Monday, 17 October 2011

Year One

My first year review is on Friday so it's time to take stock of the last year and what I have learnt.

I made the right decision!
Embarking on a PhD, particularly when you are just 4 years into your career, is a nerve-racking experience. Will I manage to adapt? Will my writing be good enough? Will I be able to find a job afterwards? Will I regret my decision? As a natural born worrier, all of these thoughts went through my head BUT I made the right decision.

Research introduces you to new worlds
I knew that my research on Dovecot would involve the study of designers and artists I had never looked at before. I didn't realise, however, the scope of subjects which it could lead to: social history, textile manufacture, design reform in the home, stained glass, print-making... Which leads me on to the next thing I have learnt...
Textile designed by Eduardo Paolozzi for Horrockses Fashions

My capacity for enthusiasm is larger than I thought
Having the time and freedom to focus on nothing but research (with the occasional work diversion) has reignited my enthusiasm, whether it be for Parisian architecture, Sax Shaw's stained glass or Modernist interior design.
Sax Shaw stained glass at the National Museum of Scotland

That I really, really like Graham Sutherland's work

The number of blog posts featuring his name is testament to this.

Writing about about handmade objects inspires you to make your own
My knitting has been encouraged by the tapestries, textiles and related objects I spend all day looking at and reading about.

My wee friend Yasmin with her knitted bunny
Doing a PhD is lonely, something I had been warned of before, BUT time is a luxury and I'm enjoying the opportunity to think without distraction. Plus the CDA project means I get to work with my lovely colleagues Elizabeth and Grainne.

People are generous
When not on my own, the people I have met through galleries, conferences and tapestry viewings have been generous with their knowledge and advice. 

Taking a break
The most frustrating aspect of writing is that the words don't always flow when you want/need them to. This is an aspect of creativity which didn't often happen in the world of work. Taking a break from writing and studying to recharge is often a guilt-laden event but essential.

I'm sure as my review approaches I will think of many more things, and I have purposefully left out the endless list of names, dates, styles etc which I have obviously picked up along the way.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Though I am not a weaver, I am a knitter, so this mini blog is a bit off-piste but still woolly. When in Paris, we stayed with my partners family in a lovely town called Enghien-les-Bains. One of my favourite shops in France is AGATHA jewellers and in Enghien they had the most amazing knitted window displays... or are they crocheted?


Also, I am currently reading Joanne Turney's book The Culture of Knitting - it is one of the best academic books I have ever read and would really recommend it to anyone interested in knitting.

Other Tapestries in Paris

In addition to the Gobelins, I visited the Jean Lurcat Museum in Angers, to see some of the tapestries designed by the man often held responsible for the renaissance in modern tapestry in France and beyond. Again, photography was not allowed but some images can be seen on the website, linked above. My overall feeling was one of disappointment. Lurcat has a very distinctive style, often featuring bright, almost acidic colours and supernatural or religious imagery. Visually they are striking but overwhelm the tapestry element - they are woven so finely you have to look quite close to realise what they are. In addition to this, many of his designs, especially the enormous suite The Song of the World (Le Chant du Monde) feature large expanses of black. The hours spent by the weavers on this must have been mind-numbingly dull and it seems a waste of tapestry's potential as a medium.

So, leaving aside Lurcat, here are a selection of photographs of other tapestries seen in Paris. I would encourage anyone visiting Paris to go to the Cluny Museum, now called the National Museum of the Middle Ages, and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.
Augustus and the Sybil, early 16th Century, National Museum of the Middle Ages, Netherlands

Detail of above

Crucifixion, 16th Century, National Museum of the Middle Ages, Brussels; this is an exquisite tiny tapestry

The Art of Sword Forging - Tubalcain & Giohargus, 1st quarter of the 16th Century, National Museum of the Middle Ages, Netherlands; this tapestry was part of a wonderful exhibition about swords, which also featured a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

The Liberal Arts, c.1520, National Museum of the Middle Ages, Tournai

Detail of above

Sacred Love - Tapestry with the Arms of Guy de Baudreuil, 1515-1520, Bruges, Musee des Arts Decoratifs


After a lovely research trip to Paris, it's time for me to take stock of what I found on my tapestry trail. My first port of call was the Gobelins tapestry workshop, part of France's Mobilier National.

The tour of the workshop took our group to two weaving areas - the first of these was concerned with weaving tapestries on basse-lisse (low looms) on which the warps are almost horizontal. Unfortunately we could not take photos inside but I have managed to find a picture online:
Here is an image of the haute-lisse (high looms) at Dovecot:
David Cochrane weaving Easter Day, designed by William Crozier, 2009
One of the major differences is that the on the upright looms at Dovecot, the weavers work from the front. On a basse-lisse loom at the Gobelins, the weaver works form the back. Because of this they have to view the original design in a mirror: this is because the work as they see it from the back is a mirror image, but also because the only way they can view the front of the work is also through a mirror. In the photo of the basse-lisse loom you can see a white-framed mirror resting near the warps.

The tapestries being woven at Gobelins were very fine, with a high number of warps per inch. When I was there it seemed like a laborious process, with work progressing slowly. When I mentioned this to Jonathan Cleaver, one of the weavers at Dovecot, he said that in fact the low loom technique is supposed to be faster as it has a pedal system to bring the back warps to the front during weaving. Why did it seem so slow to me? I think the answer is to do with my perception than the French weavers' actual speed. Because of the use of mirrors the process seemed less fluid than the weaving I had witnessed previously - instead of glancing at the design, the weavers had to stop and place the mirror. It was an eye-opening experience and raised many more questions than I had thought it would.

The other area of the workshop was concerned with the weaving of Savonnerie rugs - you can see a picture on this blog. These are woven much like an upright tapestry, except the weft is looped around each warp, created a loop of yarn which is then trimmed with scissors to create the rug's surface.

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