The last time I wove tapestry was back in the 70s when I first started weaving. Everyone was weaving wall hangings—much like many of the new weavers are weaving today (but they have better colors and materials). We wanted to develop the Arras loom to help meet the needs of new weavers who were transitioning from wall hangings to more serious tapestry weaving. Of course, as the Arras developed, I yearned to try tapestry again. Though I’ve been weaving for over 40 years, tapestry just wasn’t in my toolbox. This is a bit strange because I have always appreciated the pure colors of weft-faced fabrics. You don’t have warp and weft visually interacting, which affects the color, and, of course, the design. I have had quite a bit of experience with weft-faced weaving though—which I explored in my book The Weavers’ Idea Book.
This is also probably why I find the warp-faced fabric in an inkle band equally appealing. You only see the warp colors and the weft is obscured except where it turns around at the selvedges. You can see weft-faced tapestry and warp-faced inkle weaving put together in my tapestry sampler bag which will appear in the May-June issue of Handwoven and our website in early May.
Thanks for joining me on this tapestry exploration! I hope you’ll share your progress and ideas on Instagram, Facebook and Ravelry as we go along. Use #exploretapestry #schachtspindle and tag us @schacht_spindle_company. And, I’ll be happy to answer your questions the best I can, keeping in mind that I am a novice tapestry weaver myself! Above all else, I hope you’ll have fun and try to play (though I know this is hard) as much as possible. Patience and practice, too, are important as you work towards learning something new. It will feel awkward at first and the results may be a bit wobbly, but you will make progress. At the end of your sampler, you’ll see how your selvedges have improved, how your fingers now know what to do, and how enjoyable it is to see the emerging design row by row.
Let’s get started!
Week 1: Warping and Getting Ready to Weave
Loom: I’ll be using our new Arras Tapestry Loom which accommodates a 45″ warp length. You could also use a frame loom such as our Easel Weaver or Lilli Loom, or even a rigid heddle loom, but you won’t be able to achieve as high tension as I’ll be using on the Arras. Tension is important because it will be easier to weave and your tapestry will hold its shape, as well as helping your selvedges stay put. If you will be using a frame loom, you might consider warping the loom for each lesson, for a series of samples.
Warp Yarn: I’m using #18 seine twine. You can use a 12/18 cotton seine twine if you are setting your yarn at 5 or 6 ends per inch. If you will be weaving at 8 ends per inch, you’ll need a little smaller yarn, like a #12/12 cotton seine twine. But, during our time of confinement, you may need to make do with something from your stash, something that is the closest size possible in a non-stretchy, strong cotton or wool rug warp. You could also use 2 ends as one of cotton carpet warp if you don’t have anything else. When substituting yarn, check the size by winding 1/2″ on a ruler. If the yarn yields 6 wraps in 1/2″, then you’ll thread that yarn for an EPI (ends per inch) of 6. If your yarn yields, for example, 8 wraps in 1/2″, you should set that yarn at 8 EPI.
I suggest you try as close as possible to 6 EPI, as a wider sett just makes it easier for your fingers to learn what to do.
Warping: You can learn how to warp the Arras by watching the video below. Also, if you happen to have one of our original Tapestry Looms, the process is the same as warping the Arras Loom.
Warping Details: 36 ends at 6 EPI = 6″ wide warp. If you are going to be using another sett, choose a number divisible by 3, as we will be dividing the warp into 3 sections for part of our sampler.
Weft Yarn: I like to use a firmly spun weft yarn without a lot of stretch. Since this is a sampler, you can again use yarns from your stash. You can mix and match sizes, but your goal is for the yarn or yarn bundle to be the size of the space between the warp yarns. For this sampler, I used Jamieson’s Spindrift, 3 ends together in the tapestry areas and 2 ends for the soumak.
Choosing a Palette: I like to work with a palette. As I was cleaning out my piles of ripped out magazine pages, I found these colors that I thought were fresh and fun for spring and our time of confinement. Cheerful seemed good. You’ll find that working with a palette will help you to make color choices as you go; your sampler will be more cohesive colorwise, too. This is optional, of course, but if you haven’t tried this before, you might want to experiment with this for your sampler.
Creating a Base: Use the warp yarn to work a row of twining as a base for your weaving. This will also reinforce your warp sett. Measure a length that is 3 times the width of your weaving. Fold the yarn in half around a selvedge edge. I’m right-handed, so I find it easiest to begin at the left selvedge and work towards the right.
You can avoid a knot at the edge by stopping the twining 4-5 warp threads from the edge, dropping one of the yarns, continuing with the over and turning around at the selvedge, to complete the twining. Check that the twining is straight across the warp by measuring from the bottom beam to the twining on each side of the weaving. You can also measure and mark the distance with a magic marker prior to working the twining.
I look forward to starting to weave next week when we’ll be exploring weft-faced weaving, the important technique of bubbling, and selvedge management. Happy warping!