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Weaving Tapestry: A Deeper Dive

  • 12 min read
A pile of beautiful tapestries (Photo credit: Juli Kosolapova via Unsplash)
A pile of beautiful tapestries (Photo credit: Juli Kosolapova via Unsplash)

Tapestry weaving is one of the best ways to let your creativity shine through as it is not restricted to colours or patterns. Tapestry weave is used for creating not only those beautiful wall hangings you see on Pinterest but also for rugs, furniture covers, bags, tunics, purses, bed covers, and much more. The result of every tapestry weaving is a detailed piece of art.

In contrast to other weaving methods, tapestry offers unlimited variety of designs, colour blending, and texture options. Experienced weavers can experiment with precise details, complicated patterns, and visual representations utilizing a variety of weaving techniques.

In our previous article, Getting Started on Tapestry Weaving, we discussed the things to consider when buying a tapestry loom and what materials are needed to start.

Are you interested in advancing your experience level in the art of tapestry weaving? This article will guide you in choosing the right tapestry loom and help you get a deeper understanding of tapestry weaving. If you already have some experience in weaving tapestry or basic weaving skills, this will be a good resource to help you improve your craft.

What is Tapestry Weaving?

Tapestry is a decorative textile that has been woven in one piece with the use of a weaving loom. Different types of yarns are used, such as wool, silk, cotton, and linen, among many others. It's quite a labour-intensive process, requiring the weaver to work with many different colours and patterns for each section of the finished product.

The History of Tapestry Weaving

The word tapestry derives from Old French tapisserie, from tapisser, meaning "to cover with heavy fabric, to carpet". Tapestries were large decorative wall rugs, woven on looms, transitioning to frames in the 15th century, initially with wooden and later metal bars. Today's tapestries often use frames, mounted on various bases like canvas.

Tapestry weaving has ancient roots, seen in diverse cultures like the Egyptians and Incas who used tapestries in burials, and the Greeks who adorned important buildings with them. However, medieval French weavers significantly advanced this craft. Tapestries, primarily religious in the Middle Ages, were commissioned by church leaders before becoming a symbol of wealth and power among the elite, with designs influenced by the burgeoning Renaissance style.

In the 18th century, tapestry art peaked in popularity, particularly in France between 1750 and 1800, with around 500 workshops in Paris. However, the advent of machine looms in the 19th century saw a decline in tapestry production. Nowadays, tapestries are experiencing a revival, attributed to the high costs of machine-made fabrics and appreciation for traditional crafts. Learning to weave tapestries can offer a chance to create unique, enduring items.

The History of Tapestry Weaving
Photographer: Joel Heard | Source: Unsplash

What are the Methods of Weaving Tapestry?

Creating tapestry weaving involves a weft-faced style of weaving. This means that all of the warp threads are hidden inside the weft threads and are not visible on the finished piece. The weft threads come in a combination of colours that are passed over and under the warp to create a beautiful pattern.

Creating tapestries on a loom (Photo credit: Darran Shen via Unsplash)
Creating tapestries on a loom (Photo credit: Darran Shen via Unsplash)

Tapestry Weave Structure

Traditional tapestry weaving is an ancient form of weft-faced plain weave that has discontinuous weft. You can use just about any yarn for the weft, including wool, cotton, silk, or linen.

Here are the different types of tapestry weave structures to experiment with colour depth:

  • Single-Weft Tapestry: This involves the weft interchanging between the front and back of the weave to produce a design with an equal number of colours and different weft threads. It is the simplest tapestry structure.
  • Two-Weft Tapestry: With this tapestry weave structure, you must take two picks of different colours to fill a horizontal row. The warp is in more regular order as the weft smoothly glides on the face and back of the design. It's a bit more technical than a single-weft tapestry but worth exploring.
  • Three-Weft Tapestry: This irreversible tapestry structure involves three weft threads of different colours to fill an entire design row. In the three-weft tapestry structure, one weft is displayed on the surface while the other two stay at the back. It's a little more complicated but surely a fun way to work if you plan on making a colourful tapestry.

There are then various options for creating shapes and images within your work and these include but aren’t limited too

  • Interlocking tapestry weave: Weft from one area is looped with the weft from the adjacent area to interlock colours
  • Dovetailed tapestry weaving: Another way of creating transitions between areas of different colors. This results when two wefts from adjacent areas alternately wrap around the same warp. The effect looks similar to a dovetailed join hence the name.
  • Closing a slit: When two wefts meet repeatedly without dovetailing or interlocking, they fail to create a lateral connection between adjacent areas and therefore produce a slit. All slits need to be sewn closed before a piece is hung so the force of gravity won’t cause the tapestry to pull apart around the slits, creating visible gaps in the work. Modern tapestry weavers also, at times, choose to leave slits in to create design features.

Choosing your loom: Tapestry Loom vs. Weaving Frame Loom

Tapestry weaving can be done on many looms including a rigid heddle or floor loom however you’ll likely achieve best results on a tapestry loom or frame loom. As with weaving in general, the maximum width of the final piece is determined by the size of the loom. However, the maximum length is also a big factor in tapestry and frame weaving looms.

1. Weaving Tapestry Using a frame loom

The frame loom is typically made of wood and is rectangular or square in shape. The loom is usually notched or has nails at regular intervals to wrap the warp threads around. A frame loom is often a more inexpensive option (and can even be DIY’d relatively easily). However, it can come with a handful of disadvantages such as tension issues, often no shedding device and you’re more restricted in size as the project is restricted to height and width of the loom. Despite these potential flaws it is an excellent entry option for the weaver new to tapestry weaving.

2. Weaving Tapestry Using Tapestry Looms

Tapestry looms have been specifically designed to hold warp threads under high tension to enhance the experience and capabilities of tapestry weaving. They’re often made from high quality wood or metal. These looms often come with shedding devices and the option to warp for a longer tapestry than the loom is high. Some also come with special tensioning devices so that tension can be adjusted as need be during the weaving process.

Types of Tapestry Looms

The tapestry loom serves as the foundation upon which the weaver creates their masterpiece. Over time, various types of tapestry looms have been developed, each offering its unique features and advantages.

Mirrix tapestry looms (Photo Credit: Mirrix Looms)
Mirrix tapestry looms (Photo Credit: Mirrix Looms)

Commercial tapestry looms often come with the essential features needed in a tapestry loom: strong beams, great tension control, and the ability to access both sheds.

Here are the types of tapestry looms available in the market today:

1. Tensioned and Non-Tensioned Frame Looms

Frame looms are looms that have a generally rectangular shape. They can have tensioning devices or not. Tensioned frame looms are often bigger than non-tensioned looms. Some smaller frame looms do not have a tensioning device, including the Schacht Easel Weaver. However, there are also small tapestry looms that already have a tensioning device, just like the Mirrix Chloe Loom.

2. Handheld Tapestry Looms

One good example of a handheld tapestry loom is the Mirrix Saffron Pocket Loom. It's suitable for weavers of all levels, but most especially for beginners. With its adjustable tension, you will get better sheds and maintain even tension throughout your tapestry piece. This portable and lightweight loom takes a short amount of time to build, is easy to warp, and is easy to weave on.

3. Upright or High Warp Tapestry Looms

An upright tapestry loom comes with a built-in stand for upright use on any flat, sturdy surface such as a table. Since high warp looms are positioned in an upright manner, they provide ergonomic comfort as you do not have to look down while weaving. This type of tapestry loom is great for tapestry weavers of all levels as it includes features like quick-change shafts, adjustable beams, and tension regulators.

4. Low Warp Weaving Looms

Counterbalance and countermarch looms are examples of low warp looms you can weave tapestries on. You have the choice to weave small or large tapestries as these looms offer a large shed. However, these looms require more floor space and are more expensive. Glimakraoffers a range of low warp tapestry looms.

Whatever loom you are using for weaving tapestry, it must be able to withstand a high amount of tension without the beams bending or breaking. Additionally, the yarns you use for warping your loom must be equally as strong under tension. It is best to stick with warp yarns specifically for tapestry, just like the Maurice Brassard linen tapestry yarn. Warp yarns are also offered in wool, cotton, or hemp materials.

How to Choose the Right Tapestry Loom for Your Project

When choosing a tapestry loom, make sure you choose one that suits your needs. A good tapestry loom must be able to produce a consistent product. If the weave isn't uniform, the finished product won't look right. Therefore, it's important to choose a loom that produces a quality product.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a tapestry loom:

  • You'll need a large enough loom to accommodate the size of the tapestry you plan to make. If the tapestry is going to be very large, you may need a larger loom.
  • Your loom needs to have enough weight capacity to handle the weight of the tapestry. If the tapestries weigh too much, they can tear the threads.
  • The size of the tapestry is determined by the width and length of the loom. A smaller loom would work better for small designs. However, a larger loom would be more suitable for larger designs. Be sure to factor in shrinkage when considering the size of your final design. Some looms also come with the option to warp longer lengths than the height of the loom which is particularly useful for those weaving guitar straps, jewellery or long wall hangings.
  • When buying a loom, check out the manufacturer's warranty before purchasing. Some manufacturers offer warranties that cover repairs and replacement parts. Others do not.
  • Make sure that the loom is sturdy enough to withstand normal wear and tear. Look at the materials used to build the loom. Is it made from metal or wood?

What Makes a Good Tapestry Loom?

Once you've chosen whether a tapestry loom or weaving frame might suit you best, make an assessment of its characteristics before you make a purchase. Here are a few more things you need to look out for when choosing a tapestry loom to give you the best weaving experience.

  • It’s important for a tapestry loom to be able to achieve and maintain warp tension. On small-sized weaving looms, you can achieve good tension by using a good tapestry warp yarn with a bit of stretch and sometimes by simple methods to take up the slack in a loose warp. When weaving a tapestry on a larger loom, make sure it has a tensioning device.
  • The presence of a shedding device affects the process of weaving a tapestry. Although shedding devices remain optional when working on small looms, they really are important when working on larger tapestries. If you’re looking for a little speed in weaving, some kind of shedding device will definitely be helpful.
  • Your loom must have a way to space the warp. In tapestry weaving, the warp has to be evenly spaced. This can be achieved with loom mechanisms such as reeds, coils, or pegs. Alternatively, you can space the warp manually and use the tension on the warp and weft to maintain the spacing.
  • Whether you are working with a tapestry loom or a frame loom for your project, make sure it has a sturdy construction. It should not break or fall apart as you are weaving and waste all those hours of work. Tapestry is easiest to weave at fairly high tension and your weaving loom must be able to withstand that. It should also be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the materials being woven into the finished product.

Tapestry Loom Recommendations

Tapestry looms are fun and easy to work with. You'll find lots of options, from small to large looms, that will suit any kind of tapestry weaving project. Thread Collective offers a broad range of tapestry and frame looms for weavers of all experience levels.

Ashford Tapestry Loom - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford Tapestry Loom

Small Tapestry Looms

Medium Tapestry Looms

Large Tapestry Looms

Challenges You May Encounter in Tapestry Weaving

When you buy decor or clothing made with tapestry weave, you'll find yourself captivated by its beauty and uniqueness. When you create your own, even better! Tapestry weaving lets you create beautiful works of art with yarn. However, somewhere in your weaving journey, you may encounter a few challenges, especially when it comes to exploring more complex structures.

Here are some of the common challenges associated with tapestry weaving:

  • Sometimes, if you're not careful, your warps could get so close together as you weave that they begin to show through your weft. To avoid this from happening, you add extra weft by creating "bubbles" with your weft once inserted between the warps. You do this by using your fingers to gently pull the yarn up between the warp threads. The weft should be hugging the warp only halfway around and not lying in front or behind it. Too much weft will lead to the warps pushing apart, while not having enough weft will draw the warps closer together.
  • The discontinuous pattern of tapestry weaving makes the weaving process longer, taking a long time to finish. The duration of producing your final output depends upon the complexity of the design elements. For example, a simple design might take less than an hour to complete. But a complicated design could take days or weeks. In addition, the amount of material used also affects how long it takes to finish.
  • Your tapestry will not be complete until the back of the weave, where the loose ends are, is secured to keep it from unravelling.

What is the Best Way to Learn Tapestry Weaving?

There are several ways to learn tapestry. You can learn tapestry weaving by watching someone else weave. You may even find yourself asking questions about the process. Some tapestry artists teach workshops where students can watch them weave. This allows you to ask questions and observe the techniques used.

Timber frame looms for tapestry weaving - Thread Collective Australia
Timber frame looms for tapestry weaving

The best way to learn about tapestry weaving, though, is to start doing it yourself. There are many tapestry booksavailable at Thread Collective that explain the basics of tapestry weaving, including instructions for using a loom. These books provide a wealth of information about tapestry. Many tapestry artists write books about their experiences and offer advice on everything from choosing colours to creating your own designs.

Tapestry Book Recommendations

If you're interested in learning how to weave tapestry with a loom, learning about advanced weaving techniques, or looking for helpful material aimed at advanced weavers, check out these resources:

Advanced Tapestry Weaving Tips

While mastering the basics of tapestry weaving is essential, advanced techniques can take your creations to new heights. Here are a few advanced tapestry weaving tips that will help you elevate your skills and create breathtaking pieces of woven art:

  • Maintaining consistent warp tension throughout your tapestry is crucial for a clean end product. Use a sturdy tapestry or frame loom and regularly check the tension as you work to ensure an even and well-balanced weaving.
  • Invest in high-quality weaving tools such as tapestry needles, shed sticks, and beaters to enhance your weaving experience. These tools will allow you to work with precision and achieve finer details.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of tapestry weaving. Advanced weavers often innovate and create unique techniques or combine different weaving styles to create distinctive and stunning tapestries.

Tapestry Weaving and Its Many Possibilities

At first, you may find that you'll enjoy learning more than actually producing a piece of tapestry. That's okay! Just keep practising until you feel comfortable with the process. It may take hours of weaving time, but when you see the tapestry you have created, all the hours will be worth it.

By understanding the techniques, materials, and design principles discussed in this article, you can take your tapestry weaving to new heights and enjoy the many benefits of weaving. We hope this article helped answer your questions about tapestry weaving.

If you are looking for a more beginner-friendly introduction to tapestry weaving, feel free to read our Tapestry Weaving for Beginners: Getting Started with Tapestry and Frame Loom Weaving blog post!

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