Tapestry (or weft -faced weaving) has been with us for a very, very long time. The richness and diversity of tapestry is a fascinating history of both ancient and not so ancient cultures. The oldest fragments of tapestry that have been discovered came from Egypt and date back to 1500 B.C. I found these photos of such fragments here.
The Coptic tapestries were made in Egypt from the 4th to 8th century. I found this Coptic Curtain Fragment made of wool and linen for sale that was made in that time period.
The Incas of Peru also produced tapestries, a few of which have survived.
Almost any culture that practiced weaving had tapestry as one of its techniques. Tapestry is decorative, strong and versatile. It can be used as a saddle blanket, a bag, a wall hanging, a rug . . . the list goes on. It can withstand the ravages of time like no other woven material and hence fragments of it have survived thousands of years.
Tapestries have graced the walls of castles and the interior of tents as well as the hallways of modern buildings. No other art form is as noble and awe-inspiring. The richness of dyed fiber seems to reach out with its depth and beauty, pulling the viewer in with its amazing magnetism.
I was looking through my favorite book on tapestry: “Tapestry” by Barty Phillips and found my all time favorite fragment of a fish woven in Egypt sometime between the third and sixth centuries. This fish looks like it could have come straight from a modern tapestry. The techniques included: eccentric wefts, hatching, slit tapestry, outlining, weft and warp interlock. The colors were a rich blend of oranges and yellows and browns that seemed to have not faded over time. When I look at that fish I feel like time has not moved on at all, that I could see in my mind the person weaving that fish in the same manner that I could have woven that fish. In fact, I am so in awe of that fish that it has taken great restraint not to try to copy it!
I could pepper this blog with examples of all the cultures that have embraced tapestry over thousands of years, but I suggest that you take your own journey and explore both on the internet and through books such as the one I mentioned the varied and expansive journey tapestry has taken throughout history. It’s mind-boggling. If you are a tapestry weaver it will serve to connect you to the past as if an unbroken thread has spun its way through the centuries to reach you. It gives me chills to think of it.
If you are looking to explore modern tapestry I suggest you start with the American Tapestry Alliance website: http://americantapestryalliance.org. I could spend days and days (and have done so) just exploring the artist pages. The diversity of style and subject matter all contained within the rather rigid restraints of tapestry technique will give you a greater and global understanding of what tapestry really is: a very serious, very controlled and difficult art form that can be as diverse in style and subject matter as, let’s say, oil painting. In fact, during the middle ages oil painting was seen as the poor man’s tapestry (I love that!).
I have to admit, I am very prejudice when it comes to tapestry. I consider it the highest form of art and one of the most difficult. It is no easy task to create a tapestry that is both technically and aesthetically correct and pleasing. In fact, it’s difficult at best. It is no wonder that there are very few dedicated tapestry weavers wandering this earth. The number is actually tiny compared to other art forms.
But don’t be intimidated by this art form. After all our ancestors were not. It’s not something you will master over night. It is a slow and beautiful journey that can engage you for a life time.
May yours begin here.
By Mirrix CEO Claudia Chase
I cannot stop making these.
Two were made on an eight inch loom and one was made on a Mini Mirrix. Because of the way I wove it, it didn’t much matter whether or not I used a shedding device. When you are weaving across two or three warps, which was of ten the case, it doesn’t make much sense to reach up and change the shed. I did have the shedding device on the eight inch loom for occasions when I wove from selvedge to selvedge.
Are you in the Seattle area? Mirrix CMO Elena Zuyok (that’s me!) will be teaching a basic textural class at Weaving Works in Seattle, WA on August 15th, 21015.
The class is will be a very basic beginner class. We will go over warping a Mirrix Loom with a shedding device, the basic concepts of tapestry (sett, shed, line), a few techniques and how to finish a tapestry as a wall-hanging.
We have chosen some beautiful textured neutral yarn and roving and will also have a few colored accent yarns available to choose from.
You will go home with a completed tapestry!
Lately there has been a huge resurgence of interest in tapestry weaving, especially tapestry of a certain aesthetic (a tendency to use neutrals, roving, textured yarns). It is my hope to capture those interested in this type of tapestry and teach them some of the basic building blocks of the art form.
I think this is going to be a really fun class, and it’s offered at a great price. Join us!
Have a question? Feel free to email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org!
I call it weaving-lite. It’s what I do when I want to weave but don’t really want to think. My go-to material is hand-painted silk because of its no-fail qualities. If you want to just play with fiber on your Mirrix, use great materials and you probably will create something that is pleasing if not out-right amazing. And it will get you through the moments when your creativity light is not shining at its brightest. After all, creating art is really 95% doing it and 5% true creativity. Often we are repeating something we’ve already done with slight alterations. These baby steps keep us moving toward the rare but wonderful huge insights. And if you are like me, you can’t help but make things constantly.
Let me begin with the beginning which wasn’t weaving, but was actually turning an already woven silk strip into a wearable item. I was inspired by the below findings that I had just received in the mail. I thought they would be perfect for making a silk bracelet, and I was right.
Are you ready for a loom upgrade? For THREE days only (Thursday July 9th, Friday July 10th and Saturday July 11th) we are offering a brand new basic tapestry loom package for up to $50 off.
With a loom, heddles, some gorgeous hand-painted silk and a tapestry needle all you need is some warp (and maybe some more weft, we love using the silk for shimmery, colorful accents) and you are all ready to get started weaving.
These are big savings you definitely won’t see again for a long time!
This package includes:
-A 12″ Little Guy, 16″ Big Sister or 22″ Zach Loom
-6 Skeins of Hand-Painted Silk
-A 5″ Tapestry Needle
-A Roll of 100 Texsolv Heddles
Click here to get the package and save while you can!
Please take the time to read the terms and conditions below
Terms & Conditions:
Cannot be combined with any other offers
Only one loom package per customer
Mirrix Looms reserves the right to deny, or change any discount
Expires at midnight on July 11th, 2015
Only valid at mirrixlooms.com
This deal is only valid for purchases of this loom package on July 9th, 10th and 11th, 2015. These discounts CANNOT be applied to orders made previously.
Looms purchased as part of this deal will begin shipping on July 14th and cannot be expedited
This blog post is part of a series on the basics of weaving tapestry
Tapestry is by definition weft-faced weaving. This means that you can see the weft (the fiber that you weave back and forth) and cannot see the warp (the fiber you wrap around your loom). To achieve this, a weaver must figure out the correct combination of warp spacing (this is called “sett”), warp size and weft size.
On a Mirrix, warp spacing is determined by the warp coil (or spring) at the top of the loom. We identify different warp coils by how many dents (the spaces between the coils) are in an inch. This is called DPI (dents per inch) or EPI (ends per inch). Choosing the correct warp coil for the warp and weft you are using is very important when planning your tapestry.
Generally speaking, if you are using a finer weft you will want to use a warp coil with more dents per inch and if you are a using a thicker weft, you will want to use a warp coil with fewer dents per inch or even warp every other dent (For example, an 18 dent warp coil every other dent is equal to a 9 dent warp coil.)
How do you determine the correct sett?
Unfortunately, there is not a simple trick for figuring out your warp spacing. Every weft and warp combination is different and it might take some time to begin to get a sense of what warp coil should be used each time you weave a new piece.
A good way to determine if your sett is correct is to put your weft in between your warp threads vertically when your loom is warped. If your weft threads are much thicker than the space between the two warp threads, then your weft is probably too thick and if your weft threads are much thinner than you know your weft is too thin.
One way to choose your warp sett is to look at what sett others have used with the same warp and weft you are using. Check out some of our free projects and weave-alongs and look at the warp and weft and sett that we are using. Imitation is a good way to get started!
We also have a handy crowd-sourced list of different tapestry yarns people have used and the EPI/DPI they set their loom at.
Tapestry and cloth weaving have less in common than their sharing of the word “weaving” would indicate. Both are indeed weaving and share the following characteristics: They rely on the interlacement of warp and weft; the warps (the threads that are attached to the loom) run parallel to each other; the weft (the threads that are woven into the warp run at right angles to the warp and inter-cross. But that is the extent of their relationship since the balance of these two very different weaves produces final products that are radically different from one another.
Cloth weaving can be either simple or complex but the resulting fabric is always somewhat balanced. By this I mean that the ratio of warp to weft is fairly even so that both show, possibly one more than the other, but still creating enough of a balance that the warp and weft are visible. Tapestry, on the other hand, is completely weft-faced. This means that the warp does not show at all. Just this difference alone is enough to set these weaves completely apart. A fabric that is completely weft-faced will be much stiffer than a balanced weave and, because the warp does not show and hence does not affect the appearance of the fabric, the application of the weft is all that counts in creating a design. The difference does not end here. Tapestry involves the use of discontinuous wefts. No given weft ever travels across the entire weaving (generally speaking), whereas in cloth weaving wefts generally do travel across the entire weaving.
Cloth weaving can produce stunning works of art intended for both decoration and clothing, but in general its purpose is to produce functional material. Tapestry has been used to create functional items such as rugs, saddle bags, and other items intended to be sturdy and withstand wear. But tapestry is most famous for the wall hangings created to decorate and insulate the walls of castles. Many different cultures have created tapestries and within those cultures certain techniques dominate, creating some confusion as to the difference, for example, among a Navajo rug and a European tapestry or a Coptic tapestry. The basis of all these tapestries is essentially the same since the warp is covered and the resulting fabric is pictorial and that design is based on the placement of the weft alone.
Although both cloth weaving and tapestry can theoretically be created on the same kind of loom, there are dedicated cloth and tapestry looms that provide certain elements to facilitate the proper weaving of each. A cloth loom does not require the same kind of tension that a tapestry loom does. However, more than two shafts (the movable parts of the loom that hold the heddles and allow for the raising and lowering of the warps in order to create a shed, which is simply a word to describe the space between these two sets of threads) is preferred for a cloth loom in order to produce the stunning possible number of weaving structures. Tapestry, on the other hand, requires a lot of tension but only two shafts (although some tapestry looms, such as Navajo looms, do not have any shafts but rather employ a more manual method for separating the threads). There are looms that will accomplish both cloth weaving and tapestry, but in general it is best to have looms devoted to one or the other. A cloth loom will generally not provide the necessary tension to weave tapestry and will potentially provide options that are not at all necessary for tapestry. A good analogy would be the mountain bike versus a road bike. You can ride a mountain bike on the road but it’s a lot more efficient and faster to ride a road bike on a road. It’s nearly impossible to ride a road bike on a dirt trail. If you intend to do both with passion you are best off owning both kinds of bikes.
I find that the personality that loves tapestry does not necessarily love cloth weaving. I am of that ilk. The same applies in the opposite direction. Cloth weavers are able to patiently set up their looms over the course of hours and days and then quickly weave yards and yards of cloth. Tapestry looms are relatively quickly set up but the weaving takes a very long time. The relative nature of a cloth weaving is predetermined by the threading of the warp. Certain elements can be modified, of course, by the shedding pattern (which warps are raised) and the choice of weft, but since the warp shows its color and threading cannot be changed during the course of weaving, the major elements of a cloth weaving are set in place when you warp the loom. Since the tapestry warp is completely covered by the weft, it can only effect the tapestry by its set (how close or far apart the warps are spaced) and the size of the warp. The warp has to be in correct relationship to the weft so that the tapestry remains weft-faced.
Tapestry is like painting. The warp creates a canvas on which one paints with fiber. But unlike painting, the final and necessary structure of the “canvas” is only created once the weft is applied. Hence, tapestry becomes a very architectural kind of artwork since the structure is created from the bottom up. What was woven at the beginning cannot be changed after the fact. One does not have the luxury of the whole page to play with since the page only exists in the tapestry as the “paint” is applied. It’s an interesting constraint that can create as many mistakes as accidental successes. But whereas tapestry is like painting, it is also still weaving and hence takes its own unique place in the world of art.
This is a re-post of a 2008 blog post by Mirrix CEO Claudia Chase
At Mirrix Looms, we believe in the power of quality weaving tools and supplies. For tapestry weaving, this includes warp, weft and of course, a loom. That said, not everyone knows they’re going to fall in love with weaving (spoiler: you will) and some of you want to give it a try before investing in a Mirrix.
Here are instructions on how to make your own frame loom with just a few inexpensive materials. Make a loom, play on it and then decide if you’re ready to move onto a loom with good tension, a shedding device, multiple warp coils, fold-out legs and more!
What you need:
-Four stretcher bars (Available in any art supply store. Try these from Dick Blick.)
-Short nails (make sure they are shorter than the depth of your stretcher bars)
-A permanent ink pen or marker
If you’ve ever tried to weave tapestry on a loom not intended for weaving tapestry, you understand how frustrating it is to not have the kind of tension necessary to weave a tapestry that will not look like something you imagine might have emerged from weaving day at summer camp. Tapestry is a demanding medium full of must have requirements. If you give her what she wants, she is as lovely as can be. But if you deny her the simple requirement of a dedicated and worthy tapestry loom, she can be quite the adversary. Forget even selvedges unless you are some kind of magician. Forget evenly spaced warps. And if you have an inferior shedding mechanism or none at all, forget your sanity. It’s bound to march off to the wistful world or potholder looms while slashing the warps on your inadequate loom with a sharp and deadly scissor.
Good tapestry looms are necessary for weaving tapestry. Period. Four harness jack looms don’t work. Rigid heddle looms don’t work. Flimsy portable wooden tapestry looms don’t work. Little home-made frames work for about two rows and then you might as well just stop because it goes downhill after that and you won’t be hanging that thing on anyone’s wall.
So what are the exacting requirement of a good or even great portable tapestry loom? (The same requirements apply mostly to a floor loom but since you won’t be hauling a floor loom around the house or to your next workshop which is necessary to be called a portable loom, we will leave them off this list. Okay, here comes the list.) We are talking portable looms here.
The Mirrix Looms Ambassador program hopes to unite Mirrix Looms (both the company and the products) with talented bead and tapestry weavers from around the world. By connecting these gifted artists, quality weaving equipment and the networks of both, the hope is to simultaneously increase awareness of each ambassador and of Mirrix products.
Each ambassador will have a unique role, but you can expect instructional blog posts, project ebooks, inspiration and more from these amazing artists.
Today, we are very excited to introduce our third Mirrix Looms Ambassador, Natalie Novak.
How long have you been weaving and what first attracted you to tapestry weaving?
Not long at all! I only started weaving in early 2012. I had spent the previous fall and winter checking out every weaving book I could find at the library, at first I mostly focused on Southwestern textiles, (Navajo, Zapotec, Rio Grande), but my curiousity quickly spiraled out to include anything weaving related. At a certain point it was obvious to me that my interest was going beyond casual observer and I could hear the loom calling my name.
What formal weaving/tapestry training do you have?
I’m really lucky to live near The Damascus Fiber Arts School, which is amazing! I learned Navajo style weaving from Audrey Moore and tapestry from Terry Olson. They’re incredible teachers and weavers and they’ve created a great community there. It’s funny in a way because I attended the Oregon College of Art and Craft 10-15 years ago and they have a really great fibers department, but I was there for painting and drawing so the only fiber class I ever took was Surface Design with Lisa O’brien. I remember there being an entire room full of floor looms and I’d always walk through really quickly or avoid it entirely because I was afraid I’d break them somehow. They looked so complicated and intense!
What kinds of looms do you currently weave on?
I have a Navajo style loom made by Duncan Fiber Enterprises and a variety of frame looms: copper pipe ala Archie Brennan, Glimakra and some gorgeous wooden frames that my husband made; it helps that he’s a furniture maker.
How do your tapestries and paintings relate to one another? In other words, what makes you decide to weave something in tapestry versus painting it?
Right now I’m weaving everything. I’m obsessed! Initially I was working only with geometric shapes and color relationships in my woven work because it felt so different from painting, it seemed so structured. But there’s definitely a shift taking place and my approach and subject matter in tapestry are getting closer to how I think about painting, which has always been very narrative for me. When I think about making work now, I think about painting mostly in conjunction with other woven works. When I ask myself why something should be woven I can always come up with an answer that adds to the meaning of the piece.
What are your three favorite tapestries?
This question is way too hard! I guess the first pictorial works that really blew me away were some of Mark Adams’ designs; I remember thinking, “Wait, that’s tapestry?” I couldn’t believe these psychedelic, technicolor artworks were made with the same techniques as the medieval/renaissance tapestries I was more familiar with. My favorites are the three pieces in “The Garden Suite” which hangs at the San Francisco Airport and “Queen of Heaven.” Can I count this as one?
I also really love Gunta Stolzl’s Bauhaus work; it’s so modern and timeless. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess “Slit Tapestry Red/Green” is at the top of my list.
I recently took a workshop from Joan Baxter and so I have to include one of her beautiful pieces. She really understands color and has a way of creating the illusion of transparency in her tapestry, which isn’t easy to do. I’m impressed by just about everything she’s made, but “Waterforest” is my favorite.
What are your favorite and/or “go to” tapestry techniques?