Weaving & Me

(For practical instruction on how to weave, click here.)

There are probably, technically, right and wrong ways to weave.  There are rafts of books on the subject (and I’ve read a lot of them).  But personally, I don’t mind if I weave something the ‘wrong’ way, so long as I either achieve the visual look I am aiming for, or even just learn something in the process (like why I’ve been told that’s the ‘wrong’ way).  I am therefore in no way suggesting that any of the procedures below should be specifically recommended, as general rules.  But they work for me, and so far as I’m concerned, if it works for you, do it.

I thought I would add this page for anyone who is interested in the way my own tapestries are created, and perhaps why I weave in the particular ways I do.

This is one of those subject areas that keeps branching off and interconnecting in different places, so I will try to make the headers include the relevant keywords, but you may find some recur.  I will also do my best to keep them in a vaguely logical order, but meanderings will no doubt occur regardless.

Warping & finishing

  • One thing I can say unequivocally that I never do is warp with cut lengths of yarn.  Far too much preparation involved, measuring etc.  If I want to weave something that is a longer length, I will either use a loom half that length (or a bit longer) and wrap a continuous warp all the way around back and front and then weave on both front and back, or else I will just use a larger loom.
  • If this is not already implied by the previous point, I’ll just re-iterate: I always use a continuous warp.  This does not always wrap all the way around the loom, frequently it wraps around notches (or pins, if using a beadloom) straight from one end of the loom to the other, up and down continuously.
  • If I want a finished piece the size of the loom front weaving area (for instance, if I’m using a frame loom), but fringed, I will warp all the way both front and back of loom.  I will only weave the front side of the loom, but once finished I will then cut the warps in back, tie off the ends, and trim to desired length.  This is just because I find knotting a fringe with shorter lengths of warp fiddly, and unnecessarily time consuming.
  • Sometimes I don’t want a fringe at all.  At those times, I will use a frame or board loom.  Once the weaving is complete, I will then simply unhook the warp from the notches, and slide the small loops onto a branch (or some other stick-shaped form).

The shed; the difference between weaving and tapestry

  • When I first started weaving experiments again as an adult, I tried out lots of looms with shedding mechanisms and heddle bars.  This was largely because the loom I had as a child had a (very good) shedding mechanism, so I just assumed that was the best way.  Ah.
  • After weaving various small tapestries that required some shaping of individual motifs, I realised that the shed mechanism was hindering rather than helping me.  Around this time, I also finally twigged the difference between weaving and tapestry weaving.  The raising of every other warp thread for every pass through of shuttle is pretty helpful when you are weaving a fabric consisting of multiple straight rows.  When, in fact, you are weaving a fabric.  I, however, was weaving a ‘picture’.  And raising every other warp thread with every pass of yarn I found actually distorted many of the more creative things I tried to do.  And I couldn’t weave all the way up to the top of the loom, which became irritating.
  • Frame looms were the answer.  I had some with heddle bars, so I just removed the bars, and hey presto, they became tapestry looms!
  • I thought at first, you see, that a heddle bar would have the same effect on my weaving as the string heddles I had seen in illustrations of tapestry weaving books.  I was wrong.  The string heddles work because the weaver can manipulate the specific warps relevant to the part of the design they are currently weaving.
  • I looked into Navajo weaving looms which frequently use a string heddle bar, but are generally cheaper than those titled ‘tapestry looms’.  I decided before too long, however, that string heddles are a bit fiddly for someone of my temperament.  And anyway, I was just getting on with weaving, regardless of what looms were at my disposal, at the time, and I realised that it was far more satisfying and satisfactory (for me) to manually push down or raise the warps to pass through yarn.  I enjoyed the physicality and rhythm of the process, and the complete flexibility (combined with absolute lack of necessary preparation procedures).
  • The only time I generally use some form of shed stick (usually masquerading as a pencil or piece of card) is when I’m using a board loom.  I then insert the shed stick at the top of the loom, raising all the warp threads from the board, and making it easier to (manually) push down alternate warp threads to weave across.  It’s a bit tricky, when they’re lying flat against the board.

Inspiration

  • Reading is another one of those things thyat is an integral part of my life.  I’ve read an awful lot of fiction in my time, but when I am in ‘creative’ mode, I switch to craft books.  And you might be surprised by how much you can learn from books, not just in terms of techniques.
  • I’m pretty lucky, in that working in a bookshop (my ‘real’ job) gives me access to all the newly released titles, and also many of the more obscure.  This is great.  However, in terms of weaving many of my favourite books are now out of print, those I’ve collected from eBay, charity shops etc.  The creativity inherent in those old books from the 60s and 70s is amazing, and they have been my biggest inspiration.  I’ll be adding a separate page of Resources shortly, but you can check out my reviews of weaving books I own here.

Shuttle, needle, bobbins and butterflies

  • As with other parts of the weaving process, I started off by winding my yarn around a shuttle, firstly because my old childhood loom had shuttles, and secondly because most of the new looms I tried out came with shuttles.  Of course, it wasn’t the best thing for me to use for the same reason the heddle bar wasn’t: I was trying to use general weaving techniques for weaving tapestry.  Although a shuttle has the benefit of holding a larger quantity of yarn, it is quite obvious that if I am weaving backwards and forwards within a small area, I will have far greater success with a tapestry, bodkin, or weaving needle.  Hurrah – detail!
  • Learning from my previous mistakes (surely not, I hear you cry!), I looked into tapestry bobbins as an alternative.  But even just winding yarn into ‘butterflies’ doesn’t work for me.  I am not against these practises within tapestry weaving in general, but I think largely because I usually work on such a small scale they just don’t allow me the flexibility of fine detail that I need.  The needle can get me in and out of many a tight corner that my fingers or a tapestry bobbin can’t.  If I was working on a large-scale tapestry, I suspect I would re-avaluate the use of bobbins and butterflies.
  • Back to small-scale, basic weaving looms, though.  When I was first coming up with the idea of D.I.Y. Weaving Looms, I had to think for a while before I came up with the idea of using a hairclip as a needle.  But as soon as I’d thought of it, and then tried it, I was shocked by how well it worked.  Firstly, people who struggle to thread a needle no longer have to worry about threading a needle: they just clip their yarn into place.  Secondly, the yarn is gripped firmly, so you never need to worry about it slipping out partway through your weaving.  Thirdly, the curve of the clip aids weaving in and out of the warp.  Anything else?  Oh yes, and it’s child-friendly, too!  And?  And it’s a brilliant alternative to a needle if you want to weave while on the move.  You can weave with a hairclip on a plane, or you can generally find one easily enough if you try to buy basic materials while you are away from home.

Comb or beater

  • As with many of the other things I have mentioned thus far, a comb is not really an essential or even a vague requirement of tapestry weaving.  It is necessary to keep the weft packed down to cover the warp (well no, actually, it’s not; I have several weavings with visible warp that I like very much).  Again probably due to the scale of my work, I find that pushing the weft down with my fingertips is more than adequate.

Which kind of loom is best?

  • Unsurprisingly, I feel as though I worked backwards, by many people’s standards.  I wove on frame looms first, and then discovered that actually, I didn’t need to have bought frame looms at all, because look, I can do everything just as easily on a no/low-cost board loom!  Hurrah!  I was thrilled by the ease with which I could weave a pouch or bag, and didn’t have an issue with lack of tension at all.
  • But then I started trying to do other things, like wrapping warps, looping tassles, all sorts of fun things.  It’s possible on a board loom, don’t get me wrong; but actually it’s a lot easier on a frame loom, having access to the reverse of the weaving.  And I don’t like to make things unnecessarily difficult for myself…
  • Around this time, it also occurred to me to try out my bead loom (approx. 3″ x 6″ weaving area).  I loved the secure and even spacing of the warp coil, and even better, the control I suddenly had over the tension.  I also saw the possibilities, with finer warp spacing, for tiny, detailed tapestries.
  • I realised that I’m not the kind of person who will ever be able to say, ‘this is the only kind of loom I’ll ever weave on’; I think, instead, I am the kind of person who will always be looking for new ways to weave and new things to try out.  The looms I’ve tried so far all have their own benefits, which means that whatever project beckons, I can evaluate which is the most suitable, or else which I am most in the mood to play with.

Weave on anything!

  • Although I have lots of perfectly adequate looms, I just can’t help it: I see the potential for weaving wherever I look.
  • As I realised the potential for weaving everywhere, the concept of D.I.Y. Weaving was born.  Weaving is not a craft that has (in general) captured the imagination of the public, or even the crafting community.  I mostly blame the misconception that it is necessary to have a lot of space and expensive equipment in order to weave successfully.  It is not.  I also think the prospect of warping holds fear for many would-be weavers.  People just need to be shown that weaving is easy, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or time/space-consuming, unless you want it to be.
  • D.I.Y. Weaving Looms are all things that I have tried out in my own experiments, from things I have either had lying around the house, or else picked up very cheaply.  By showing people how they can weave successfully using such simple, everyday things, is the best way I can think of to disprove any misconceptions they might have.  Everyone who has seen the D.I.Y. looms has been fascinated.  I think it might work :-).

Finishing

  • I hate sewing (the practical, useful kind; I love decorative embroidery, but that’s not especially useful in terms of finishing a tapestry).  Therefore you will never find any neatly bound edges to any of my tapestries (unless it has been specifically requested, in which case I would rope somebody else in, to ensure it was done to a high enough standard).  Top and bottom edges will be finished with fringe or rod, as described above.
  • Alternatively, I might weave a tapestry to fit directly into a picture frame.  If I do this, I will weave directly onto the board backing of the frame, so that the finished piece is automatically the right size.  With the Rainbow Landscape, the board backing was too chunky to notch, so rather than have warp threads showing in back from warping all the way around the backing, I cut another piece of card to the same size as the backing, notched and wove on that instead, then inserted the original backing behind it, for the finished piece.  Because the glass is removed from the frame, there is room for the extra piece of card, as well as the weaving.
  • Likewise, if I am weaving a piece to fit an existing aperture (such as the tin lid pieces), I will cut a piece of card to just larger than the aperture, draw the aperture size onto the card so that I can ensure the weaving always covers it, then once the weaving is complete fix into the aperture.  With the tins, I use a self-adhesive felt or vivelle within the lid space.  Although there is no warp or weaving visible on the reverse of the card loom, I have often used scrappy bits of card cut from random packaging, which doesn’t necessarily blend too well with the finished piece!
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3 thoughts on “Weaving & Me

  1. Wow, just what I was looking for – you sound so much like me. I weave on a frame loom and your article is so inspirational – giving freedom of expressive artwork with a needle! Thanks./Deb

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