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
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.
Maybe you’ve played around with a wooden frame weaving loom or a little wire bead loom and you’re ready to take the next step in your weaving journey. Perhaps you’ve just discovered weaving and you’re looking to start out weaving with the best loom you can buy. It could be that you can’t decide if you’re into fiber art or bead art and you want a loom that can do it all. Whatever the reason, here are our top ten reasons why you might want to choose a Mirrix for your weaving needs.
From tapestry weaving to bead weaving to wire weaving and free-form fiber weaving, Mirrix Looms are incredibly versatile.
2.) Size Options
Mirrix Looms come in eight sizes, from the 5″ wide Mini Mirrix to the 38″ wide Zeus Loom, allowing you to choose a loom size that best fits your needs. Need help deciding? Get a free loom recommendation here.
Even the largest Mirrix can fit in a relatively small space and can be easily moved, and the smaller looms are perfect for taking on vacation, to workshops and really anywhere where you want to do some weaving!
A Mirrix Loom is built to last a lifetime. Made out of high-quality materials, your Mirrix may need to be polished once in a while, but it won’t need to be replaced for many, many years (we’ve had looms in use for 19 years that are still going strong).
When it comes to bead or fiber weaving, providing good tension is the number one job of a loom. With its continuous warping system and the ability to increase or decrease your tension anytime, Mirrix Looms do this job incredibly well.
From the No Warp-Ends Kit that allows you to weave beads without having to deal with finishing all your warp threads to the amazing Spencer Power Treadle, we have accessories for all your weaving needs (even the ones you didn’t know you had).
7.) The Shedding Device
The Mirrix shedding device allows you to weave faster and easier with both beads and fiber. You can learn more about it here.
8.) The Mirrix Community
When you purchase a Mirrix, you join an amazing community of weavers. From online classes and webinars to weave-alongs and free projects, being a part of the Mirrix community will keep you inspired for years to come.
9.) Made in America
Not only are Mirrix Looms made in America, but our manufacturing facility is housed in a really amazing place that employs some really amazing people. You can learn more about Sunshine House and Mirrix Looms here.
10.) Customer Service
When you buy a Mirrix, we’ll be there for you long after you make your purchase. Need advice on a project? Want some inspiration? Not sure how something works? We’re always happy to help!
Do you have anything you’d add? Tell us in the comments!
The manual treadle made its arrival within the first year of the birth of Mirrix. We loved that treadle and still do. But sadly, we are phasing it out after we eliminate our current inventory. The reason? The Electric Spencer Treadle was born. It’s lighter, much more portable and even easier to use than the manual treadle. It took us a couple of months to work out all the kinks (like figuring out where to get certain components to guarantee many, many years of use), but we’ve finally done it and we are thrilled.
This new treadle has been tested and tested and the unanimous opinion is that it makes weaving tapestry and/or fiber so much faster on the Mirrix. Since your hands are free to just weave and not change the shed, you can weave twice as fast. It also gives the shed-changing arm a break helping to eliminate shoulder stress.
We want you to have fun with the Electric Spencer Treadle too and so we are offering you some big incentives to jump in and test the waters of “speed tapestry.”
This 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.
Unlike our Social Market for a Mirrix program, Mirrix ambassadors will not be chosen through an application process. We will be seeking out ambassadors ourselves, looking for artists around the world who fit our criteria.
Each ambassador will have a unique role, but you can expect instructional blog posts, project ebooks, inspiration and more from these amazing artists.
We will be profiling our first ambassador soon!
If you do have a suggestion for an ambassador (or think you’d be a good one yourself), you can fill out the form below and we will keep the information on file.
Introducing a NEW Mirrix Loom: The Automatic Mirrix.
Plug it in and this new Mirrix runs completely on its own! All you need to do is send your design to the loom, ready the supplies and the Automatic Mirrix will do the rest!
-Sitting for hours in front of your loom
-Picking up those tiny beads
-Having to learn tapestry techniques
Make anything from beaded bracelets to beautiful tapestries with the click of a button!
So you want to weave tapestry and you’re trying to decide on a loom. Congratulations! You’re going to love the journey you are about to embark on. Tapestry, as we say, is like painting with fiber and provides endless creative opportunities.
As with most art forms, your success weaving depends partly on the tools and materials you use.
Here we will discuss the differences between a simple frame loom and a Mirrix for weaving tapestry.
Ever have one of those evenings when you get home and know you should take the dog for a long walk and make dinner and you have 15 emails you need to reply to, but really you want to crawl into bed even though it’s only 7 pm? Last night, I did just that.
I turned on Netflix and brought my 12″ Little Guy into bed with me. Then, I wove. One thing I love about tapestry on a small loom is that you can really weave anywhere. All I needed was my loom, yarn and a pair of scissors (I also was using the weighted beater we sell on our site… once you go with a weighted on, you can never go back) to weave in bed.
I got into one of those meditative states where I had no idea what time it was and, for the first time that day, I wasn’t worried about work or weekend plans or anything else going on in my life.
That’s what weaving is all about. And that’s why we make these looms.
A little about the ATA and its mission statement:
The American Tapestry Alliance (ATA) is engaged in a wide range of educational, exhibition, outreach and promotional programs. Our programs serve the goals of our Mission Statement:
-to promote an awareness of and appreciation for woven tapestries designed and woven by individual artists
-to encourage and recognize superior quality tapestries
-to encourage educational opportunities in the field of tapestry
-to sponsor exhibitions of tapestries
-to establish a network for tapestry weavers throughout the world
-to educate the public about the history and techniques involved in tapestry making
The American Tapestry Alliance grew out of a friendship between two tapestry weavers, Hal Painter and Jim Brown, who had a common desire to promote and establish tapestry during a time when the art form was experiencing a revival. From their auspicious first meeting at Hal’s studio in 1968 where Jim was suddenly transformed from a potter to a weaver, to the 30,000 miles they travelled through the United States and Mexico to teach tapestry, to their eventual creation of an alliance in 1982 that would unite American tapestry weavers, Hal and Jim broke the ground that current ATA leaders and members gratefully still.
Is the ATA the right organization for a beginner tapestry weaver to join?
Yes! We encourage all interested in tapestry, beginners to professional weavers, educators, museums and art galleries.
What are the benefits of joining ATA?
ATA offers its members: exhibition opportunities, educational retreats and workshops, e-news, e-kudos, long distance learning and helping hands programs, an on-line quarterly newsletter called Tapestry Topics, an extensive awards program including scholarships and an international student award and an extensive website.
What campaigns or programs do you have going on right now?
ATA’s annual fundraiser, this year a Raffle consisting of a tapestry woven by Jane Kidd (shown above), as well as many other prizes. Enter here!
American Tapestry Biennial 10 opens at Visions Art Center, San Diego, CA May 2 – July 20, 2014. Learn more here.
UNTITLED/UNJURIED: Small format tapestry 2014 opens at University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus Gallery, July 8 – August 8, 2014.
Call for entry for Small Tapestry International 4: Honoring Tradition, Inspiring Innovation.
Learn more about the ATA (and join!) on their website:
A few years ago Mirrix President Claudia Chase came up with a fantastic idea: Have Mirrix owners share their love of Mirrix Looms with their friends and neighbors in exchange for credits that could be used in the Mirrix Store to get more goodies! These sessions could either be one-on-one or “Mirrix parties”. The program was fairly successful and quite a few Mirrix enthusiasts earned enough credits to treat themselves to lots of fun Mirrix stuff. However, the program seems to have fizzled out recently and we’re ready to bring it back!
Visit our website to learn more about how the program works and start earning your Mirrix credits, OR see a loom in person by visiting one of fantastic participants, today!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in signing up!