The Weavers of Magic

The-Caged-Birds-SongEarlier this year between 26 April to 28 August in the Sunley Room of the National Gallery in London, woven art was celebrated. The exhibition was called

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic

and the finished tapestry, ‘The Caged Bird’s Song’, was the artist’s creative work realised in wool, cotton and viscose by the weavers of the Dovecot Tapestry Studio, Edinburgh.

Preparatory-sketchesThe exhibition displayed the preparatory sketches and watercolours produced by Chris Ofili as he developed his ideas.

The tapestry was commissioned by the Clothworkers’ Company of the City of London and the final preparatory watercolour (below) was translated by hand and eye into the finished tapestry.


Made mostly of wool, with some cotton and viscose, the tapestry took nearly three years and over 6,000 hours for the Master Weavers to complete using 250 different colours.

The Dovecot Tapestry Studio in Edinburgh, where the weavers worked, was mentioned in all the accompanying literature as well as in the 15 minute video shown at the exhibition. In the National Gallery Press Release there was obviously a quote from the artist, Ofili.

“’The Caged Bird’s Song’ is a marriage of watercolour and weaving. I set out to challenge the weaving process, by doing something free-flowing in making a watercolour, encouraging the liquid pigment to form the image, a contrast to the weaving process. With their response, which is an interpretation rather than a reproduction, the weavers have paid a type of homage to the watercolour that I gave them as well as to the process of weaving.”

There were also quotes from Dr Minna Moore Ede, the Curator of ‘Weaving Magic’, from Dr Gabriele Finaldi, the Director of the National Gallery, from Peter Langley, Chair of the Clothworkers’ Collections and Archives Committee and from David Weir, the Dovecote Studios Director, but there were no quotes nor a single namecheck for the actual weavers!

This beautifully and skilfully blended work creates a rich colourful tapestry interpretation of the Ofili watercolour.  And, I think the Master Weavers should be clearly named. After asking my sister when she visited the National Gallery to check, again, for their names as I thought I’d missed the obvious credits somewhere and she had had no luck, I asked on Instagram ‘Who were the weavers?’ Very kindly @Cherry_Stalk directed me to the information. The weavers were

Freya Sewell

Jonathan Cleaver

Louise Trotter

Emma-Jo Webster

Naomi Robertson

The permanent home for this contemporary art collaboration will be in the Clothmakers’ Hall in the City of London. I hope they, at least, will clearly acknowledge the weavers.


And, here is a 44 second video showing the Master Weavers in action creating the tapestry.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

11 thoughts on “The Weavers of Magic”

    1. Oh it was just a single room exhibition, but being a ‘textiles’ art person I made the effort. And, then really, really got a bee in my bonnet about who the weavers were!!!! – As you can probably tell.

  1. I’m not crazy about the overall picture, but I LOVE the closeups of the sections and the intricacy of the rainbow of colors. I agree, weavers must be mentioned. I also enjoyed the video. It reminded me of intarsia knitting with the bobbins. Thank you, this was great to see.

    1. I am in total agreement, not fussed about the overall piece, but sections were individually beautiful. I guess though that without the whole the artist’s intent and meaning are lost.

      1. I suppose these days it the work taken in its entirety that is viewed as a success or not, but in the distant future I could image parts of a textile like this being much appreciated even in quite small pieces.

      2. Yes, the complexity of the work is uniform over the whole piece, it looks like. I am imagining it as the kind of thing we look at today that was made 500 years ago or whatever, as you said – in fragments that survive.

      3. Messages might be constructed by the artist, but are never stable, and all art is open to varying audience responses isn’t it? I would think even more so these days with contemporary art.

  2. How interesting that this post came through now, as my writers’ group have just finished critiquing one of our member’s manuscript, titled “Yarn” and woven around the story of wool and multi media art using wool and paint. I don’t mind this finished article, perhaps if it wasn’t displayed on a grey, decorated background it might have had more allure. I certainly admire the close-ups! And the work of those weavers of course.

    1. Mmm guess what – I don’t actually know if the grey wall ‘background’ was especially commissioned for this exhibition. On close inspection looks like it was. I agree with you, I think it detracts from the tapestry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: