This week’s interview is with Mia Hansson. I first met Mia when she and her husband came over from England to do a Vikings re-enactment event. A few years later, they graciously allowed me to use their house as a base as I roamed around to places like York, Shrewsbury, Portsmouth, and wherever else the train decided to take me.
But she’s not simply a great person, she’s incredibly skilled too. She’s also, like so many doing re-enactment, an overachiever. The Bayeux Tapestry is not a small thing. It’s 20 inches by 230 feet! That’s like a receiver catching a 76 yard pass! No one would be brave enough to embroider a full-sized replica would they? Well, here’s Mia…
Interview: Mia Hansson
What is your quest?
I have given myself 10 years to make a full scale replica of the Bayeux tapestry, the way I believe it may have looked when it was first created, before any repair work was required. I was alerted to someone’s attempt to make a half scale version and decided that I wanted to make a tapestry too. However, if you are going to make something like this, it needs to be done properly. I’m now 2 years and 9 months into the project and I have completed over 17 m, which means I have less than 52 m left to embroider.
At a museum in Reading, UK is a replica made in the 1800s by the Leek Embroidery Society. That version was censored. Stallions turned into mares and nude men are wearing underpants. My tapestry will be true to the original, which can be seen at the Bayeux tapestry museum in northern France.
Alongside the embroidery, I’m writing a book in which I try to capture thoughts and ideas, as well as experiences that come with the project. I hope to publish it at the time of project completion.
What is your favorite color?
I love many colours, but if I have to pick one I would opt for red, the kind of red that goes towards blue, not yellow. Blue is a close second and a soft pink. There are both red and blue in the tapestry, which only contains seven shades: red, yellow, light and dark blue, light and dark green and a dark mixture of green and blue.
The basic images on the tapestry are horses, men, ships and buildings. Although ships take forever to embroidery, they make a real impact when they are done and so do the horses. Big blocks of colour and that’s satisfying to create. If someone was to pick one image from the Bayeux tapestry to embroidery, I would recommend a ship or a horse. Stay well clear of buildings with a tiled roof or bricked walls. They are frustrating to stitch, due to the bitty nature of many small details.
There are several different stitches used on the original tapestry and I try my best to use the same in the correct places. The couch stitch is the main one and it has become known as the Bayeux stitch. It is a very efficient way of covering a large area and I really enjoy it.
I find details important, even if they can be frustrating and for me it is a big deal to get the features of the people’s faces right. A hooked or pointy nose, big or small eyes and an upwards or downwards facing line marking a mouth can make a big different. At the very beginning of my project, I remember stitching King Edward’s face three times before being happy with it. I hate unpicking with a passion, but I’d rather do that than leave something I’m not pleased with. This is a project I want to be proud of.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?
The flying speed of a paint brush is less than that of a swooping eagle, but more than that of a person not concentrating hard enough to get out of its path.
There are two different shades of blue on the original tapestry, a light and a dark shade, which are two of the main seven colours. As they were hand dyed, of course they differ, sometimes within the same hank of wool. That means a stitched outline can start out light and end up dark, with a mid blue in between. I have to make a choice which shade to use, as I only have light and dark. Even worse is when I can’t decide whether an infilled area is meant to be light blue, dark blue or perhaps a green-blue mixture. Occasionally I have involved other people to help make a decision and at times I have worked with other colours while I try to make my mind up. Sometimes I have changed my opinion after stitching and then had to decide if to unpick my work or not. Funnily enough it is only the blue shades causing major issues. The others tend to behave.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?
I hold an awesome stabbing power when it comes to a small needle. Sometimes I stab so fast that I fail to move the hand holding the fabric and I have to make sure there are no blood stains on the item I’m working on. True story.
Neatness is my thing. From years and years and even more years of practice, I can keep my stitches neat, tidy and the same size. Even the back of the piece has passed the approving eye of many experienced needlewomen. I was taught by my nan at the age of 4 or 5 how to embroidery and her lessons included how to keep the backside tidy.
Before starting this tapestry project I was (and still am now and then) making Viking garments for reenactors and for museums. Some of those items featured embroidery. The person would give me an image and I would make it fit as if by magic. Perhaps that’s it, embroidery magic is my Holy Hand Grenade.
- Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy, of course!
- Best Thing From the 80s? Leg warmers and permed hair. I had both.
- Your Wrestler Name? Magic Mia – Poof and she is gone…
- And Signature Wrestling Move? Run and hide, preferably as far from the arena as possible.
- Favorite Weird Color? Pear ice cream green. Not pistachio green, but pear ice cream green.
- How Will You Conquer the World? I’m already the ruler of my own pink clouded world. I will stitch something so amazing that people will willingly enter my world to view it. They will realize how pleasant Mia Land is and before they know it, they will be trapped and made to see the world through my eyes. Me being crazy? Pffft, not in my world. You’ll see…. Mwoa-ha-ha!
- What Cartoon Character Are You? Lilla My from the Moomins
- Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A soft cuddly frog when I was a child. He was my companion for far too many years.
- What Do You Secretly Plot? To make people see the world the way I do. (See above)
- Brought to you by the letter ___? M, of course. M for marvelous, meticulous, merry, magical and mustard, sweet mustard that is.
- Favorite Sports Team? I don’t do sports. I like watching ice dancing, but that’s not really a team sport.
- Cake or Pie? Pie! Oh yes, I had a piece of amazing pecan pie in Michigan last year at a place famous for its cherry pie.
- Lime or Lemon? Lime, because it is small, green and cute.
- Favorite Chip Dip? Sour cream & onion, hands down.
- Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Abba! At least one of my US friends couldn’t name a single Abba song. However, if you know the phenomenon that is (was) Abba, I’ll pick Marianne Flynner, a Swedish country & western singer.
- Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey, I can spell…
- Favorite Superhero? The Phantom. I even know a song about him… in Swedish. I’m singing it right now.
- Steak Temperature? I don’t do temperature. I squish it when frying. It needs to have some squish to be rare.
- Favorite 1970s TV show? I loved Happy Days
- Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring, when the trees are light and bright green, before the summer heat kicks in. I love when nature comes back to life and I can be barefoot again.
- Favorite Pet? Our two dogs, the Princess and the Pirate or Buffy and Bruin, if you want their real names.
- Best Game Ever? The King’s Circle
- Coffee or Tea? Black coffee, of course.
- Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Fantasy, although I do like a decent alien.
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
When will we get to see you again? It has been far too long. We still have the wooden piece of art you brought back from your travels.
Rob’s Answer: I don’t know, but I’d really like to come back. I had a great time both times I was in England, and I really want to do another walking tour. I’ve been reading a lot of Dick Francis lately, and I want to walk the Ridgeway Trail and then maybe time it so I can go to the Cheltenham Festival. I’ve never seen a real steeplechase, and I really want to.
When you write, how much of your own experiences do you include in the storyline? Are any of the characters based on you, however loosely? Do you plot the entire storyline before starting on a new book or does it take on a life of its own and take you on a journey during the process of writing?
Rob’s Answer: Wow, a number of questions there. Let’s start with how much me is in there. It’s hard to say, sometimes. My normal style is to create a character, put them into a situation, and role-play what they will do. I try to give the characters agency, but every part an actor plays comes at some point from his experiences.
I do base characters on people, but not much on me. I suppose I could fancy myself as Edward, but I’m probably closer to Ragnar if I’m being honest.
I’m a pantser, actually, which means I write by the seat of my pants. Plotting to me is a generalized where I want certain characters to end up. I suppose I’m doing a little more plotting in the sense I’m trying to pants barebones first drafts and then fill them out in the editing process. They serve as sort of a chapter plan.
I’ve found that short stories can sort of spring up wholly formed, like “Far Better to Dare,” my entry in the naval alternate history anthology Those in Peril and my most recent story, “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” which will come out in We Dare this summer. It doesn’t always happen like that, but it can.
However, novels always take a journey of their own for me. In A Lake Most Deep, I was writing the scene where we meet Katarina for the first time. I intended it that scene to be merely a placed Edward had to go, or it would be an obvious plot hole. Instead, Katarina grabbed me by the throat and changed the story completely, and in so doing, all of Shijuren. While it’s often not as dramatic as that scene, the truth is novels are too big with too much going on for them not to be shaped by characters at some point during the process.
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
I run two Facebook groups, Mia’s Bayeux tapestry story, where you can follow my project:
If you check out the information section of the tapestry group above, there are several links to video clips and online articles about the project, such as these ones:
In Mia’s sewing & embroidery, I showcase Viking age garments and other items I have made. I take orders, if anyone is interested of a 100% hand stitched piece.
And where can we find you?
Every so often I take my tapestry out for a talk & display, fairly local to where we live. Most of the events are private bookings, but occasionally I organize something for the general public. Those will be advertised on Mia’s Bayeux tapestry story Facebook page.
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked if I use a frame for my embroidery. Everyone else asks this question, so why not you? No, I don’t. I have one, but don’t get along with it. Years or practice have taught me how to get the tension right without a frame.
What am I going to do with the tapestry once all 69 m have been completed? Hopefully I’ll find someone with deep pockets who is willing to take over ownership. If not, I have had 10 years of enjoyment out of it and it will live out its days as a giant roll of linen and wool in my hobby room.
Rob’s Note: Y’all need to buy a lot of books, because I really want to have deep pockets when the time comes.
Thanks to Mia for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.
Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.
Have a great day.
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels
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