It's our place, woven with love into a work of art

By Lindy Laird

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Beverly Compter working on the large tapestry at The Bach in Whangarei, with her assistant Naoko Watson in the background. Behind them is the artist's design of the community-created piece. Photo/John Stone
Beverly Compter working on the large tapestry at The Bach in Whangarei, with her assistant Naoko Watson in the background. Behind them is the artist's design of the community-created piece. Photo/John Stone

The largest tapestry ever attempted in Whangarei will be around for hundreds of years and will have taken a dedicated group - with a little help from their friends - nearly three years to finish.

The Whangarei Community Tapestry is currently being woven at The Bach, the arts and craft co-operative store in the Town Basin.

Project Co-ordinator, fibre artist and weaver extraordinaire Beverly Compter said the scene on the six metre long artwork is a "snapshot" of Whangarei circa 2013. It was designed by group member and artist Jackie Adambrooke who was inspired by the large Christchurch Millennium Tapestry.

While the three leaders of the project are Mrs Compter, Ms Adambrooke and Glenda Ferguson, "community" is an operative word in the making of the work that will eventually hang in Forum North. Visitors to the shop weaving room are invited to sit down and have a go, skilled at weaving or not.

The design has some easy and some more intricate parts to it, in order to allow people of all experience to have a hand in making the tapestry.

On one occasion a group of Indonesian seamen from a ship at Marsden Point came in and began weaving. "They knew exactly what to do and did it beautifully," Mrs Compter said.

Conversations with visitors include hearing stories by some very elderly women who had worked in spinning and weaving mills in England between the world wars.

When the group of Whangarei weavers came up with the "love it here" tapestry idea in 2012, they set about seeking grants to make the large loom and buy materials, and Whangarei District Council promised a wall in Forum North to hang the finished piece.

The loom was made by Brian Ferguson out of well-seasoned macrocarpa from a tree that came down during Cyclone Bola in 1988.

"Where possible we have used Northland product, including the wool which we got from Gordon and Vivienne Priests' romney flock at Towai," Mrs Compter said.

As there was too much wool required for it to be hand spun, the fleece had to be a minimum of 3.5 inches long to go through spinning machines. That task was done by a boutique spinning factory in Canterbury and the nearly 20kg of wool came back at a very consistent high quality.

The job of hand-dying the wool, into no less than 120 colours, was done by Mrs Compter. It contains six metres of warp twine (vertical strings) imported from Sweden, and 1015 threads.

The weaving started in April 2013 and will probably take another 12 to 15 months.

After that will be another three months of steaming the entire piece, sewing on a backing and other finishing work, Mrs Compter said.

Until the day the tapestry is taken off the loom in a "cutting off" ceremony, no-one will have seen its full face - its sheer size meaning part of it is always on the other side of the loom.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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