Last year I was headed to an important workshop in Washington. Due to a serious miscalculation in suitcase size along with a good dose of procrastination, I needed a loom in a matter of days in Seattle. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t marry my 22-inch Mirrix with the raggedy bunch of suitcases living in my garage in a way that would get me on a plane without strip searches by TSA. Claudia and Elena pulled me through that with so much grace (it was Gay Pride weekend on Capitol Hill and I can’t even begin to tell you the crazy of that). I had a 16-inch Mirrix ready to go for the workshop and none of my colleagues were any the wiser. That was the start of my fleet of Mirrix looms. My students ask for them when they come to take workshops in my studio and I use them constantly for small format work and teaching tapestry online.
Tapestry weaving is something I love passionately. I am also a natural teacher. And when the two meet, great things happen! I have just released my first beginning online tapestry class. I am so excited about this new adventure. And the demonstrations are woven almost entirely on Mirrix looms.
The class is called Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry. I started working on it over a year ago when I realized how many requests I was getting for online classes. Taking workshops in person is great fun and an excellent way to learn, but the potential for a longer-term focused learning situation in a format you can access from home is the way to go for some people.
I learned to weave fabric from that old standard, Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler. I am from the American Southwest and a lot of the inspiration for my work comes from the feelings I get wandering around this area of the country. I wanted to capture that in my fiber art and with regret and thanks to Deborah, I quickly moved from fabric weaving to tapestry. I was an apprentice for James Koehler for several years before his death and now I run my own studio in Santa Fe, NM where I do a lot of dreaming and playing with yarn, teach workshops, and meet students online.
My online class is kind of like hanging around my studio for a month, but you get to wear your pajamas if you want to and no one will ever know. The class is highly video-based and contains many handouts and practice exercises. The best part is that you get to learn from me and your fellow students in a format that is flexible to your schedule. The class has three parts and you can sign up for one at a time or all three at once. There are many more details on my website at www.rebeccamezoff.com/online-learning/.
If you’ve read my blog (http://rebeccamezoff.blogspot.com) for any amount of time, you’ll know I’m a big Mirrix fan. Claudia and Elena don’t even pay me to stay this stuff! I think their looms are excellent pieces of equipment and I believe that beautiful tapestry starts with good craftsmanship which starts with good equipment. So another big thanks to Mirrix for designing and selling these looms and for your awesome customer service. I promise that next time I am in Seattle, I will have a Mirrix that fits in my suitcase.
Before you start the header, you need to weave two strands that serve as a base for your tapestry to rest on. The base yarn is wrapped around both sides of the loom and tied to hold it in place. You weave it like you do anything else, passing the yarn through one open shed, then changing sheds and passing back through.
Here’s my base.
I used my weighted tapestry beater to beat those strands down.
To begin the header for this project, we’re weaving a row of twining. This was my first time doing twining, and it wasn’t difficult at all.
Twining is performed with the shed closed, meaning that there is no space between sets of warps for passing the yarn through; all the warps are on the same plane. I mentioned last time that I’m using a treadle to change sheds on my loom, instead of the standard handle. Before I show you how the twining turned out, here’s what the treadle setup looks like.
This is where the treadle device hooks up to the loom.
The two cords are cables that run all the way to the floor and connect with the foot treadle itself.
Here’s the treadle on the floor.
I have it sitting on a stair runner carpet to keep it from sliding. The big flat silver portion is the pedal. It rotates like a seesaw. You press it forward and down to open one shed and backward and down to open the other. If you’d like to see how to install the treadle, check out this free video by Claudia.
To close the shed for twining, you position the pedal so it’s flat, which is halfway between one shed and the other shed.
Twining uses two bundles of yarn that cross one another between warps. Here are my first several “twines.”
They almost look like a rope running along the warps.
Here’s my completed row of twining.
It probably could have been a little neater toward the end. I think I allowed the strands to twist too much.
Next up is the main portion of the header, which simply involves weaving a bunch of rows that reach from one side all the way to the other. When you do this, you need to create a hill, or bubble, with the weft yarn, rather than pulling it straight across in the shed. This ensures that the weft is long enough to zig zig between the warps when you close the shed without pulling in the sides of the tapestry. Claudia explains this in more detail during the class.
Here’s my first header weft making a bubble.
And here I am beating down the wefts after making a few rows of bubbles.
To use the weighted beater, I used a sort of loose tapping motion, letting the beater do the work. Here’s a look at those first few rows completely beaten down.
The next step is to just keep weaving for a while. The biggest challenge at this point is learning how to keep the sides of the tapestry straight and even, and keep them from pulling inward. Which reminds me, I need to correct something I mentioned in my previous post. I had stated that my tapestry would probably end up pulling in a little on the sides — but that’s not correct! In the class, Claudia shows you how to measure as you go along to make sure your sides don’t pull in.
Looking closely at this next photo, I see that I could have done a better job keeping my edges even.
With the header complete, it’s time to start some real weaving using the beautiful wool/mohair yarn from the kit. We begin with several regular rows of black. You usually start a color by cutting a workable length and then deciding how to manage it. Claudia shows you how to make and use butterflies for the class, where the only tool you need is your hand. Another option is to use tapestry bobbins. I recently got a great deal on a bunch of bobbins on Ebay, and I decided to practice with them for this project instead of using butterflies.
This is what a bobbin looks like with some black yarn loaded on.
And here I am using the bobbin to pass the yarn through a shed.
One of the nice things about using a bobbin is that you can use it to push down bubbles between beatings. (I know…that sounds a little strange! Weaving has some interesting terminology.)
If you’d like to learn how to use bobbins, check out Kathe Todd-Hooker’s book Tapestry 101.
Here are the first few rows of black yarn completed.
The wool/mohair yarn is a little puffier than the Navaho warp yarn, which means that you need to experiment to determine the right size of bubbles to make. I found that my edges tended to be too loose if I wasn’t careful.
Next we switched to a few rows of magenta.
At this point it was time to try the first special technique: wavy lines. They’re super easy. We were supposed to use orange yarn for the first one, but for some reason I grabbed yellow. So, my wavy lines are going to be yellow.
Here’s a close look at a pig tail which is used to secure the new color of yarn to a warp.
After making some wavy lines, I actually decided that my edges were unacceptably loose.
I wanted to redo them, so I un-wove several rows of weaving. The downside I’ve found with un-weaving is that wool yarn tends to get fuzzy from pulling it through the warps multiple times. I always end up trying to snip off the extra fuzz with my embroidery scissors. Maybe one of those little sweater fuzz eater machines would work better.
Here’s my initial weaving after re-weaving to tighten up the edges a little.
The left hand side looks a little bulky because I used that side to carry up each color when the opposite color was in use (for the wavy lines), but I think the right hand side looks much better.
Next, we’ll make some blocks of color, starting with the weft interlock technique. Stay tuned for my next post to find out how it goes!
Chris Franchetti Michaels is a bestselling craft book author and designer. Visit her blog at http://www.beadjewelry.net.
This month I begin working my way through Claudia’s Introduction to Tapestry Techniques class on CraftArtEdu. I’m especially excited about this course because it covers the most useful tapestry weaving techniques, and because the sampler you get to make is an actual tapestry wall hanging.
Even though the class is suitable for absolute beginners, I’m coming into it with a few months of tapestry weaving experience. So far I’ve made several bead and tapestry bracelets (I previously completed the Bead and Tapestry Cuffs class on Craftsy, which I highly recommend), plus three small tapestry panels as practice pieces. I’m hoping this new class helps me perfect a few methods that are slowing me down and allows me to get more creative. Starting today, I’ll be guest blogging about the class. Feel free to post any questions in the comments as I go along.
First off, a little about CrafArtEdu. It’s a website devoted to making online craft and fine art classes accessible and convenient to everyone. They currently offer over 400 courses for all experience levels, in over 40 categories. The instructors are all highly experienced and well known for their work and teaching abilities.
Once you create an account on CraftArtEdu and purchase a class, the class remains available to you indefinitely. You can stop it, restart it, or replay it as many times as you’d like. You can also create your own member profile and share photos or videos of your work, as well as network with other members.
The six tapestry class videos, called “broadcasts,” are composed of lots of photos with close-up views of techniques, helpful lists and information in text, and audio of Claudia walking you through everything step by step. It’s easy to stop and restart, and you can jump around and replay key parts anytime.
Part 1 of the class covers warping the loom. I’ve warped my Mirrix loom a number of times now, so this part was easy. Here’s a look at my 16-inch Mirrix loom before warping, sitting on my corner work desk.
It has a couple of features that may look different from your loom, especially if you’re just starting out. First, there is an extra, black plastic clip on the vertical copper bar on the right-hand side. My loom originally came with two wooden clips, one on each side. (You can see the second one scooted up above the black clip.) I’ve added the black clip so that I can use the add-on treadle.
The second difference is that there is a black plastic strip with two metal knobs on the bottom horizontal bar. It’s part of the add-on bottom spring kit. For the class, I will be using my treadle, but I won’t use a second warp coil.
For the class project we’re using every other dent in a 14-dent warp coil (for a total of 7 dents per inch) and we’re using a total of 45 warps. Here I am (below) counting the dents — or spaces between spring coils — in my warp coil to make sure I’m using the right one.
I’m using a beading awl to help keep my place as I count. Alternatively you could do this with a tapestry needle.
Although the completed tapestry should be about 6 inches wide, my warps are closer to 6.5 inches. I think this is because my warp coil actually has closer to 15-dents per inch. However, there will probably be some pull-in on the sides of the tapestry which may bring it closer to 6 inches.
Here are all 45 warps wrapped around the loom.
The next step is to attach the heddles. These are little loops that wrap around the warps and ultimately create the shed, which is the horizontal space between sets of warps where you place the yarn when you weave.
Here’s a look at my heddles attached to the heddle bars on my shedding device.
I made my heddles using cotton crochet yarn and this handmade jig.
Alternatively, you can buy pre-made Texlov heddles. If you make your own, I recommend using something relatively strong that also holds a tight knot. You can test this by cutting a short length of the material and tying together the ends with a square knot. Then pull the ends away from each other and see if the knot slides. If it does, look for something more grippy.
Finally, here are side views of the shed when it’s closed versus when it’s open.
You’ll normally attach the shedding device handle and use it to turn the bar to change the shed from one open position to the other. For the photo, I just turned the bar with my hand because I’ll be attaching the treadle to the loom instead of using the handle. In my next post, I’ll show you what the treadle looks like attached and we’ll get ready to start weaving the tapestry.
Chris Franchetti Michaels is a bestselling craft book author and designer. Visit her blog at www.beadjewelry.net.