Let’s Talk About Tapestry

There comes a time in every weaver’s life when our thoughts turn to tapestry. Or maybe it’s just me. In any case here are some tapestry basics. 

What is tapestry?

At its core tapestry is a style of weaving that produces a non-repeating picture in the woven cloth itself. It’s a weft faced style where the warp is entirely covered by a densely woven weft to make the picture (called, charmingly enough, a cartoon). 

You’ve seen tapestry. If not do a quick Google search for Unicorn Tapestry and you’ll see one of the shining examples. Tapestry is a luxury product that takes a lot of skill to do with that level of detail, but is fairly simple to get started. 

Why is it a luxury product? Think of all the effort that goes into making thread. Especially the strong, smooth, thread for weaving. On a drop spindle, no wheel or orther labor saving device here. Sheer the sheep, comb (not card) the wool, spin it, dye it, ect. That’s months of work before we’ve even started weaving. For something you’re going to hang on a wall, not even something with a use beyond being pretty. 

So how do you do it? It’s got to be complicated. Yes and no. 

To weave a simple tapestry you will need:

-A frame loom (think those little looms you made pot holders on as a kid. Yes those.) Or a rigid heddle loom. 

-A cartoon.

-Thin, hard spun warp thread. I suggest no. 10 crochet cotton. 

-Thicker weft yarn in the colors you want your finished tapestry to be. I used DMC embroidery floss and didn’t separate out the individual threads. You can really use anything so long as it’s the right color and thicker than your warp.

-Sturdy tape. 

–  A weaving comb.

To start:

Warp your loom for tabby.

Tape your cartoon to the back of your loom so you can see it behind your warp. 

Paint by numbers with your weft threads. What I mean by that is, instead of throwing your weft across the whole shed change your color without changing shed every time your cartoon color changes. When you’ve gone across the whole shed, changing colors as appropriate, change shed and use your weaving comb to beat the weft tight against the previous row, completely covering your warp. 

That’s it. Everything else is practice and style. 

Some things to be aware of: 

The denser your warp the more detail you’ll be able to pack in. 

You need a new length of thread for every color change. So if you’re using blue, then 2 threads of red, then it goes back to blue? You need two separate bobbins of blue. You shouldn’t just float it like you do in stranded colorwork knitting. That will make your back look super sloppy and may screw with your tension. 

Don’t pull your weft tight against your warp threads when you’re throwing. There’s going to be a little gap between colors when you change, leaving a tiny loop of weft at the end of each color will help hide that slit. 

Curves are hard. Start with an 8 bit cartoon or you’ll drive yourself nuts. Ask me how I know. 

Start with something simple with only one or two color changes to build skill and confidence. You know me well enough to know I skipped this. I started with a cartoon based on medieval marginalia of a bunny knight that just realized he’d left the oven on riding a bearded man-snail. Because life’s too short to be logical or make any sort of sense. 

Have fun and be patient. Give yourself plenty of time to  finish your project. Even if it’s tiny. Because of the color changes tapestry is slow. That’s not an idicator of your skill as a weaver or some sign that it’s too hard for you. It’s not, you’ve got this, it’s just string. 


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