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Last month Leah went on a two-day workshop to learn about tapestries from the weaver's side of the loom. Below is a review of the event that she has written for ICON magazine.


In March a group of textile conservators gathered eagerly at the Heritage Skills Centre, Lincoln Castle to learn more about the processes of tapestry weaving. Most, if not all of us, had some experience of working with either historic or more modern tapestries, but little to no hands-on experience of how they would originally have been woven, so the two-day course promised to be enlightening and challenging in equal measure. We were not disappointed in either respect.


Our tutor for the two-day course was Caron Penney, Master Weaver, formerly Tapestry Studio Director at West Dean, and founder of the ‘Weftfaced’ tapestry workshop. Caron was ably assisted by Katharine Swailes, also a Master Weaver with West Dean. 


The course started right at the very beginning (a very good place to start), with warping up a simple weaving frame, including guidance on warp count, tension and other considerations that we were able to recognise from ‘the other side’ of the process. Caron and Katharine were endlessly patient as most of us became quickly befuddled over slip knots and other things which had looked so easy in the demonstration, and everyone was soon ready to begin weaving.


The content of the course aimed to introduce techniques for forming shapes and creating shaded effects, working from both the front and the back of a tapestry. All materials were included and each weaver took away a sample to proudly show their friends and families at the end of the two days. Some even took home their frame, so keen were they to carry on practising their new skill. 


We began by weaving a simple diagonal shape, then blocks of colour to practice how to deal with slits – single interlocks, double interlocks and sewing up slits (something that I think we all felt comfortable with!).


Helped on by Caron’s relaxed, learner-driven style of teaching – where each new weaver progressed at their own pace and new techniques were introduced and demonstrated as and when the group were ready to move on (or even repeated more than once, if some sections of the group progressed faster than others) – the first day passed in no time at all, and the ‘home-time bell’ was only rung when it looked as though we might be locked in to the Castle overnight.


Day two continued in the same relaxed style, this time with the more complicated shading techniques – hatching, hachures, the demi duite and blending. These required more concentration, with a number of us committing that cardinal weaving sin: falling ‘out of shed’. Nevertheless, all mistakes were greeted with good humour; such was the friendly atmosphere between participants and tutors.


As the afternoon of the second day drew in, weavers were invited to view the tapestries from Doddington Hall, which are currently being conserved at the Heritage Skills Centre. This was a real treat for those who had not seen these tapestries before, but equally beneficial for those of us more familiar with them, as we looked at the techniques used by the 17th century weavers with new eyes and, I think it’s fair to say, even greater respect.


The second day was rounded off with that staple of textile conservation – tea and cake – and a chance to view each others’ work. Considering that we all worked with the same basic structure and techniques, the variety introduced through colour choice and individual styling was extraordinary. 


The course was very memorable, and utterly fascinating. The practical skills we learned will, I’m sure, help enormously in our work with tapestries as Conservators, giving us a new level of appreciation and understanding of these very special works of art. In addition though, I found spending two days immersed in a new craft skill, in the company of like-minded people immensely enjoyable. I hope very much that it is an experience I will be able to repeat in the future.



The proud new weavers, showing off their handiwork.


Lucy Godfrey

Audience Development and Collections Officer, Wirksworth Heritage Centre


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