like this, if trimmed a bit more, as the packing down of the weave traps the ends in place and prevents them coming unwoven. Because ‘Mr. Moon’ is intended for a child’s room I shall back the tapestry with cloth as a precaution, to make sure there is no risk of little fingers fiddling with the loose ends.

The jury is still out on the final way of dealing with the other tapestries, but they will either be framed or mounted in such a way that they will stand alone with no frame showing. I shall report back again once it is decided and they are finished.

Ideas

Having discarded my two ‘cloth of gold’ small tapestries (see previous post) I decided I needed to do two more for the forthcoming exhibition. Deciding what to do was the first problem. I am actually not short of ideas, I have plenty buzzing round my head, so many in fact that I jotted them down in a long list – two pages of a reporter’s notebook – so that I don’t forget them. However, I only have rough sketches of one or two, most are not drawn up at all and the vast majority of them are far too detailed and complex for me to hope to produce them in time for the exhibition, so they do not fall into my ‘simple but effective’ self-brief.

I found one idea on my list that might just do. It had been inspired by the yoke pattern on an old woollen jumper that I have had for over 30 years, hardly worn because it had felted a bit in the wash, but not thrown away because I like it. It is one of those designs that speaks to your subconscious without your conscious mind knowing what it is saying, if you know what I mean! Anyway I thought it would be fun to try to interpret it as a tapestry and I thought it would be fairly easy, I didn’t even need to draw a cartoon. So I warped up my nail frame loom with a cotton warp sett of 8 epi at a width of 14 inches and wove freehand. Here is the result, it is woven with the same carpet wool that I had in stock and have used for previous tapestries, with a few extra colours bought in small quantity sample bundles:

Tapestry 'Aftermath'

I think of the wibbly-wobbly verticals as burnt out trees and to me it looks like a scene of some sort of Armageddon, hence the title ‘Aftermath’. As you can see the tapestry has become a bit wider in the middle. I put this down to the fact that the navy blue used for the ‘trees’ was slightly thicker than the other wools and with the constant back and forth over such a narrow distance for each ‘tree’ it pushed the alignment out – most probably due to my inexperience.

‘Aftermath’ used only a small amount of the warp, being only 9 inches high, and there was room to do another weaving above it so I put in a 4 inch piece of cardboard as a spacer before starting on the next one – but first I also had to design it. Nothing on my list seemed to lend itself to my needs so I scribbled and doodled and slept a bit until I came up with something that I thought would fit the bill.

This, my last piece for the exhibition, fulfilled my criteria beautifully; it was fairly simple to weave once you take into account the technicalities of weaving circles (well semi-circles in this case) and I think the result is quite effective. It measure approx 14 x 10 inches and is called ‘Red Shift’ (more an interpretation of the words than the science). Here it is:

Tapestry 'Red Shift'

 

And here the detail of the middle section, note how the alternate lines of the two reds create a third red when seen from a distance:

Red Shift detail

‘Aftermath’ was completed in February this year and ‘Red Shift’ in March, so here we are up-to-date, these are all that I will weave for the exhibition. It just remains to prepare them for hanging.