Tapestry Weaving Techniques and Weft-faced Color and Weave
From Explore Tapestry Weave Along 2020.
With Jane Patrick
Now that you have your loom warped and ready to weave, let’s get started! I would say that what weavers new to weft-faced weaving (and tapestry) have the most trouble with is the weaving drawing in, managing the selvedges, and consistency. That’s why this first week we are going to focus on keeping your selvedges nice and straight with no draw-in or bulging and learning the importance of bubbling. As we progress with these basics, we’ll explore weft-faced color effects and color blending—which are fun and basic techniques you can use in your future tapestry weaving.
Tools and materials:
Short stick shuttles: If you have them, otherwise, you can make butterflies—this is a pretty narrow warp, so carrying the weft across by hand is easy.
Beater: I’m using the Schacht single ended tapestry beater, but you can also use a fork. Taping a little weight on the back of it will give it more umph. Any hand beater will work. You don’t need to beat very hard which can wear out body parts. If you find that you are struggling to cover the warp, either your warps are drawing in or are too close, your weft is too big, or you don’t have enough tension.
Loom: I’m using the new Arras Tapestry Loom, but you can weave along on just about any loom you have. Just try to crank up the tension as much as you can.
Weaving stick: I find this handy for bubbling, but you can use your fingers, the point of a knitting needle, tapestry bobbin, or bodkin.
Yarn: Wool yarn will probably be the easiest to work with. I’m using Jameson Spindrift which is a 2-ply woolen yarn, 3 ends as one. A readily available singles is Lamb’s Pride from Brown Sheep. To determine the correct size of yarn, hold it (or a few strands, if its fine) up between two warp threads. If it fills the space, this is a good candidate for your tapestry sampler. You can mix and match sizes. If you are using knitting worsted which has a lot of spring in it, you’ll just want to be careful when placing it in the shed to not pull on the yarn too much—aiding draw in.
New weavers often tend to leave a bubble of weft at the selvedge because they are afraid of the weaving pulling in. First, bulging at the selvedge isn’t providing a clean line—and it is the first thing the eye notices—all the waviness and wobbling distract from everything going on in between. My technique is to turn the corner at the selvedge with the weft yarn snug up against the edge, not pulling in, not popping out, but just right. When I insert the weft into the shed, I give the weft a little tug to take out any slack, but I do this while giving a slight counter tug to the selvedge thread. I keep a constant eye on the selvedge to see that I have it right, and if it isn’t, redo it.
Generally, I like to fold the weft into the weaving. To do this, insert the weft into the shed and weave across. Change sheds and then weave the tail into the next shed over just a couple of warps. Leave the tail hanging (here I’m putting all of the weft ends towards the back of the loom). If you are making all of your changes on the same selvedge, it is going to build up. That is why I like to change sides when adding in new wefts. When ending and starting the same color, I try to do this within the weaving, again overlapping just a few warps.
However, if I am just weaving a single row of a color, I will divide the bundle of yarns a few warps before the selvedge, dropping 1 end of the 3 and then overlapping 3 and 1 respectively when I fold the yarn around the selvedge.
This is critical for tapestry weaving. If you have been weaving for a bit, you know that the distance across the weaving is not a straight line, rather, the weft travels over and under the warp threads and you need to allow enough weft in the shed for this to happen. Bubbling is the magic in tapestry weaving that allows enough weft in the shed to keep the fabric from drawing in. Also, you’ll find that if you have too much weft in the shed, your weaving will be uneven and bulging out. Our selvedge to selvedge weaving will allow you to practice.
- The bubbles are consistent across the weaving.
- You vary the place where the bubble dips down to the fell.
- You check that the spaces between the warps is consistent, with no wider or thinner spaces developing. If you discover this, fix it by bubbling less and changing where the dip falls. If the warps seem to be drawing in, and the selvedges are drawing in, bubble more.
- Change sheds before beating, or simply beat on a closed shed.
- And, of course, keep an eye on your selvedges.
- Measure the width of your weaving often to be sure you are maintaining the same width throughout.
There’s a lot going on with just this simple technique, which is why I want you to practice for a few inches before moving on to the next step.
When I’m weaving selvedge to selvedge, I’m using a shuttle, but for this narrow warp, you can just use butterflies to carry the weft. To beat, change sheds, and use a hand beater to press down the weft. You don’t have to beat heavily, just enough to cover the warp. Also, as you work, you’ll notice that after 5 or so rows, the earlier wefts are beaten in tighter, just from the beating of the subsequent rows.
How to Make a Butterfly
Step 1. With the palm of your hand turned upward and fingers spread wide, wind between your little finger and thumb, holding the tail between your thumb and palm (photo 1)
Step 2. Wind back and forth between your little finger and thumb in a figure eight (photo 2), winding enough yarn to make a comfortable butterfly. Too small and you have to change wefts too often; too large, the butterfly becomes unwieldy.
Step 3. Remove the butterfly from your hand and snugly wrap the working tail around the center a couple of times, tucking the end under the last wrap to secure it (photo 3).
–The Weaver’s Idea Book, page 159.
Weft-Faced Color and Weave
I have referred to this next weaving technique as weft-faced color-and-weave, even though we usually think about color-and-weave when we refer to log cabin where the interaction of the colors in the warp and the colors in the weft create a pattern. In weft-faced weaving, the interaction of the colors appears only on the surface of the weft-faced fabric.
At its most elemental level, think of weaving as binary. Either the warp is up or down. It is this phenomenon that creates color-and-weave effects. In a weft-faced fabric, the weft yarn only shows when it travels over a warp thread. For example, you can create a vertical line by alternating colors or a wavy line by alternating colors every two rows. Or dots, by surrounding one row of a color with at least 2 other rows of another color.
I want you to explore this color patterning now as you continue to practice bubbling and selvedge management. Try out a few different patterns, as shown in the sampler. Later on, you might find some of these techniques helpful when you’re weaving a tapestry design.
To do: Weave an inch or so of plainweave, practicing bubbling the yarn and managing the selvedges. Measure often. Weave until you are comfortable with this step.
Start exploring weft-faced color patterning.
- Weave 3 rows of color A and then alternate color A and B for an inch or so and end with 3 rows of color A. Note: you will note when alternating wefts, that sometimes the selvedge thread isn’t caught. This is handled by simply placing the new weft under the exiting weft as shown here. [photo: of left selvedge, blue yarn over white.] [photo: showing the wrong way]
- Alternate 2 rows of color A and 2 rows of color B.
- Weave several rows of color A, 1 row of color B, followed by several rows of color A.
- Dots: weave 2 rows of color A, 1 row of color B, repeat, ending with 2 rows of colo
Color blending. I think this is so fun and easy to do too. Using three yarns together, makes blending easy. Hint: I changed colors about 2 inches away from the selvedge, ending each end at a different place and overlapping with the new yarns. When I changed out the color combinations, I found it easier, to cut off the first bundle and then replace with the next color combination. Here’s how I worked using 4 shades of blue.
- 3 ends of Color A; weave for 5 rows.
- Change out 1 thread of color A and add in 1 end of color B (you have 2 ends of color A and 1 end of color B). Weave 5 rows.
- Drop 1 more color A and add another end of color B (you now have 1 end of color A and 2 ends of color B). Weave 5 rows.
- Drop the last end of color A. You’ll now have 3 ends of color B. Weave 5 rows. Add in color C and weave as before. Then color D in the same fashion.
I hope you have fun trying out this week’s explorations! I would love to see how you are progressing. If you have questions, please email us at email@example.com, or post on Facebook, Instagram or Ravelry.
Here is a list of books that I’ve found useful:
Glasbrook, Kirsten. Tapestry Weaving. Search Press, 2004. The author teaches tapestry through samplers. Her clear photos and cheerful colors make you want to give tapestry weaving a try. (We sell this book on the Schacht website.)
Harvey, Nancy. Tapestry Weaving: A Comprehensive Study Guide. Echo Point Books & Media, 2015. This book was first published in 1991, but the material is still excellent after all these years. The author’s clear writing and knowledgeable instruction are encouraging. (I’m trying to purchase this book, so check back later on the website to see if it is in stock.)
Kathe Todd-Hooker has written four thorough books on tapestry weaving. These self-published books are available from the author. https://betweenandetc.com/ Titles are:
So Warped: Warping a Loom for Weaving Tapestry (written with Pat Spark)
Line in Tapestry
Weaving 101—if you’re going to buy just one, this is a good resource for beginners.
Shaped Tapestry, 2nd edition.
For lighter reading, check out these titles, also available on the Schacht website:
DIY Woven Art by Rachel Denbow
On the Loom: A Modern Weaver’s Guide by Maryanne Moodie
Weaving Explorer by Deborah Jarchow and Gwen W. Steege
Weaving Within Reach by Anne Weil
Woven Art—15 Modern Weaving Projects for You and Your Home by Elena Vilar