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.
First 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.
Once 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.