A handwoven composition of 24,722,435 stitches in 6 movements woven as 1 length,
Dark Hedges is a journey through fog & fear set on a quiet road in north Antrim.
Everything is illuminated : I discover and accept love and loss.
As each row of cashmere weft is carefully placed in this warp, the Dark Hedges journey becomes woven, three allegorical strands in tension - stories that can’t co-exist, but do.
I started my journey thinking I knew where it would lead, clutching a carefully distilled handful of remnants and shards of memories, aiming for alchemy, to make fresh and fruitful beautiful memories now broken and sour, and maybe just maybe to arrive at restoration - the far side of an unbridgeable chasm.
But somehow I ran straight for the gauntlet, surrendering these expressions and experiences I had intended to weave to God instead of to the cloth, swapping them at his feet for something new and unmapped. Only after each piece took its new form on the loom, did its unknown questions emerge from the fog, their answers hurtling me forwards on a journey to creative and spiritual freedom. Safety isn't situational. Question, Forgive, Venture through the shadows towards the unknown - bravery is vulnerable - and love is the most dangerous thing of all…
What follows is a deconstruction of expectations and a terrifying re-construction of hope woven into reality. The words below hint at the story, but only the pieces themselves tell it.
The three secret strands of Dark Hedge's beginnings twist into being, and a journey begins.
Little is known about the road ahead beyond a careful distillation of the present place - a tunnel of trees looming into the shadows and mist. The first five thousand beats of weft take us on a panoramic study of the road ahead, through a tunnel, a glimpse of past, a glimmer of future...
In the threads is this place, and all the drama of its shadows along with the deeper story, the figurative dark hedges this journey is about. The threads in the warp here, which will continue through all the Dark Hedges scarves, are meticulously mirrored here by those in the weft, intensifying to the cashmere crescendo of the scarf's nape of dense bark. As the scarf is cut away from the rest, and washed and felted, the fresh crispness of the linen will give way to the supple softness of the silk.
As a little boy, I had these secret places I felt safe, where I could be free, where I could open up my heart and my imagination and play, just in my head, or maybe with a pencil and paper, or a camera, or some precious possession that I dared not take out elsewhere. I'd escape to these secret havens and just be by myself, for hours, at peace. Freedom felt like wings.
Now, as a man, some of those places no longer exist. And when found, even more precious than it was then. I feel want to hide there, tell no one, keep it secret, but in tension and contrast with that fear of exposure to danger is my desire to share the most precious thing I have with someone who is worth it, to risk it all to explore that place together, knowing nothing is safe, but choosing, just for this moment, to forget that, and to find freedom everywhere.
III. I wish I had been braver
The third scarf in the Dark Hedges collection comes from a place just before the horizon - a garden at the edge of the world, past the city, past the beach, past the frontier of land and sea.
This piece is about being brave enough to risk everything, knowing that risk, learning to comprehend that cost, and to still choose to sink like sand into one messy sea, even though the moment to do so has come and has long since passed.
In this piece I retrace the steps that inspired my previous scarf, 'The Walk', asking questions to which I had no answers.
In a storm of conflicting feelings, memories, desires and hopes, some eroded and faded, some cleaved deep in my heart, however hard I tried to forget them, everything is torn loose, pounded and purified in an indescribable storm.
When I wove ‘The Walk' it spoke not only of a place explored, but a place shared.
Every part, when seen or touched, told the story, from the smoothened purple-brown rocks to the scratchy shimmering chartreuse-coloured lichen that bespeckled them, to the infinite horizonless soft blue sea, to the eyes of the person I walked with - their lips, their hair, their pale ivory freckles... But this new piece no longer tells that story. Those details have been eroded away.
Now it speaks a confession, an acknowledgement and acceptance of the entangled messy threads of our lives, and after the most ferocious weathering, the remnant truth knows what it is called, 'Utinam Fortior' - I wish I had been braver. The surface of the sea is stronger here, even more beautiful now that its dominance and unyielding strength are acknowledged and surrendered to.
The parts of the story that can't be weathered away remain. It tells the story of what's left, of 'drowning in enough'. It doesn't deny what's now gone, in many ways it mourns it, but it unmistakingly acknowledges that 'I wish I had been braver', I wish... I wish and feel and have learnt things that I cannot yet find the words for, but that somehow I can weave.
IV. Naked will I love Thee still
When you move into your own home, you make it yours, and yet as you strip away the layers of its occupancy, wallpaper, paint, red stripes, green dots, ivory flowers, you wonder and delve into the stories of the marks each generation has left on your space, imagining how the same room was a different place. Often 'blank slates' are created by a skim of plaster, or the inter-layer of lining paper, but to get to the bare bones of a space, to truly know it, we've got to strip past these until we can see what it's made of. But these layers mesh together and erode into each other too, sometimes jarringly, and it's in this half-stripped space that this piece opens.
These jarred jagged lines of layers appear in the deconstructed and rapidly shifting woven pattern of the scarf, which was created and then destroyed before being woven in its deconstructed state to represent these layers being stripped back, asking that brave question, “Naked Will I love thee still?” It’s a jarring stop on the Dark Hedges journey, because it needs to be asked before it can be answered, and until it’s warped and woven, that answer isn’t known.
On the most cosmetic surface, this piece touches on the concept of consummation, which in a fantasy is always the climax. But when it finds its bearings, this scarf immediately gets to work - it strips away that fantasy, and every incremental layer that it is built upon, previous layers of hopes and dreams of this person and others before them, until it hits the unshakable surface of 'nakedness' - not just a physical one - bare bricks, wood and stone, but an emotional and spiritual one, with all the dreams and hopes, feelings and fears that I've pinned to the veneer, stripped away.
Often when we're in love, or in lust, we feel like we've never felt this before, but the truth is that we have, and that we will again. This feeling is potentially just another layer of wallpaper on our hearts, albeit the one in occupying the most recent past. The test of endurance comes only in getting past every layer of surface, down to the barebones structure of naked truth of who we are and who it is that we love.
This is where I'm finally free, surrounded in the surrender by answers to questions I couldn't find words to ask. As 'Nudus faciam te amo?' took its form in my notebooks, computer programs and on the loom, I knew that when I saw it woven, I would have the answer to those questions.
In 2008, I hand-drew the circular pattern that surrounds each of these blue 'willow pattern' plates, they told a story, of a journey, of a relationship. As I set out to create this piece, 'nudus faciam te amo?' I knew I needed to start by looking at these. These were something I made, a layer of paper, to mark the occupancy of that space by someone else, a long time ago, and yet, it was something I felt strongly enough about to create these painstaking pieces of artwork. I chose to use that same shade of deep blue, which I've never woven with before, to represent the concept of the layers of occupation, decoration and long-painted-over hopes and dreams.
This piece goes farther in the depths of its inspirations, seeking to do more than merely subvert pattern and convention. As it is a woven piece, it must both break the rules of pattern and keep the rules of structure. The ‘blue willow pattern’ colour of its weft represents both broken fragments of fine china that find their way into the cracks of a home, and at the same time, it reverberates the hidden stories of revolution that artists used to hand paint into the patterns on those plates.
This fifth piece in the Dark Hedges collection shares a story of forgiveness on the journey to freedom - a layer below the surface of everything that took shape in the past. "539" begins with the same woven structure as "I Wish I Had Been Braver" and gently relinquishes this structure, fading into a pattern that celebrates freedom and transition, a pattern that's about a journey of captured joy.
The 5,000,000 stitches of cashmere, linen and silk are broken up into flowing repeats, multiples of 7, 77 and 539, with two contrasting disruptions breaking the journey to acknowledge the cost of answering the question of what it means to forgive, drawing from the Biblical story where Jesus teaches his disciples to keep forgiving one another. After each interruption, the pattern gives way again to the continuous flow of green, intentionally using the same palette as 'Eponym', but representing instead the spiritual journey of 'Dark Hedges' rather than the physical one.
I love this intersection on 539, how it interrupts the flow like the tollbooth on a motorway, and yet how the new pattern that I developed, specifically to tell the story of forgiveness in this scarf, continues as if the interruption never happened. Here, as we come to the end of this scarf, we return once more to where we started, the structural composition of order and beauty that differentiates stories by colour in the first three scarves of 'Dark Hedges'. We'll wonder whether it's perception or reality that has changed, and we'll find that it's both.
VI. Paris | I want it to be You
The sixth and final piece in the Dark Hedges collection. The journey of freedom continues past forgiveness and hard questions into something thrilling and joyous, a hope for something more. Paris is the city that tells the story of coming together in love, the city of a million dreams, of couples stealing kisses on every corner and postcards marked with bisous.
This piece shares a scary, secret, hope-laden dream like it’s real, in another entirely new pattern, because it IS real. If it’s woven and worn, it lives on in this scarf. For me, this piece came from standing in front of the Opera House and peering at it through scores of tiny Eiffel Tower souvenirs in different colours. I smiled.
When I wove this piece, I wanted to capture all my feelings in that experienced moment, and the hope of that potential future moment, and the words ‘I want it to be You’. It takes 68,484 stitches in this scarf before the pattern finally emerges from the interwoven threads of cashmere, linen and silk, revealing tiny Eiffel towers throughout - a celebration of a point of both destination and departure, into a hopeful future.
'Eponym' at the Glenariff Forest Park.