I go through phases, alternating between weaving and needlework (I never stray far from the lovely world of tangled threads). Needlework expresses my orderly side, and I do take delight in the satisfying symmetricality of many of my patterns and designs (although I do also embrace the occasional asymmetric quirk). This, of course, is because I have not yet really experimented with free embroidery, which I suspect might be quite a liberating experience. However, needlework (for me) is the orderly craft, worked within its nice neat grids and charts. Compact, yet beautiful.
Then after a while, I need to take a break from stitching, and weaving refreshes me. Sometimes all I want to do is lose myself in the mind-freeing, zen-like over-under trance, and that’s when I like weaving for its basic, essential simplicity. In those moments I’ll work a placemat on a small tapestry frame, or a rug on a peg loom, and just enjoy the process. I like the small detail of embroidery, but sometimes I need to concentrate less, and clear my mind.
A break of cleansing weaving then frees my mind to focus awhile on my other weakness: tapestry weaving. This is where I find expression of more free-flowing, organic ideas, the swirls and curves and natural shapes, far less formal than counted thread work. Like the freeform bargello I have been experimenting with lately, my tapestry weaving is also freeform. I let the warp thread form its own shape within the weft, then work around and into it, and find natural landscapes building up of their own accord.
Before anyone begins imagining rooms covered in tapestry wall-hangings, let me clarify: my weaving is as small-scale as my needlework. I take great delight in being able to sit with my weaving resting in/on my lap, wherever I happen to be, and I have looms ranging in size from a self-made 1.5″ x 2″ to – well, actually a floor loom, but that hasn’t been constructed, yet – let’s say instead 18″ x 18″, to almost everything in between. The largest two of these smaller looms are structured so that they can sit upright on a desk or table top, still very portable and fuss-free. My tapestries are generally miniatures, explorations of curve and colour; sometimes I play with texture, tufting, needleweaving etc.
I do have a lot of small looms, it’s true but I always need more! I love to experiment with new, different, interesting looms. Stash-hoarding needleworkers and fabric addicts will understand what I mean; those who don’t, just never will. I usually weave on basic frame looms rather than anything with a complicated (or even simple) heddle system – given the scale I work, it’s far easier just to manipulate the warp threads manually, which is part of the process that I enjoy.
You wouldn’t think there would be too much variation in simple frame looms, but there is, you know, there is. I love the sturdiness of these frames from Good Wood. They have a ‘magc heddle’ bar which I like, but would only use if weaving something with very plain stripes (it happens sometimes; I like stripes). But you can remove the heddle bar and just warp it without. At $58 for the 6″ x 10″ version, perhaps it seems expensive, bt there’s something about the solidity and simplicity that appeals to me (and the wood seems a lot nicer – and sturdier – than the cheaper frame looms you can buy).
Now this is what I really want to try, even though the weaving area itself is both tiny and primitive: the Trishary Travel Loom. The loom was designed and is sold by Scottish tapestry artist, Trisha Gow. Her work is strongly influenced by the Scottish landscape, the lovely muted colours a result of using wools hand-dyed with natural, locally sourced dyes. The loom has a weaving area of just 9 x11cm, with no added extras to aid tension or shedding etc. But it is (obviously) a gloriously portable size, and even better, your piece can remain on the loom in its finished state, ready-framed! No more fiddling about weaving in loose ends, knotting fringes, or any of the other time-consuming finishing practises – hurrah! (And at just £26 per hand-made loom, it’s not unrealistic to simply buy a new loom for your next piece.)
In comparison to the Good Wood Loom, the C. Cactus Flower Miniature Loom is an absolute bargain at $78. This is a loom in the traditional Navajo style, measuring just 12″ a 15″. I’ve never tried a Navajo loom, but this is the one I’m going to start with. It’s got a clever peg & spring tensioning device, as well as a peg bar for easy warping. Hand-crafted in a choice of woods (price varies with wood-type), they also do a package that includes batten and Navajo weaving instruction book. Yum.
But you know what? For practicality and fine work, the best looms I’ve found aren’t tapestry looms at all, but bead looms. Using a warp of medium silk or perle cotton, I love the coils for even warp spacing, and the tensioning is the best I’ve found. Most people probably know that Mirrix make some of the most highly regarded tapestry/bead looms in the business. Unfortunately, I can’t afford one of those. Instead, I currently have a 12″ x 18″ loom (one of my largest) from beadlooms.com. As well as the even warping and tensioning advantages, this particular style of loom is very sturdy, and if turned on its shortest end will sit very comfortably on a tabletop (or your lap), tapestry loom-style. It also has the warp bars and different heights, so the working area is tilted, which can really help if you find weavng makes your back ache. I want to get the 6″ x 10″ version for smaller pieces.
Some other places worth checking out are Bearcat, Crazy Acres Wolf Ranch and Boomerang Professional. Please post if you have experience of using any of the looms I’ve mentioned – could be interesting!