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Tapestry weavings by Janna Maria Vallee woven in Everlea Yarns for the School of SweetGeorgia

What is Tapestry?

Dear School of SweetGeorgia members,

My name is Janna Maria Vallee and I’m the tapestry instructor here at SOS. I am beginning a series of tapestry weaving articles to accompany my video lessons so that I may offer more ways to support you in your tapestry journey. Within this series of articles, I hope to answer some of your questions about tapestry, contextualize some of my video lessons to offer different perspectives, and just talk more about how to be creative within the medium of tapestry.

Teaching tapestry is a passion of mine and my hope is that between my online classes, the SOS forum and this new series of articles, I can fully support you in your ventures into tapestry weaving.

This first article is titled, “What is Tapestry?”. The answer to that question is simple, but in unloading each tapestry characteristic for you I hope to help you acquire the vocabulary (both visual and literary) to contextualize what tapestry is, what some basic characteristics of tapestry are and how to approach some basic tapestry skills.

 

What is Tapestry?

Tapestry weaving has two primary characteristics: (1) it is weft faced, and (2) it operates with a discontinuous weft.

(1) WEFT-FACED:

Janna Maria Vallee demonstrating tapestry weaving techniques

Weft-faced fabric is characterized by the weft yarn being the only yarn that is visible once woven. This is achieved in tapestry weaving when the weaver passes the weft through the warp yarn (which the loom is dressed in), and packs down the weft to cover the woven warp yarn completely.

In order to create a weft-faced fabric, the weaver must make an educated decision about the relationship between their warp yarn and weft yarn. SETT refers to that relationship, including the gauge (thickness) of both, and how far apart the weaver organizes their warp yarn on their loom. A weft-faced weaving can only be achieved if the loom is dressed with each end of the warp yarn far enough apart on the loom to accommodate the weft’s attempt to hug it when it passes between it. If there is not enough room for the weft to hug the warp yarn, the weaver will not be able to cover the warp to achieve weft-faced fabric, and the warp will show bits of itself on the surface of the tapestry.

Determining SETT: In my Fundamentals of Tapestry course (see video at 2:33), I show you how to determine what ends-per-inch you should warp your loom up at, with a warp and weft you have decided on.

Janna Maria Vallee demonstrating tapestry weaving techniques

Here’s how you do it: Hold one strand of your warp and one strand of your weft together in one hand, wrapping them around a ruler in an alternating pattern. Once you’ve covered a one-inch-area on the ruler, count just the warp yarn in that one inch area. That number, give or take one or two (depending on the kind of weft-faced fabric you would like to make) is how many ends-per-inch (EPI) you want to set up your warp on your loom.

Janna Maria Vallee demonstrating tapestry weaving techniques

 

(2) DISCONTINUOUS WEFT: 

Janna Maria Vallee demonstrating tapestry weaving techniques

Weaving with multiple weft bundles operating in a discontinuous fashion allows for colour blending and shape building within the woven design. This means tapestry allows the weaver to create designs which are independent of each other, falling outside the confines of both the grid and the repetition found in multi-shaft weaving. In tapestry, weft bundles operate independently and never travel all the way from one side of the weaving to the other. Instead, the weft is discontinuous, turning around and doubling back on itself and on-top of other woven areas, inside the woven plane wherever the weaver’s design dictates.

Janna Maria Vallee tapestry weaving art piece
Tapestry woven by Janna Maria Vallee, titled: Madeira Park, 2018

Tapestry allows the weaver to project whatever image they design onto the loom.There are certain rules for setting up multiple weft bundles which are in place to allow the weaver to create pictures with the fewest technical hurdles. A design can be abstract, or representational, figurative or landscape. In my Fundamentals of Tapestry Course in the Blending Colours and Shapes sections, I show you how to set up your weft bundles in a “meet-and-separate” fashion to allow for such freedom in designing and weaving tapestry.

 

Tapestry is Dense: Pack down your weft

Janna Maria Vallee demonstrating tapestry weaving techniques

You may like the look of flowing fabric and hope to create a wall hanging that has a certain kind of drape, but what you’re hoping for may not be possible with tapestry. Tapestry is by nature dense. Sometimes beginner weavers can be suprised by this characteristic and attempt to pack down their weft less hard to create a looser fabric. When beating down your weft with your weaving fork (aka beater), you want to pack it down firmly in a manner that is easy to do with the same force each time. If you pack down too hard, you can create pain in your wrists over time, so pack down in a way which immediately feels almost effortless, yet pushes your weft all the way down to touch the weft which was woven below it. TIP: Sometimes it can look like the last weft you wove is not packed down enough, and it may take weaving a few picks to see that your beating is working out fine.

 

Consistency is Key: Troubleshooting common tapestry issues

With all of this new information you may be ready to attempt your first tapestry, or go back to a project you were overwhelmed by. I want you to be well equipped and aware of a few things that can happen (sometimes all at once) if you are not packing your weft down consistently, or placing your weft in the shed evenly (the latter being the most common culprit): (a) your weft will not properly cover your warp, and therefore you will not be making weft-faced fabric, (b) weft tension issues with arise from inconsistent weft bubbling and your warps will begin to either move too close together or too far apart in isolated areas, and (c) inconsistent weft tension will result in your selvages (edges of your tapestry) drawing in, ie. your tapestry is gets narrower as you weave.

If you are having any of these issues make sure the following things are in place: (a) your EPI is good (as per my ruler exercise above – see video link at 2:33) , (b) you are beating your weft down enough, and (c) you are placing your weft in your shed in consistent bubbles across the entire plane (see video link at 11:43).

 

Okay, folks, I sure enjoyed writing this for you, I hope it was helpful. Feel free, as always, to join me in the forums and ask me more questions about your adventures in tapestry weaving.