I couldn’t wait to start this week’s lesson, as I had so much fun weaving joins and shapes last week. I’m eager to delve into more tapestry techniques. I also have been realizing how much there is to learn about tapestry. It can be almost overwhelming. Have you felt that way? As I often say, step by step.
Eccentric, or distorted, wefts will feel a lot more loosey goosey than the straight lines we were weaving last week. In eccentric weaving, areas are built up randomly by weaving back and forth in an area. Lozenge like shapes can build on one another with no outline or outlined with plainweave or soumak, which provides a strong, raised outline. The hard part of all this freeform weaving is trying to keep your selvedges from wobbling too much, as well as the surface from bulging. In the first section I wove some big and small lozenges without outlining. In the next section, I wove shapes in a similar fashion and outlined them with soumak. I love the raised line soumak adds to the flat, woven surface.
I’d like to start with soumak because you’ll need it for outlining. There are many forms of soumak and I recently learned this locked soumak technique from David Johnson, a tapestry teacher here in Colorado. This is an excellent version of soumak to use for tapestry because it provides good structure and is also super flexible. I love the raised surface it creates. And the little chevrons look like knitting on the surface. You could weave an entire tapestry in soumak, like David does. Check out his weavings on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/davidjohnson1897/
I’ve woven a few different forms of soumak over the years (in my books Time to Weave and The Weaver’s Idea Book), but I’d never done my teacher David’s version. I was curious about it so looked it up in Peter Collingwood’s The Techniques of Rug Weaving. He calls this type of soumak Bushongo, which can be seen in the raffia cloths from the Bushongo tribe in central Africa where it was embroidered on the finished cloth, rather than woven. However, Collingwood also noted that, “…this soumak variation can be carried out when weaving and was extensively used in Shiant rugs, designed by Jean Milne and woven in the Scottish islands.”
Note: For this soumak, I’m doubling my yarn which translates to 4 ends when the soumak is worked.
A couple of notes:
- Work soumak on a closed shed.
- When using a singles, you may find that the yarn untwists, and you’ll need to add twist as you work. Likewise, when using plied yarn, you may need to take out twist.
- Shorten the length of yarn by making a butterfly after you have attached the yarn to the starting warp.
Working Bushongo Soumak, left to right:
Step 1: Fold the doubled ends in half.
Step 2: On the left selvedge warp, place the fold under the selvedge warp and extend it out so it is a loop.
Step 3: Insert the two tails into the loop and pull tight.
Sept 4: Hold the weft yarn in your right hand.
Step 5: Lift up the next warp yarn with your left hand.
Step 6: Insert the weft yarn to the left, under the warp thread and then pull out a loop and slip the butterfly or weft ends through the loop.
Step 7: Pull down to tighten the knot.
Step 8: Repeat all the way across the warp, advancing one warp thread at a time.
Returning, right to left: The process is the same as when working left to right, except now you are holding the weft yarn in the left hand and lifting up the warp yarn to be encircled with the right.
Finishing: When you’re finished working soumak, weave the ends in a plain weave shed, gradually dropping ends as you go over about an inch. These ends will butt up against the soumak and won’t be visible in the subsequent weaving.
In eccentric weaving, you build up small areas, lozenge shapes, that aren’t straight across like we’ve been weaving. Instead the wefts often travel at a diagonal to the warp threads, creating wavy lines in the weaving. This technique is fun for creating organic shapes that build on each other or are separated by wavy rows of background like in our first example. Eccentric weaving feels free without constraints, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
One of the problems new tapestry weavers have is being in the wrong shed. What I mean is you are weaving along and realize that the section you are weaving in is in the same shed as the last row. There are ways to fix this (like weaving an extra row in the opposite shed to correct the problem). Keeping this little rule in mind will help you along the way. I credit Rebecca Mezoff with this little hint, which isn’t so little at all.
That is: Always complete the sequence. In tapestry weaving you have two plainweave sheds. I call these A and B. If you start from the right in shed A, you need to finish from the left in shed B. If you don’t, then the next section you weave, you’ll find that you are doubling a shed somewhere along the way. This only becomes more complicated the more butterflies you have going across the warp. Remember: “Always finish the sequence.” It’ll get you out of so much trouble.
- Weave simple shapes, such as lozenges and triangles.
- Shapes can be outlined in a contrasting color or encased in a background.
- Wefts will not necessarily be perpendicular to the warp.
- Outlining will travel in a diagonal line.
- Outline shapes as you weave.
- Eccentric weaving can cause bulging of the surface and draw-in.
- More weft is needed when inserting the weft at a diagonal, rather than a straight line.
- Soumak outlining can help stabilize the structure and also keeps the warps spaced evenly.
Weaving a shape, step-by-step
Weave the background following the shapes woven. As on the right, you may need to add extra rows in an area to fill in. If you always finish the sequence, all your shapes should be in the correct shed for the final background.
In the first exercise, I didn’t outline the shapes, but rather wove a background between sections of shapes. In this example, every shape is outlined with soumak. This creates a strong line and works well when worked on the diagonal, though some of the passes will necessarily be a little longer, given the greater distance when working on the diagonal vs perpendicular to the warp. I worked just one row of soumak and always worked right to left so that the diagonal of the soumak would all slant in the same direction.
The first shape on the right was woven and then outlined with soumak. The second shape has been woven and is ready for outlining.
More shapes have been added. You may find that in order for the outline to appear to connect to the last outline, you may need to work a warp thread beyond where the shape ends, like I’ve done on the top left shape here and not done at the right hand side.
I gradated the blue as I worked towards the top.
The final section is woven both straight across and eccentrically where dips appear. I started weaving on the left side because it was lowest and then built up and worked over to the righthand side. I started and ended this section with 2 rows of soumak.
Hatching is a way to blend colors from one area to the next, or to create shading within a shape. For this example, I’m using two colors and blending them across a diamond shape I marked on my warp with a washable marker.
In hatching, the wefts will be traveling in opposite directions, meet and then separate. To create the shading, you will first bring one color across the shape to the marked warp, change sheds, then return. Then on the next pass, you will bring the second color across to the other side of the diamond to the marked warp on this side, change sheds, and return. You’ll be alternating one color across the shape and then the other.
I followed the marks on the warp as closely as possible when working to the widest point of the diamond. On the return, still following the marked warps, I referenced the warps I had used when I worked up. This helped me keep the diamond as symmetrical as possible.
You’ll want to use some color contrast so that you that you can see the shading. With 6 epi, the shading is not as subtle as it would be when weaving at, for example, 12 epi.
I cut a diamond shape out of paper and taped it on the warp with blue painter’s tape and then marked the warps with a washable magic marker. I removed the tape at each point as I worked around the shape.
Setting up. You will start the wefts in the same shed but from different directions. The tails will be woven in on the next shed.
Starting to weave the diamond. Alternate which color meets the outside of the diamond and which color weaves across the diamond.
Here you can start seeing the diamond develop and the colors blending on the inside of the diamond. Note that the left side background is solid blue and the right background is solid green.
Whew! That’s it for this week. I hope you enjoy learning all these new techniques. I can’t wait to see your work in progress!
Next week is the final week of our Explore Tapestry Weave Along. We’ll be working on one of my favorite techniques, rya, plus learning about finishing and finishing your sampler with a Damascus edge.
If you have been weaving a long time, you may have the slim but worthwhile volume in your library. It is such a great resource for finishing techniques with excellent descriptions and illustrations. It is a reference you’ll use over and over.
Tapestry weaving has remained unchanged for millennia. The Arras Tapestry Loom embraces these age old traditions with a modern, thoughtfully designed loom. Function, aesthetics and comfort create a sturdy loom that is a joy to weave on. The Arras Tapestry Loom will withstand the rigors of tapestry weaving and is also inviting to weavers new to tapestry weaving.
- Durable–The Arras Tapestry Loom is made of solid maple hardwood and maple plywood. The Loom will hold its shape even under the high tension tapestry weaving requires, warp after warp, after warp.
- Precise tension control.
- Generous sizing—20″ weaving width and a continuous warp of 45″. For longer warps, add the optional beam kit upgrade with ratcheted cloth and warp beams.
- Convenient warping—set the loom in a horizontal or vertical position to warp in a way that is comfortable to you.
- Cartoon holder—Clip your cartoon to the handy cartoon holder. It snaps into place below the warp guide.
- Smooth-working and adjustable shedding device that is easily controlled with a hand lever. The lever may be installed on the right or left side of the loom.
- 100 Texsolv heddles are included with the loom.
- 4 color-coded coils are included with each loom: 4, 5, 6, and 8 dents. Warps can be doubled in the dents for closer setts.
- Convenient and ergonomic design—set the loom height and weaving angle that is most comfortable for you.
- The legs fold up for travel or storage.
- Portable—the loom weighs 10 pounds
Enjoy an ancient craft on a loom perfectly suited to today’s weavers.