Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weft: a wittle fing you weave frew da warp. (Elmer Fudd)

Wefts can be tricky business. When I first began to learn to weave tapestry, it was all about aiming for the flat surface, no ridging, no pulling in of the selvedges--just flat and plum bob square. That goal took a long time for me to try to achieve, and my work never has been consistent that way. One time, I was weaving a rooster eating a bug, and in the background was a napkin & fork, a pasture, and other chicken associations. Right around the the comb of the rooster, I had inadvertently woven an eccentric weft in order to get the image like I wanted it. [see image provided] It was more important to me to get the image right than the surface to be flat. The heck with flat, I thought. I cut the tapestry off the loom and laid it out. Steamed it. And hey, it stayed flat enough. Sewing it onto a frame for presentation helped keep it flat.
Here is the chicken tapestry, "Hungry Rooster, (c) 1999; 14" x 14". Tommye and I go waaay back and I showed this tapestry to her and she said she rather liked the eccentric movement in it. I did too. So I began to include more and more eccentric weft, which became a gateway into playing with yarns other than wool. I’d gone to The Cloisters [] in upper Manhattan and observed a medieval tapestry of Soloman and Sheba. Sheba’s gown was silk velvet!!  amongst the rest of the tapestry which was more traditional yarn weaving. Ahoy! I thought. Anything can be done if it suits the image and makes sense in the context of the tapestry.

I began to use perle cotton, which I prefer over silk--both because of the price and because I think modern cotton may have a longer life than silk, but don't quote me. I’ve had a few bad events with silk. Perle cotton is also more readily available with a marvelous selection of colors. One source is Herrschners online store: I found their prices to be pretty good, and they ship quickly and are easy to work with. So far.

One of my early-on favorites was a boucle yarn I got at an outlet yarn barn place. I had a couple of large cones of it. Because I’d used a great deal of it in yardage floor loom weaving, I knew it had a significant shrinkage. So I wound all of it off into skeins, washed it, dried it and put it back into balls. (You can see some of that yarn in the white feathers of the rooster above.) It’s all gone now. Which led me to the pleasurable act of going into yarn shops and looking for non-stretchy yarns of the size that would weave well on 8 or 6 ends per inch tapestries. I like to get yarns that are thin enough to mix with my wools in order to obtain chine, or gradations of colors.

These are a few novelty yarns I keep on hand--less than an ounce each, but a little goes a long way. 

I keep a small frame loom warped so I can weave the really odd, questionable yarns I find in order to see how they look when woven.  

Tips and Hints: A few keys to successful weaving with novelty yarns are 1) use yarns with a minimum of stretch; 2) ideally, the yarn will be thin enough to mix with your base yarn (the yarn used in the majority of space in the tapestry--mine is usually a wool). When it can mix with your base yarn, you’ll have more flexibility for gradations, etc. 3) When actually putting the novelty yarn into the warp, play with how much bubble you should give before packing it down. This is where sampling comes in handy. Often, you just can’t know how it will look or how it will pack until one or two square inches of it are woven. 4) As always, weave often, play a lot.


  1. Pat, thank you so much for all these tips and hints. You've encouraged me to play more and what to play with! What a great excuse to visit my local yarn store, yum. Thank you very much for the time you spent on this, as always I've learned from your expertise!

  2. Thanks for your wonderful insight about weft possibilities, Pat!

  3. Pat, thank for a terrific post and with pictures too! That is a lot of help. You also made me think that having a little loom to sample on as I go wouldn't be a bad idea. That way maybe I won't wear out the warp before I get a piece woven.

  4. I have yet to weave my first tapestry. I had a fun teacher come to my home last week and she got me started. I have been reading Nancy Harvey's book Tapestry Weaving a Comprehensive Study Guide. When you talk about playing, I can see it will take me awhile to learn, but I know the journey will be fun. I enjoyed your story and will come back to Tapestry Share often to learn as much as I can. I hope down the road I can share as a beginner my adventures into Tapestry Weaving. Sandy Henry