Walthamstow Tapestry, Grayson Perry

I recently had a weekend in London, and got to see Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow Tapestry at the newly refurbished William Morris Gallery. The visit fitted really well into this assignment as I have written research points on both men.

Copyright The Metro 2012

This tapestry was the first of his large scale tapestries completed in 2009. It has been woven on a computerised Jacquard loom, meaning that the massive 15m long piece can be completed in one and a half days!  Tapestry would not be a very practical medium for Perry if such technology were not available, as the content is so politically satirical, it is immediately relevant to life today.

I spent an age looking at this work as the more you look, the more detail you see. The first this that strikes you about it is that it looks incredibly colourful, but on closer insepction the colour palette is actually very narrow. The way that the piece is displayed on a curved wall works very well, as there are parallels between the start and finish of the narrative. We have birth at one end on a simple quilt, and death at the other on a second quilt design. The river of blood runs around the top, and the yellow brick road around the bottom. The thought processes were all set out on the written panel accompanying the exhibition, but the themes were quite easy to follow without this. The edges of the tapestry are drawn in a freehand and loose style which is characteristic of Perry’s tapestries.

The tapestry is littered with age-relevant trade names and observational depictions of modern life, but any perception of prejudice comes from the viewer and what they project onto the work. I wondered if this was another reason that the piece seems so colourful, as we imagine all the trademarks and logos jumping out from the wall.  Floral motifs are dotted across the tapestry, a nod to William Morris and a device to mirror the health of the subject as they move through life. We even have fleur-de-lis urinary incontinence near the end.

One thing I did notice was a wrinkling of the tapestry that looked like sagging of large blocks of one colour. I think that this is always going to be a problem when large areas of one colour are used as I think it is owven like a double cloth, and the colour changes anchor the top layer to the back.

The rest of the museum is well worth a visit, and it was lovely to have the things I had previously written about illustrated with the actual artefacts. Seeing a recreation of the Morris and Co showroom was a particular treat.

During the weekend, I also made time to visit a few other exhibitions. Spare Parts at the Rag Factory was about prosthetic limbs, half of the space devoted to new technologies and designs and the other half was art incorporating discarded prostheses. The Wellcome Trust had an exhibition called ‘Superhuman’ about human augmentation in general, and another ‘Medicine Today’ which was an interesting mix of art, design and medical sciences.



Final Weaving Sample

Having found an image and made a yarn wrapping I was particularly inspired by, I decided to make a weaving that was midway between the two sample briefs. I wanted to make a representation of a design I found pleasing, but was also interested in the interplay between warp and weft brought about by a looser weave than a tapestry.

This is a postcard of a book cover that can be found in the Bodlean library. I love the contrast of curved and square geometry as well as areas of high and low contrast with adjacent shapes. The yarn wrapping was made with a selection of DMC tapestry wools, acrylic yarn and a chunky alpaca Rowan yarn for the gold. It is only after I started to develop this further I realised I seem to have an ongoing  definite Bauhaus leaning! I visited a friend’s house where they have a woven tapestry displayed that they bought in rural South America. The chunky alpaca was reminiscent of this for me, both in colour and texturally. A notable thing about that tapestry was that the warp had remained quite visible, although was of undyed cotton and not part of the design.

I decided to take a quarter of the design to sketch, as I wanted bigger shapes in my piece, and felt that the asymmetry would create more tension in the design.

I  then transferred the design onto graph paper with watercolour, having already painted watercolour stripes inspired by the yarn wrap for the warp. Never to make life easy for myself, I decided to tackle perfect circles and straight seams in my weaving!

You can see on the sketch above that I also played around with how to present the fringing. I decided on plain knots in pairs finally as it worked well to draw attention to the warp design. Rather than weaving the smaller red circles, I decided to stitch crochet circles instead. This came finally out of a discussion at West Dean about surface embellishment and ornamentation, and partly to solve the problem of squaring off of curves once the design becomes too small. In terms of yarn selection, I used one strand of chunky yarn and 2 strands of other yarns to keep the picks level. I also substituted the pale yellow with a strand each of warm yellow acrylic baby yarn and shiny copper synthetic yarn. This was in order to create a contrast of textures and solid versus broken colour.

The alpaca chunky made a really solid heading cord, and having a coarser surface texture meant that it gripped to the chunky warp yarn making it stable. The weaving process was quicker than my other samples as I was following a pattern, but I was held up significantly by a long wait for out of stock yarn. I had really underestimated how much yarn I was going to need given that I was using it 2-ply. At the beginning of the weave, I checked the scale of my weaving by checking that a square on my paper design was a true square in the weave. This was important to ensure that the circular elements of the design worked. I was really happy with how the variation in thickness as well as colour in the warp worked with the weft design and felt that it carried the stripey elements of the design through the piece. In the stripey part I took the advice of the weavers at West Dean and alternately used interlocking and slit techniques where the colours met. Unfortunately, having three slit seams in one pick caused a widening of the weaving in this part. This was particularly annoying as I had been really pleased with how even my tension at the selvedges had been on the loom!

I have got the weaving bug and having read Margo Selby’s book of designs, I would move on to experiment with different lifting patterns, and how this could work with mixtures of textures as well as colour. I feel I have an understanding now of how an inspiring image or feeling can be interpreted into weave.