Two years ago, I bought a needlepoint tapestry kit, thinking it would be a fun thing to work on in all the spare time I didn’t have.

I picked one from The Lady with the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne), a famous series of medieval French tapestries.

I imagined my tiny New York apartment turning into something like this: CC BY 2.5

(but without the French tourists.

Actually they could be fun.)

I think art woven into fabric is so neat - super tactile, like you could imagine it flowing through your fingers instead of just sitting on a wall.

For a year, the tapestry looked like this:

Then came quarantine.

I started working on it in March 2020 during moderately boring video calls.

Painted canvas of Lady and the Unicorn with the hair filled in

Picking one color to work on for a while was nice - it’s like a graphic to-do list. My anxious quarantine brain loves those.

Sometimes the lighting was a bit weird –

Extra shadowy view of the canvas

or I wanted to avoid a shadow of my phone on the tapestry, so I took lots of photos where one side of the tapestry looks bigger than the other.

Canvas with some bits filled in and the frame off kilter

Starting to fill in that red background was awesome. I knew I wanted to save the whites for last so they didn’t run the risk of getting un-whited by the orange cheddar dust my fingers were inevitably coated in after my 5:30pm (or 3:30pm) quarantine happy hour.

Red background being filled in from the top down

I don’t know what happened between the last image and the next. I must’ve just stared at it really hard and then took another picture. I was probably distracted thinking about whether I should go to law school.

The same thing with slightly different lighting.

The Age of Red Fill Seeping Inexorably Downward started when I quit my job in September.

Section of red background beginning to be filled in.

Then I started worrying about running out of red. The tapestry came with its own wool, but it assumed purchasers would be competent enough needlepointers to know the difference between a continental stitch and a half cross stitch. Reader, I did not.

Turns out one of them (continental) uses about twice as much wool as the other one does, which is evident if you take a look at the back of the tapestry:

The back of the tapestry. A light red area in the top right is completely covered, whereas the dark red in the middle has columns of color with the canvas showing through in the middle.
The light red on the top right is continental stitch. The dark red in the middle is half cross.

I was also not sure how I was going to do those red and white berries (poisonous apples?) with super tiny dots in the top right. When you have lots of colors next to each other, the knots all pile up in the back and you inevitably end up trying to sew through a sea of tough knots, which is much harder to deal with than a sea of holes.

But I had that sweet, sweet fill down to a T.

More red added to the tapestry

By November, I started dreading finishing the tapestry - working on it was often the only thing keeping me sane during quarantine.

Almost finished tapestry

But my therapist says overcoming dread is the name of the game in 2020, so I finished it.

Finished tapestry

And I gave it a nice border. I was going to get it framed, but when I sweetly asked the nice art store people down the block how much it would cost, they said “Oh, between 3 and 5.” That’s between 3 and 5 HUNDRED DOLLARS. I was indignant but then I went down an internet rabbit hole about why framing is so expensive (something about all the shades of white) and got tired. So I’m going to wait until I get a job again before framing this.

Finished tapestry with a yellow border

And now, the gif you’ve been waiting for.

Time lapse gif of the tapestry getting finished

Updated: I’d been messing around with style transfers and I did one using my tapestry as the style image and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as the content image.

The Birth of Venus, but with a more tapestry-like look. Somewhat splotchy and blurry, lots of blues

Closer up:

The Birth of Venus, but with a more tapestry-like look. Somewhat splotchy and blurry, lots of blues

It’s interesting to compare it to the style transfer I did from the original Lady and the Unicorn tapestry:

A section of the Birth of Venus with a more detailed, pixelated look. Lots of repeated leaf images in the background

Code is here.