THE days are gone when the walls of every palace, abbey, and great house would be covered in rich tapestries depicting religious or historical scenes; but the fine-art textile artist Nicola Moody feels that weaving still has a special place in the art world, in narrating experiences more sensitively than in other media.
She has been working as a volunteer for eight years with Azalea, a Christian charity in Luton which helps women and men damaged by commercial sexual exploitation, with prayer, friendship, and practical help in rebuilding their lives. She wanted to give a voice in textile language to five women whom she has been helping to overcome problems such as addiction, prostitution, and crime, and who bravely agreed to talk about their experiences.
Digging Deep by Nicola Moody
From this, she has created five poignant and beautiful woven hangings (6ft x 2ft) in varied colours and textures to represent physical and mental struggles, failures and triumphs, which will be seen in Portsmouth Cathedral and nine other cathedrals over the coming year.
Yarns, including wool, cotton, string, polyfilament (fishing line), and linen in varied thicknesses, are all used in the warp and weft to show different periods in the journey and how resolute or vulnerable the woman is. When the yarn is knotted within the cloth or on the surface, it indicates confusion and frustration, while large holes indicate despair and failure to cope. Colour is used symbolically to express influences and events dominating the woman’s life.
The colour brown, denoting drug addiction, and yellowy green, denoting methadone, used to reduce dependency, are prevalent throughout most narratives, but intervals of blues, pinks, reds, and light greens break up the sombre effect. Realistically, there is no fairytale ending; but a red line feeding through all five pieces represents support from Azalea and visible improvement. This commemorates Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho who hid two spies sent by Joshua to report back on its military strength, and was assured that when the Israelite army invaded, if she hung a red cord from her window, they would spare her and give her support.
Getting Clean is, overall, an optimistic piece. Heroin and cocaine at the beginning are taken over by a long period of methadone, but eventually there is a sense of being freed and moving up into a happier life, and casting off thick cords of green and white to hang loosely at the side. Imbalance is a disturbing piece, as the warp down one side is left bare, and the weft covering the other is knotted, representing the woman being deaf in one ear all her life and fighting to hear and be heard, but, with loving support, coming to terms with the incapacity.
Journeying begins happily. The woman is loved (little hearts are woven into the warp) and successful, but inner frustration leads her into a dissolute life and a spell in prison. She frees herself from this, but is tempted again and again. With support, however, she manages to get through to face another day.
Black and Blue is very dramatic. The bright-blue journey begins normally but is overtaken by evil black. They struggle and, at one point, the blue almost vanishes, but survives finally to overcome the black.
Digging Deep can seem depressing, with the open weave showing vulnerability and huge holes in the fabric; but they are all hemmed in by woven edges showing the presence of volunteers and the support that the woman receives and gets her through.
The fine craftsmanship of the tapestries can be appreciated on their own as pieces of art without knowing the story behind them, but there is an excellent accompanying video, and a loom with yarn for visitors to try their hand at.
“Tear and Repair”, supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain, is at Portsmouth Cathedral until 23 January; then the cathedrals of Blackburn (31 January-13 February), Manchester (13 February-13 March), Rochester (16 March-6 April), Liverpool (18-26 April), St Albans (2-17 May), Ripon (22 May-11 June), Peterborough (3-31 July), Derby (2-29 October), and finally Worcester (13 November-10 December). nicolamoody.co.uk/tear-and-repair