Woven eccentricities (or a wonky weave of a geriatric Jack Russell)

Since topping up my sleeved sweater stash (see previous post) we have had a mini heatwave here in the South of England. With temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and little let off at night I have found it difficult to get stuck in to another knitting project. So what to do with yarn that doesn’t result in sweaty hands and squeaky needles and allows a little air flow around the old bod? Yep, you got it, back to the tapestry frame and warp speed ahead on another coptic inspired weave of a wonky portrait, this time Nelly being the muse.

low res nelly woven

“Today I shall mostly be fabulous!” Hand woven tapestry in wool, cotton and metallic yarn.

My aim with this one was to use eccentric weaving (where the weft is not at right angles to the warp) to mimic the nap of the fur and to help give the illusion of three dimensions via the suggestion of contour lines. And here is the result: Nelly looking resplendent (and slightly worried i.e. her usual expression) on a majestic looking cushion. Note to self, for the next weave try to create a design that can be woven the right way up rather than on its side as previous ones have been if I wish to avoid developing a permanent kink in my neck and spine from regular progress checks.

Now, what to do next I wonder? I still have a knitting itch to scratch and the temperatures are becoming more conducive to picking up the needles again. However, I wouldn’t want to upset the Big Dog by showing favouritism to the Little and Noisy One so perhaps I should be sourcing some Weim coloured yarn for another wonky weave. Mmm, decisions, decisions, perhaps a cup of tea (or at least the tea leaves) will help? Until next time…….

Weaving around the EU referendum

Here in the UK we had a little vote the other Thursday. On 23rd June we went to bed as part of the EU and on 24th June we awoke in the middle of a Terry Pratchett novel (don’t panic folks, this isn’t really a political post, I’m just putting the arty stuff into context with a little background reading for those who may have missed the joke due to holidays or non European domicile). So, in a nutshell, a media magnate (think Reacher Gilt in Going Postal) got together with a couple of posh boys (I’d like to reference Bloody Stupid Johnson here but we are probably talking Assassins Guild drop outs) and as a laugh sold the country a few whopping porkies about: money and public services (“I would never have made that claim, it was one of the mistakes the Leave camp made”, said Farage regarding that naughty bus advert and leaflet headline); immigration (too many dwarves and trolls here already and what about when the goblins start arriving?); and democracy (apparently we needed to get our country back even though some of us were blissfully unaware that we had misplaced it. Can’t have people who put “avec” in their cooking having a say in what goes on in our country, particularly if we haven’t voted for them to do it).

Mix that together with some disgruntled lefties unhappy with the current leadership and direction of the opposition party (likened by Labour supporter and comedian Bill Bailey to the experimental album of a long established rock band), the impact of years of austerity under the current government, all combined with the leave campaign’s advice to dismiss the claims of the Wizards at Unseen University (as apparently we have had enough of experts), and you get 52% to 48% voting to go it alone to “make Britain great again” (although to be fair, as nearly half of the voters thought GB was pretty awesome a month ago some of us probably need a bit more information regarding the context of the word “great” and a historical reference point to clarify the word “again” so that we can properly get behind this sentiment).

So, what are we left with 11 days later? The resignation of the PM, a rudderless ship and a leadership battle (“Every organisation needs at least one person who knows what’s going on, and why it’s happening and who’s doing it”, Terry Pratchett, Going Postal), Boris and Nigel temporarily leaving the spot light perhaps to “find themselves” and prepare for the next reality TV show, an imploding opposition party, a significant handful of leave voters asking if we can do it again as they didn’t think their protest vote would actually count (X Factor has a lot to answer for), a strong taste of “Oops this wasn’t supposed to happen”, a small but nasty dose of xenophobia (it transpires that a small but sadly active number of people were under the impression that they were voting for immigrants to leave the UK not for the UK to leave the EU. Oh the power of words!), the potential dismantling of the UK (will we be calling it the Disunited Kingdom or DUK when Scotland and Northern Ireland attempt to retain their EU status?) and as part of this last point lots of English people frantically searching their family history for an Irish granny.  But perhaps most scary of all, it transpires that there was no cunning plan (and even Baldrick had one of those although according to Blackadder,”Give the likes of Baldrick the vote and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner…”).

But, in the spirit of balance I must warn you that these observations are coming from a Remainer (I bet you couldn’t have guessed) and someone who spent a large proportion of a previous career in a strategic, organisational and contingency planning role for a large company. Perhaps running a country has nothing in common with running a business? The Leavers are more optimistic, telling us “whingers” to stop scaremongering, suck it up buttercup, and pull together. Once they come up with a direction, I for one am prepared to listen as procrastination is never a good look. After all, in those wise words of Turner and Kane in their fabulous tune “Aviation”, “it’s the way you wing it, while you’re figuring it out”. While we may have lost the future genius of the likes of Leonard of Quirm, be assured that there are plenty of Cut-Me-Own Throat Dibblers out there already planning “the range of pewter figurines and exciting T-shirts” to turn this potential calamity into a business opportunity (I’ve seen their posts on Facebook).  But it’s not over until it’s over, as they say, and the fat lady hasn’t even got her make up on yet let alone warmed up her voice for this performance.

Of course none of this would have actually happened in Ankh Morpork which “had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote”. It is such as shame that Mr Pratchett is no longer with us as he would have written a corker about all this.

So, enough of politics. During all of this malarky I ran away to West Dean College where I could hide from TV, social media and newspapers and immerse myself in the wonderfully repetitive and calming world of tapestry weaving (while trying very hard not to mention the P word at break times or in the bar after hours).  As my regular readers (Mum) will know, I have recently been entertaining myself with producing wonky portraits of friends, family and our beloved pets so when I saw that lovely teacher and talented tapestry artist Pat Taylor was doing a course on weaving tapestry Coptic style I knew it was destiny and I booked the last place.


Wonky weave of a wonky self portrait (pulling a face in a mirror)

What characterises coptic tapestry for me is it’s decorative element (it was originally small scale weaving used to adorn clothing), often depicting non symmetrical faces, certain animals like deer and hare, and repeating motifs. So, right up my street then!  The techniques used give a wonderful sense of drawing with the weft and for me presented common sense applications of the weaving principle and problem solving without the self imposed constraints of “doing it the right way”.


Coptic Marc, produced during the workshop

While it was somewhat frustrating at times, I particularly liked the challenge of the coarse setting we used (the weaves shown are approximately 15cm “square” and set at 3 e.p.c).  It adds a certain charm and another dimension to the original drawings and I have plans to continue the series in this scale.

Before I sign off I must also show you one of Pat’s wonderful weaves. Although these are not coptic inspired, they show her incredible skill at depicting portraits in a simplified but incredibly effective way. From memory, this piece of work was approximately 35cm square and worked on a much finer setting than we were using.  Just lovely! More of her work can be seen on her website.


One of Pat Taylor’s woven portraits

So, for now it’s a bit of a breather while I decide on the next wonky weave subject. I also have a fairisle sweater on the needles at the moment (a bit of comfort knitting during these stressful times) in need of sleeves. Until next time……….


Ally Pally Knit and Stitch show 2015

The past few weeks have been filled with manic making as some exciting plans are now starting to hatch ahead of Harrogate Knit and Stitch show in November where I will be sharing a stand with the lovely Becca Tansley of Alterknitive.  More on this later.  In the meantime I wanted to share a few pictures from my quick visit to its sister show, Ally Pally, yesterday done in the name of research (and not at all a shopping opportunity!).  This was my first visit as a punter for ages having been on the other side as part of the Knitted Textile Awards in 2013 and 2014 and the Embroiderer’s Guild showcase in 2012 and it was a useful and enjoyable exercise to be reminded of the show experience from the customers point of view.

My first favourite gallery this year was Entwined memories, a beautifully curated exhibition by members of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland.  I particularly liked this wonderful woven piece by Frances Crowe called Songs sung and stories told.


Songs sung and stories told by Frances Crowe

Just a little walk up the textile gallery from this inspirational work was stitchmonger Kate Jenkins and her fabulous knitted fish stall.


Kate Jenkins and her knitted fish stall

Now I’m not normally one to get excited about knitted versions of everyday things e.g. knitted cakes, vegetables etc (just ‘cos you can doesn’t mean you should right?), but I loved Kate’s fish. They manage to achieve a perfect balance between realism and the silliness that only knitting something can truly achieve.  And of course what female can resist the red sequiny bling of a knitted rock lobster?  If a number of household insurances hadn’t been up for renewal this month I would have come away with one of her framed pieces.  Sadly I had to settle for a card version of my favourite, Squid in Ink, which you can just see on the wall behind Kate’s shoulder in this picture.

The last of the three highlights of this year’s show for me which I wanted to share with you was the wonderful work of contemporary basket maker Stella Harding. I was blown away by this gallery which was full of amazing sculptural pieces woven from different materials including natural, wire, and my personal favourite collection, tape measures!


Stella Harding: Geo-metric


Stella Harding: “Another Star” and “Bling”

Of course it wasn’t all about research and inspiration. I caught up with some friends who were exhibiting, and there might have been a little shopping done as well.


Ally Pally 2015 haul

As you can see I was very controlled. From left my Squid in Ink card from Kate Jenkins (don’t expect to receive this friends and family, this is going in my card collection and is not for sending until I can afford the original!), some lovely silk threads from Caroline Bell (definitely Weimaraner coloured!), a cheeky card from Embroiderer’s Guild Education Scholar Helen Dowdeswell, and pinking shears a requirement of one of the new projects I am currently working on. OK there might also have been four balls of yarn purchased but I’ll admit to those when I can show you what I have planned for them.

Overall a good day had, if a little rushed yesterday.  Now back to designing exhibition posters and stitching like a mad woman for the rest of the day (month!).  Until next time….

Warp Speed Ahead!

I couldn’t believe my luck when I noticed early this year that a Tapestry Weaving course with the lovely Caron Penney had been scheduled at West Dean College for my birthday week.  Well, it would have been rude not to so off I trundled armed with tapestry frames and images from recent life drawing sessions hoping to use Caron’s expertise to find a satisfactory way of interpreting the latter into the former in a way that made good use of the uniqueness and sensitivity that this particular medium has to offer.

"charcoal gesture drawing"

Charcoal gesture drawing

This warm up gesture drawing has been haunting me for a few weeks now but I hadn’t quite worked out what I was going to do with it.  I had considered knitting it but would have had to change the character of the image away from line to form.  Embroidery would have worked well but that would probably have been too close to the actual drawing so what would be the point? So weaving it had to be, but due to the enormity of the scale required to achieve the sensitivity of the line in a woven form for the whole image Caron suggested that I used a view finder over sections to see if anything took my fancy.  The result: a whole new body (no pun intended) of work is now planned!

"woven tapestry"

Woven tapestry

I managed to finish this first piece during the workshop and was pleased with how it came out. However, I think I will probably do another version, perhaps with a bit more blending to soften the lines a little. I also have some appropriately coloured mohair in my stash somewhere which might prove useful (but don’t tell Caron as I am sure this is probably cheating!). Frustratingly though, after warping up and starting the next image in the series, I have had to put the weaving on the back burner while I attend to more immediate commission and exhibition entry deadlines (oh and the small matter of the day job) but I am itching to get back to it. If only there were more hours in the day!

"Charcoal drawing enlarged on a photocopier"

Charcoal drawing enlarged on a photocopier

An unexpected positive to come out of this workshop for me was a realisation of the design potential of the good old fashioned photocopier. Not having used one of these beasts for more than 15 years and having only bad memories of paper tray jams and toner issues I think I might now be a regular at the local Rymans after discovering how wonderful charcoal lines on sugar paper look blown up. I am starting a coin collection as we speak for that very purpose.

Mab, Faery or Alien?

Over the past year I have been obsessively making (quite literally!) my way through the fabulous and witty Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher on audiobook (what a discovery Audible was, a way of “reading” a book and knitting, all at the same time!).  I recently finished number 15, narrated by the silky smooth James Marsters, (he of Spike fame for those Buffy and Angel fans amongst you) and am hoping Mr Butcher gets a move on with the next instalment as Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard still has plenty of evil supernatural beings to battle in his efforts to save Chicago and the human race.  Long time readers of my blog may also remember that I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, another talented author who’s stories use an entertaining collage of myth, faery tale and science fiction, to make a light hearted observation of current affairs.

I thought this was an Arty Blog I hear you say, not a book review!  Fear not, there is an art connection so please indulge me a little further.  Whilst in Butcher’s series, Mab the queen of the faeries is a traditionally beautiful and sadistic human-like being with super powers who regularly visits Earth to manipulate Harry into fighting her cause, Pratchett’s new Long Earth Series written in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, explains the myth of supernatural beings as dimension travelling humanoids who step between parallel worlds.  I particularly like this idea of aliens and faeries possibly being one and the same thing and from this my latest textile piece, “Mab” was born, inspired by one of the mono prints from the recent Life printing day.

"woven tapestry"

“Mab” by Nicky Barfoot. Woven tapestry, wool and metallic polyester thread mounted on linen.

A Doggy Doodle Obsession

I had so much fun creating Gaspode and Fifi, and Bert version 1 (woven) that I have got a little carried away with the doggy doodles in recent weeks.  There might also be diversion tactics at play here, i.e. using “colouring in” of light hearted images while subconsciously mulling over ideas for my next major project (there is one in the pipeline, it just seems to be a little stuck!). I have also had a couple of lighter weeks at work and with no knitting on the needles at present, have used the odd half an hour in between clients to draw.  Consequently I have been getting home from work with a sketchbook full of felt pen characters that are begging to be embroidered.

"Doggy Doodles, felt pen, tapestry and embroidery"

A trio of Berts: Felt pen on paper, woven tapestry and cotton embroidery on calico

I often find re-creating the same image in different media fascinating as each method brings its own characteristics. With the three versions of Bert that I have produced so far, I particularly like the way that in the woven version the relatively large size of the warp used and the resulting pixel size, enforces a charming crudeness on the image which to me adds to its appeal and interest.

In “Russ and Ollie” I think I may have found an enduring character in Russ the Jack Russell Terrier as he has begun to crop up in a few more of my felt pen drawings.  Oh dear, I feel another book coming on……….


Doggy Doodle 2: Here comes Bert

I might have been a bit adventurous with the image I chose for my first woven tapestry following a cartoon (quite literally as it turned out!) but then again I don’t like to do things by halves so felt pen in hand out came the sketchbook and Bert was born.  Bizarrely it somehow felt right combining this historic, somewhat majestic method of textile construction with a felt pen doodle.  After a brief false start I remembered how to warp up and after fixing the frame to the dining room table off I went.  I used yarn from my knitting stash which added to the challenge of achieving an even tension (particularly with the wonderfully soft Alpaca which provided the background colour) but I quite like the resulting “organic” edges and the fabric feels lovely to the touch.

"tapestry weaving "

Bert: WIP

The ceremonial cut off was a bit nerve wracking as I hadn’t seen him the right way up until that point, but once he was trimmed he made me chuckle so all those hours sitting side bent on an inappropriate chair (you’ll be pleased to hear that after this experience I have ordered an adjustable height chair) were worth it.

"doodle of a dog in tapestry"

Doggy Doodle 2: Bert in woven tapestry (with a crochet chain collar!)