Q&A with Bluey tapestry maker
88-year-old Geoff Richmond has been making tapestries for over 35 years. We asked him to create a Bluey tapestry and were blown away by the result. We chatted to him about his craft and what it took to produce our bespoke Bluey tapestry.
How did you get into tapestry?
My mother taught me a little bit of embroidery and how to knit and darn socks when I was young. We lived through the Second World War and you had to make do and mend. So that’s why I learned some of these basic skills.
When I did my national service I joined the Royal Airforce Mountaineering Association and embroidered this badge.
That started things off, and then my wife and I went down to the Cotswolds one time to stay at a bed and breakfast. A chap there had done some cushion covers and I was interested in them and he showed me how to do them. It’s such a simple stitch. Come up vertically from the back horizontally over one strand of the canvas and up vertically in front of that. Easy!
When did you complete your first tapestry?
About 35 years ago. The local church hall had a flea market and I picked up this tapestry someone had just started for £3 which was quite a bit of money back then. I finished it off and then I copied it again. After that, I just found the odd kits in charity shops and that’s how it all began.
Did you ever do it professionally or just for pleasure?
Most people are very happy to have a cushion as a present but unfortunately, nobody wants to give you any money for them! You can’t do it as a paid hobby. Just a hobby you enjoy.
People do sometimes commission me to do tapestries as wedding gifts etc. Others have asked me to do portraits of beloved pets. Some of my tapestries have travelled the world. There are some in France, America, Canada, Germany, all over the UK, New Zealand and now Bluey is going to be going to Australia.
You created this tapestry by eye based on some photos. How hard was it to recreate the Bluey look and feel? Can you talk us through the process?
First I lay the picture [of the four characters] on a glass table with the canvas over the top of it and shone a bright light on it from underneath and traced the outline. Then I used an A3 printout of just the houses and drew them in the background. I asked for images of plants and bushes and clouds in keeping with the Bluey style. So it’s a combination of lots of different elements of Bluey. If I wasn’t careful it would have looked a bit out of proportion.
Were any bits harder to do than others?
It’s quite difficult to do curved shapes with a tapestry stitch but you can get more detail with a smaller stitch. All the stitches are going one way so you can get a nice curve going one way.
Canvasses come in two different weaves. There’s a single one and a double thread one. With Bluey I used the double thread canvas to show more detail. There’s actually 250-300 different embroidery stitches you can use on tapestries if you want to get detail but I just stitch with a simple one. It works out fine.
Also, I like the back to look as good as the front if I can. Some people make a dreadful mess of the back because it won’t be seen but if you work it out carefully you don’t need to waste any wool at all.
How long did it take to complete?
41 days working on average about 8 hours a day. So around 328 hours in total.
Do you know how many stitches and colours there are in it? And how much thread did you use altogether?
There are 64800 stitches and 50 colours in it. I used 280 metres of thread approx. I’ve got sacksful of wool in the loft!
Where do you usually get your inspiration for tapestries from?
Nature and animals are a big inspiration often from photos in books. I’ve done some orchids copied from a book, Magnolias copied from a curtain. When I was younger I also used to copy the design and then reverse it so you end up with two facing one way and one facing the other which looks effective.
What do you like most about the craft?
It’s an enjoyable thing to do if you’ve got the patience and tenacity to do it. It’s creative. What’s interesting about tapestry is that it’s a craft that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. It’s exactly the same process now as it was then.
I do it when I’m watching the television. You can get totally absorbed in it and it’s a calming thing to do. The beauty of it is that it’s like painting with wool. As you fill it in it gradually comes to life and it’s a joy to see in the end.
How many tapestries have you made over the years?
I’ve got over 60 tapestries in the house. I’ve done about 300 tapestries altogether. Possibly more!
What do you do with them all?
I have some of them made up as cushions. I’ve had quite a few covering stools and things like that. I also had a large screen made up with 18 tapestries on it.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to take up tapestry as a craft?
Start off with a kit which includes everything you need. They supply the canvas and the needle and all the wool. They come printed already so you know where the colours go.
Start out with a simple design with not too many colours. My advice is to do one colour at a time and always have it on a frame. Some people do it loose over their hand but if you do that it distorts the whole thing. So you have to then go through a process of blocking where you spray it with water and reshape it and let it dry. But if you do it on a frame it won’t go out of shape.
You can also pick up frames and kits in charity shops. A lot of people get them as presents and don’t have the patience to finish them so it’s a good place to find them.
Watch Geoff in action.