Tina Francis is a designer who makes her own tapestry kits. After meeting her at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, we decided to interview her to find out more about her fascinating journey into the craft world – from discovering tapestries and the mathematical nature of her work to how her crafts helped her through grief. We hope you enjoy reading this fascinating interview and look into how crafting influenced and helped her. Does it resonate with you, too?

A woman’s history

Tina started making her own designs in 2013 after completing a textile foundation course a few years previously. “For my year end show”, she says “I had been looking at embroidery transfers. I won a box of embroidery transfers in an auction and when I got it home I found that it contained a whole woman’s life in knitting and stitching patterns – from her going away outfit through to baby matinée jackets,and then onto school uniforms and embellishments for the home and finally back to baby knits again for her grandchildren. This unknown woman had spent her whole life knitting and stitching love – a true artist.”

Intrigued, Tina began to look at other “home crafts” and found many women crafters who did not see themselves as artists because “just something [they did]”. She decided she wanted to look closer into this – “I taught myself by finishing off second hand tapestries I found in charity shops” she said. It was from that she designed her first kit. “You could say I stitched on the unknown woman’s shoulders.”

Mathematics

“Maths is art for me”, Tina says, “I like rules and constraints. I used to be a software tester and developer, and I wrote instruction manuals and trained people in process. So really I have swapped pixels for stitches. I was always a maker [in the sense that] clients would come to me with a system requirement and I would create it and it would be used, the only difference now is that what I make can be held or touched.”

Tina encourages you to “use your stash” and use up what you have. Incidentally, that actually that was many of our knitters new year’s resolutions for the year (see here)! Tina creates ‘use your stash’ charts for people to follow. “They have tot be easy to follow” she says, because “I want people to use their stash of wool but not for it to be too taxing as this can often be off putting. Each chart uses less than 10 metres of any wool colour and so I am always designing with that constraint in mind. For many people the ‘Use your Stash’ range reintroduces them to stitch and so it’s important that the designs are built up from blocks of colour. [It’s] a bit like a patchwork quilt so that the stitcher can see progress and build their confidence. I grew up in the concrete city of Birmingham and so line and form are extremely important to me. I love concrete buildings and the way they can be sharp and yet welcoming.”

Crafting through grief

“As a maker”, says Tina “I am used to fixing what is broken and creating what is required [but] I have been unable to do this with grief. Process has ruled my career and so I have found grief difficult in the way it made me feel helpless for the first time in my life. I had had one of those years when many close people had died. I had been able to cope with it but then my friends started to have loved ones die too and I got angry because I couldn’t help them, [and] I couldn’t make it better.”

“Grief isn’t a straight line”, she explains, “I have looked out of a window for a few seconds that have lasted hours, and years have gone by so fast [yet] every day has been like wading through treacle. By stitching the seven stages [of grief] I felt that I could at least create a visual key to what was going on.”

“There are 7 stages of grief (some people list 5) – Shock and Denial, Pain and Guilt, Anger and Bargaining, Depression, Reflection and Loneliness, The Upward turn, Reconstruction, Acceptance and Hope. For each stage I stitched a small tapestry, and each tapestry built on what was displayed in the first so the final piece has all of the stages stitched into it. The first tapestry has only three colurs with navy blue being the dominant background, as more and more colour is added the pieces become more alive to me. When the piece was first shown someone came up to me and said that they could not wait to get back to the first piece, the one without colour, because that represented calm for them. My final piece represented normality for me but for them it represented Shock and Denial. So I learned a lot and now the exhibition is deliberately hanged without the stage they represent to me written underneath.

Future plans

“In 2018 I will exhibiting at retail fairs selling my kits and patterns across the UK. March will see the unveiling of a community project I have been working on for the last eight months at Stirchley Baths where over 150 people have contributed to a tapestry mural that measures 180cm by 120cm. I have stitched with children, elders, people in care homes and at memory cafes, the project has spawned its own regular stitch group at the baths which is the most important part for me because I believe that craft builds community. I am also working on an exhibition that will be in galleries at the end of 2018 beginning 2019 called same but different, I am stitching 100 small tapestrys all the same pattern but using different colour combinations to show how colour and the resonance of colour can change perception, it will represent the people that we are we are human but we are all different.”

Thanks to Tina for the fascinating interview. Find out more about her on her website by clicking here.

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