Tapestry Weaving - The Long and the Short of It

Tapestry Weaving - The Long and the Short of It

We've all seen them on Pinterest, and they seem to be cropping up in all of the home decor magazines this spring. Some people saw these (made these!) the first time they came around in the early 1970's. (fyi: I was not one of them.)

The trend I am talking about is free-form woven wall hangings that have dramatic texture, and tend to be monochromatic. I felt the need to experience this trend and try it out for myself, so I grabbed my Schacht School Loom, warped it up, and started weaving.

I suppose I should back up. Between getting out my School Loom and weaving, I went through a pretty involved thought process when it came down to subject matter, style, and plan of attack.

At first I was only going to do a textured "throwback" wall hanging, then realized I didn't know much about traditional tapestry weaving. Best, I thought, to learn more about traditional tapestry weaving before embarking upon the textural adventure.

After watching a few tutorials online, and doing some reading on-line, I was ready to start.

I decided to create two tapestries; one using traditional techniques, and one using the heavily-textured style.

I had three rules:

  1. Each tapestry would be done free-form without a cartoon.
  2. Each tapestry would be woven using my handspun yarn only (except for the warp.)
  3. Each tapestry would be of the same subject matter and color scheme.

A soft guideline was that I would try as many techniques as I wanted and not worry too much about being perfect. For this project I had one end-goal in mind: learn something new.

I chose an inspiration photo so I could start with at least a little direction. This helped guide my color choices and subject matter.

inspiration photo

Sky and clouds above Waneka Lake, behind my house.

Besides a warped School Loom, I needed yarn. I dove into my handspun stash and pulled out some leftovers that  happened to be in a soft blue color scheme. To this I added white and a dark red accent yarn.

yarn for traditional tapestry

These yarns were also used in the textured tapestry, but were transformed after I did the traditional tapestry, which I will explain later. I felt it was important to use yarns of similar fiber type, so besides some silk and some tencel blends, all of my yarn was wool of some breed or another.

Starting with traditional tapestry techniques in mind, I quickly sketched a basic picture, so that I could generally place certain elements. I started by laying some "ground" with my brown alpaca yarn. This allowed me to understand the necessity of bubbling to keep my weaving from drawing in.

I then moved to the sky where I tried two different ways of blending colors. The first technique was alternating a few picks of the first color, with one pick of the next color, and then changing the number of picks I did of each color. Later I learned this was a somewhat modified hatching technique. The second technique was to blend two colors together by using them together hold the first color and the second color together for a few picks. From far away, the second technique is much more subtle, while the first technique looks more stylistic and intentional.

blending, first technique
blending, second technique
For the clouds, I used two different techniques of changing colors in the middle of a warp, or using two colors in the same pick. The first technique I tried was meet and separate, which means you clasp the two colors of yarn around each other when they meet, and then when you change sheds, they separate to opposite sides of the tapestry again. The second technique involved bring the yarns to the same space between warp threads, change sheds and reverse directions. This is known as slit tapestry technique and causes a small gap in the tapestry. Overly long slits are often sewn closed on the back of the loom after weaving.
meet and separate technique
slit technique

I was pretty diligent about "bubbling" my warp threads as I was weaving to help keep the sides from pulling in. That being said I still had about 3/4" of draw in on each side of my tapestry when I finished. I will do further research on various methods of keeping my tapestry from shrinking (temples, tensioned threads, etc.) Practice will probably help, too.

As I wove, I placed clouds intuitively, trying for a balanced look. It felt a bit like painting with yarn, which made me feel immediately hooked on this style of weaving.

first tapestry

After I cut my little tapestry off the loom, I made 3/4" hems on the top and bottom. This also created the pocket for my dowel to go through. Before placing the dowel, I fulled the tapestry pretty vigorously by hand and then laid it flat to dry. I fulled the bottom half a bit more than the top to aid in making the edges more parallel and to lessen some of the draw-in disparity from the bottom to top (this was my first tapestry!).

To increase the scale of my yarn for my free-form hanging, I made ropes using the Incredible Rope Machine out of my handspun yarn left over from my first project. I also pulled out some wool roving from my stash that coordinated. 

supplies for second tapestry

For this wall hanging, I decided to put a spacer in the bottom to allow for a tie fringe afterwards. I grabbed one of the ropes and started weaving. I started placing things wherever I wanted to, without too much thought, just instinct.

I tried a few different tapestry techniques after laying a few sections down in plain-weave. I used the soumak knot technique in a couple of lines going across the warp using a cable-plied yarn, and in a small section where I used a small sliver of roving.

 soumak made with roving

To make the white cloud, I used a 10-11" chunk of roving and wove them in two layers. I placed the first layer, then untucked some "bubbles" of roving, then wove the second layer and repeated the "bubble" technique. For the rain cloud, I first took a few 8" sections of my light blue yarn and added 3 sets of ghiordes knots next to each other, then I took two colors of roving together and worked as for the first cloud.

clouds woven with roving

At the very top of the tapestry, I took my third to last pick of rope, and pulled out five loops of rope which I used as hanging loops for my wall hanging. I finished with two picks in plain weave. I needle wove some slivers of roving here and there to fill some gaps that made themselves known after removing the hanging from the loom. Overall, the warping/weaving took just over an hour.

textured tapestry

Because I feared felting the clouds if I washed my hanging, I decided to try a self-styled wet finish. I spritzed the back of the hanging with water until it was pretty damp all over. I then lightly blocked the piece on some paper towel until dry.

If I am to be honest, I was very hesitant to try to either of these techniques, but I am now addicted to how fun it was! I come from a family full of artists, and tapestry weaving really allowed me to express myself artistically and in a more free-form manner than some other weaving I have done. I wholeheartedly recommend picking up a School Loom and trying your hand at tapestry weaving.


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