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When I saw candles in a pick-and-pick sample in July 2021, an idea arrived fully formed. I would weave a candle for every person who died of pancreatic cancer in 2020, one of them would be for my husband. Finally, here was something practical that I could do to honour his memory. But could I really do it? I was a working single mum with nursery-aged children, and this was my first attempt at pick and pick. Why would I imagine I could weave such a tapestry?

I had joined an online tapestry weaving course in August 2020. Having cared for my young family through my husband’s illness, his death and the first Covid lockdown, I desperately needed something that was just for me. Most days I wove for 20 minutes. Many days exhaustion won out and I slept instead. I found the weaving soothing. There was joy in seeing my tapestry grow. After a year I had woven a sampler and a few postcard-size tapestries. I knew I wanted to keep weaving. But taking on such a large project seemed crazy. Life already felt like a lot, would this be too much? Would it overwhelm me with grief to weave about my loss?

I wove a small sample. Then a slightly larger one. In December 2021 the cause of death data for 2020 became available and I learned I would need to weave 9,973 candles. I wove another sample. I decided wool was too fuzzy and tried cotton. I started to research how to build a large pipe loom. I wove another sample. In August 2022 I bought the pipe I needed to build a loom. I ordered the yarn. I was committed. I wouldn’t have the loom built and warped until January. Every step in the process took an age, but incremental progress eventually gets results, and I was in this for the long haul. I wove what I could when I could. I tried not to think about how far there was to go. By March I had woven just 1000 candles. I was also feeling increasingly drained. The events of the last three years had taken their toll.

I was signed off work and weaving became lifeline. We know making things with our hands is good for our mental health, but the reasons why are less clear. For me, the weaving gave a sense of purpose. I was focused enough to prevent unhealthy rumination, but not more than my tired brain could manage. I felt a sense of accomplishment that grew with each new row of candles. When life felt impossibly hard, this at least I could do. There were times when I just sat and cried: when the sheer number of candles and what that meant hit home, when I wove my husband’s candle. These tears felt right. Grief is so hard, but it is an expression of love. The weaving gave me space to sit with my grief and a way to express the scale of my loss.

I finished weaving in August 2023. I had no idea what to do next. I cut the tapestry off the loom and put it in a drawer. Had I not found The Weaving Rooms, Darlington, earlier that summer, it might still be in that drawer. Eventually, I took it to The Weaving Rooms and with the generous advice of Jane Riley and Becky Sunter, and the encouragement of the other members of the tapestry group, I started the finishing process. A few months later it was ready to hang. Jane’s gentle questioning about my plans for the tapestry got me thinking. I had hoped to use the project to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. This cancer is so deadly because the symptoms are vague, and diagnosis often comes too late. Wider knowledge of the symptoms could drive lifesaving early diagnosis (if you have persistent “tummy troubles’, pain in your stomach or lower back, please ask your doctor “could it be pancreatic cancer?” You can find out more at ). I had posted about the project on Instagram (@openshedweaving) but couldn’t reach many people that way. I applied to Heallreaf 5. I had no real hope that I would be successful, it was just important that I had tried. I was stunned to have the tapestry selected and I’m so grateful to be granted such a platform.

Weaving the Candles tapestry has taught me so much. It has shown me how much can be achieved by simply following one step with the next. It has brought me into a wonderfully supportive community. It has given me hope. Perhaps there is a way to build a life around my loss, one tapestry at a time.

The photo above shows Rebecca, at her loom, with 'Candles' in progress.

Do post your responses to Rebecca's blog - have you had a similar experience? Did you find that weaving a tapestry has helped you deal with, or come to terms with, a significant event in your life?  How does the weaving process affect you on a day-to-day basis? Do you find it calming or therapeutic or does it present stresses that are difficult to manage?


Terri Bryson, 1st May 2024
Your story touches many hearts. What a beautiful remembrance! An excellent reminder of the importance of art whether we understand why or not. Thank you for sharing in a way that will likely help many people.

Sally Reckert, 30th Apr 2024
It’s humbling to read your words Rebecca, I only hope that I remember them should my husband die before me.

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