Come and have a go!

It was a beautiful sunny autumn day in Salcombe in South Devon, and I headed off to the beach with my tapestry weaving kit with a plan to weave the North Sands view. Not on my own, but inviting any interested passers-by to join in.Easel

Steve, my husband, had whipped up a portable easel for my frame, making use of odds and ends of timber left over from work on our smallholding. It sat on the seawall at the perfect height for weaving, and proved to be the solid base I had hoped for. (He has also made additional ‘legs’ that I’ll be able to use when I don’t have a handy sea wall!).

I came up with a very simple design for the tapestry, using a wedge-weaving technique that would provide a visually interesting image, but wouldn’t ask too much of people who had probably never woven before. In my mind’s eye, there were three main ‘layers’ in the design, each one with just one or two main elements: firstly beach and rocks, then sea and headland, and finally, sky.

I had barely set up my easel and frame before the first group of people came to see what I was up to. It didn’t take much to persuade one of their number to have a go, and this set the pattern for the rest of the afternoon. When there was no-one else around, or no-one came to join in, I carried on weaving myself. All sorts of people got involved, young and old, male and female. Some stayed and wove several rows, others did just a little bit.

I also asked people to make decisions for me about what colours to use, based on the selection I had available. It was oddly liberating to let this element of control go, and I found that I loved trying out combinations that I probably wouldn’t have chosen by myself.

Final piece

So why was I doing this? So many reasons, but mostly about sharing the fun of tapestry weaving and at the same time, showing people a different way to notice the nature all around us.

By the end of the tapestry, 20 people had got actively involved, and at least that number again came to watch what we were doing. Thank you Tony, Alison, Fee, Fi, Nadia, Angelina, Kate, Lucy, Janet, Jack, Sian, Caitlin, Liselle, Maxine, Tristan, Karenza, Chris, Maggie and three others whose names I didn’t catch! And thank you WeaversBazaar for the yarn, which they originally supplied as part of sponsorship for a project I ran a couple of years ago.

 

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Weaving the night

Weaving the nightImagine a warm summer night. You’re standing on a bridge at the bottom of a wooded valley, looking up at the night sky. A single star twinkles, the darkening sky above you is encircled by black shapes of tall conifer tree crowns.

This was my experience in Allendale, at the end of a day spent with the inspiring staff and volunteers from the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership project. One of their trainees, a trained astronomer, guided me round some of the constellations, and showed me how to use a planisphere – a clever circular chart which has layers you can manipulate to show the star map for the time and date you’re at.

Their project is all about increasing people’s understanding of the local heritage and increasing their access to it, whether it’s a new path and bridge through a local woodland or demystifying the stars above.

I have magical memories of the quiet minutes scanning Allendale’s night sky. I hope that this tapestry (when I get it finished!) will tell something of my experience, and get others thinking about being outdoors appreciating the night.

Nearly Wild Weaving Experiences – June and September 2018

                            NEARLY WILD® WEAVING –  Taking tapestry weaving into the outdoors

                             June 13th – 15th and September 12th – 14th 2018
                         At Underhill Farm on the Shropshire/Wales border                                                                                      


Come and spend three relaxing days based at Irene’s studio on a quiet smallholding on the Wales/Shropshire border, exploring nature and the countryside through the art of tapestry weaving. Take the time to look around you ‘with a weaverly eye’ – what shapes can you see in the landscape or the microcosm of a single leaf? What colours are there in a fungus growing on the side of a decaying log? What textures strike you when you look across the fields and trees to Llanymynech Rocks? Choose the subject that draws your attention and work with Irene to turn your ‘glimpse of nature’ into a woven tapestry.

The emphasis will be on weaving the world around us, making the most of the experience by being out in the natural world and weaving straight from the ‘real thing’. We will spend as much time as possible outdoors, absorbing ourselves in the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of the countryside; but, being practical, if the weather isn’t good, we have warm and dry spaces to retreat to indoors if necessary.

The Nearly Wild Weaving Experience will be suitable for beginners and more experienced tapestry weavers. If tapestry weaving is completely new to you, Irene will show you the basics so that you can create your first woven tapestry; if you have experience, this is an opportunity to take your tapestry weaving practice out of the studio and try out a different approach. Regardless of your experience, this will be an opportunity to share creative time with like-minded people.

Underhill Farm has fantastic countryside and heritage on the doorstep, with the Llanymynech Rocks Nature Reserve bordering the smallholding, and the Llanmynech Heritage Area and the Montgomery Canal just a short walk away. Between them, these offer endless possibilities for weaving, including the vaulted brickwork of the Hoffman limekiln, the angular rocks of the former quarry faces, not to mention views across the Shropshire Plain and into the Welsh hills.

Some practicalities
We will use portable weaving frames (available to borrow for the duration of the workshop) or you can weave using your own ‘found’ frame or base e.g. a forked tree branch, a chunk of local limestone. Irene will provide a selection of suitable yarns including wool from our own flock of Jacobs’ sheep, but if you wish, do bring your own yarns as well. Please bring your own portable stool, chair or sitting mat. This will make the outdoor weaving experience much more comfortable! Irene will provide tea, coffee and a simple picnic lunch (with vegetarian options). The workshop days will run from 10am – 5pm each day, with a break for lunch.

Cost
£15o. Includes: loan of weaving frame; use of a variety of yarns; simple refreshments and picnic lunch each day.

The venue
Underhill Farm, Underhill Lane, Pant, Shropshire, SY10 9RB.
If you need somewhere to stay, our converted bull barn offers a unique twin room (with woodburner if needed), which is available on a self-catering basis, with use of our well equipped kitchen, and separate toilet and shower. There is also plenty of space for camping. See http://www.underhillfarm.org for more information. Alternatively, there are various hotel and B&B options nearby.

And also…
….. In June, Irene will be opening her studio to the public on 16th and 17th, and 9th and 10th, as part of the Open Studios event held every year by the Borderland Visual Arts group (http://www.borderlandvisualarts.com ). Why not extend your trip and take some time to visit other local artists, or the group exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry? (http://www.willowgalleryoswestry.org/borderland-visual-arts-2018/)
….. In September, Irene will be taking part in the national Heritage Open Days initiative on 15th and 16th September, giving members of the public a chance to have a go at the heritage craft of tapestry weaving. The Oswestry area is always a vibrant hub for Heritage Open Days; you could take a canal boat trip from Llanymynech Wharf, or head into town for a tour of the former railway works or a walk round Old Oswestry Hillfort.

For more information and to make a booking
Contact Irene Evison                   Phone: 07977 591510              Email: irene@nearlywild.org

Weaving the view

Weaving the view – this is the challenge facing my small group from the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme. Add to that the fact that none of them have done any tapestry weaving before, and it could feel a touch daunting. And I’d forgotten to mention that the plan is to do our weaving outdoors in a British summer! However, the five participants have more than risen to the challenge, and it’s wonderful to see how their work is progressing.

We have chosen a small patch of countryside on the edge of the Stiperstones ridge in South Shropshire, with a wide-ranging view over towards the distinctive shape of Corndon hill in the foreground and the Powys hills beyond. Sat in a meadow with cows and sheep grazing around us, our backs to a large tree stump, our eyes rove over hay meadows, hedges, woodland, and  scattered houses. To get to our viewpoint, we’ve passed the entrance to an old mine and walked up a narrow footpath with bracken brushing our sides and foxgloves peeking through the greenery.

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But what to weave? The choices feel endless and are difficult to make. However, everyone has now made a choice, and I’m fascinated to see how each person has taken such a different perspective.

Helen is weaving the view, pretty much as you see it in the photo above, with colours true to the eye (although that can be hard to pin down as the light changes with the weather and time of day!). Steph is also weaving a view, but working from a very stylised and simplified sketch, choosing very bold colours that accentuate the shapes. Sarah has chosen to work at the small-scale, picking out the curve of a path bending away into the distance through a field. Anne is focussing on the area’s industrial heritage with a weaving that draws the eye through a tunnel of foliage to the arch of a former mine entrance, with the texture of multi-dimensional yarn accentuating the 3D of the vegetation. Diana (an experienced cloth weaver) is revelling in the ability to mix colour in different ways and to move away from straight lines, and has taken an impressionist painter’s view of a hay meadow.

Tapestry weaving is proving to be an inspirational medium for us all; for my small group of new weavers discovering what they can weave, and for me finding out how a little guidance can bring out such creativity.

 

Seeing the natural world with a weaverly eye

 

The neatly named (ah-hmm) Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme is using Heritage Lottery Fund grant money to carry out a a great mix of activities – practical nature conservation, heritage building conservation, skills and training for recording all sorts of things about the natural environment, getting more people aware of their local landscape and learning more about it. So where does tapestry weaving come into it?

My experience of tapestry weaving has been that trying to weave the natural world has opened my eyes to it. I’ve become a much more careful observer of what’s around me. I’ve started to seek out patterns, shape, colour. I’m listening at the same time as watching. I’m wondering why things are the way they are – what’s the history behind the ruined building I can see through the trees? Why am I seeing that plant in that particular place?

So, as I move along my tapestry weaving journey, this way of exploring the world around me is one of the things I’d like to pass on to other people. I’mWB yarns.jpg trying this out through a short community arts project with the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, with support from them and also Weaversbazaar (who are supplying a wonderful colour spectrum of yarns, and lending us frames).

 

I have half a dozen willing volunteers, none of whom have tried tapestry weaving before. About 10 days ago, we had our first outing, starting at the southern end of the Stiperstones ridge. Sounds wild, but this was carefully planned to take advantage of the tea and extraordinarily good cake at the nearby Bog Visitor Centre! Before we indulged though, I wanted to start them seeing the landscape around them with the eyes of a tapestry weaver.

What do I mean by this? For me, this is about taking the time to look around, seeing what might be a suitable subject for a weaving. What shapes and patterns are there? What simple lines can I see in the landscape? Where are the interesting colours and contrasts of texture? What is there at the big scale? What is there at the micro-scale?

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After an hour, we’d barely gone more than half a mile from where we started, but had looked at so mSomme tunnelany weaving possibilities –

 

 

 

the distinctive shape of Corndon hill, the hedgerow lines cutting across the hillsides, the impressionist colours of the summer pasture, 3D lichens and mosses, whirls of bark on an old tree stump.

We have our next outing later this week, when the real challenge begins – weaving the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country!

Iron Age weaving

Working this weekend for the Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme near Glastonbury, I was expecting the chance to take a bit of time out to wander the nature reserves of this corner of the Somerset Levels and perhaps catch a first ever glimpse of the rare bittern (success!), but I didn’t expect to have an introduction to Iron Age weaving. What an added bonus!

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I was told that archaeological evidence from finds at the Glastonbury Lake Village site suggests that weaving looms were sited on the right hand side of their houses, immediately by the entrance. It’s not known why but perhaps this gave them the best light to work from as the sun rose, as their houses were all oriented towards the east.

The loom above is a ‘best guess’ of what their looms might have looked at. Having been made of organic material, there isn’t anything left of the originals other than the loom weights, so who knows? There have also been finds of carved bone combs and comb fragments. The  fragments are probably parts of long beaters for use on wide cloth weavings, but there is a suggestion that the fork-type combs might have been for tapestry weaving. The reproduction fork that I was shown really didn’t look very different to the kitchen fork I use whilst weaving. I like the idea that my work is just the latest addition to such a long practice of weaving. I only had a few minutes to play on this loom, but I did see quite a number of visitors to the event have a go – I wonder if they’ll be inspired to try out some modern tapestry weaving?

 

The power of a deadline

As a member of the local Borderland Visual Arts group, Open Studio season is approaching rapidly, and with it, the group’s show at Oswestry’s Willow Gallery. I’d decided some time ago that my studio exhibition would be my explorations in tapestry weaving from recent months, showing the process from sketch to woven tapestry. However, for the gallery exhibition, I would need something more polished. What to do? I’ve had a partly made piece sitting around for about 18 months, and after some thought, decided this was the opportunity to use to force myself to get it finished.

“Force myself?” I hear you wonder. Well, it’s the sort of piece that you can’t just pick up and put down; it needs proper time and thought to do it justice, which is why it’s been sitting untouched for so long. So, I needed to force myself to avoid other distractions, whether tapestry weaving, family or even the lovely sunny day outside, and focus my attention on it.

Spirit of Arran – as it’s now titled – began when I visited the Isle of Arran for a week’s holiday with the family. I had grand plans for lots of outdoor weaving, but sadly, the weather gods weren’t on my side. I struggled even to get some decent sketches done as we experienced unbelievably mercurial weather (even by island standards). A sunny moment was just that, followed swiftly by pelting rain, hail, fog, drizzle – take your pick. The shoreline below our rented cottage was an appealing subject for a landscape tapestry.

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Completed last night, I’m still trying to decide if I like it. I’m not sure it translates well in a photograph. It’s perhaps at its best seen from a distance away, where the detail of the sea translates into more of an impression than exact detail.

But the detail is worth a look, if you’re interested in how I did it. The sand grains are knots (very fiddly), the shoreline is a wrapped warp bundle, and the sea is done using the hatching technique.

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If you want to see the real thing, it’ll be part of the BVA exhibition at the Willow Gallery in Oswestry from Saturday 28th May to Saturday 25th June.

 

 

 

 

A story of Underhill Farm

I’ve been wanting to weave something that tells a story about Underhill Farm, the smallholding that we’ve been bringing back to life over the last 6 years. We want it to be a place where people can become more aware of the connection between themselves and the natural world. There are lots of ways we can do this; surely tapestry weaving is one of them!

So….what I’ve got here is all about Underhill. The wool was processed from the fleeces of our Jacobs sheep by The Natural Fibre Company, and the mix of cream and brown wool has come out as a rich browny grey double knit yarn. The original colours can be seen in the fleece which I’ve woven in; hope you like the fluffy bits! And the tapestries are mounted on a couple of the farm house’s old roof tiles, which we kept  from when we completely re-roofed.

Find out more about Underhill on http://www.underhillfarm.org and come to visit us with our Open Studio on 11th, 12th, 18th & 19th June.

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Sand weavings in progress

I couldn’t resist having a go with my newly acquired yarns from last week’s Wonderwool Wales. I’ve been playing with the images of sand patterns that I came across on Mae Sands, Westray, and have done a number of initial drawings. I chose a very simplified one, where I’d picked out just the boldest lines of the pattern, with the aim of keeping the tapestry very simple too.

Sand weaving on the loom

 

The background is an organic wool, but I’m afraid I can’t remember any more about it (oops, better get better at recording these things). I’ve added 2 strands of silver kimono yarn, hoping to give the sense of wet sand glistening in the dawn sun. I’m very pleased with how it’s come out, but it was a real faff to do; the kimono yarn is unbelievably fine and tended to tangle with the wool. Ah well, who said tapestry weaving was easy?

The lines are  silk (thank you very much Uppingham Yarns) with a single pass of golden kimono thread in between the two silk colours. Weaving with the silk was such a pleasure, it feels so, well, silky over the fingers.

The next task will be to cut it off the loom and prepare it for mounting. I’ve got a variety of mounting board colours to choose from, so I’m hoping to find something that will set it off well. And if you want to see it ‘in the flesh’, it’ll be on display at Underhill Farm on 11th, 12th, 18th and 19th June where we’ll be hosting an Open Studio as part of the Borderland Visual Arts annual open studio weekends. More on that in blogs to come……