Weaving Tapestry on the Mirrix Loom
I am about ten inches into my tapestry using the new Mirrix Tapestry Starter Kit. I have to admit, I haven’t been weaving much tapestry in the last few years. I’ve been totally stuck on beads. Every time I would try to weave a tapestry (mainly so I could put a photo on the website) I would get a few inches done and then return to bead weaving. I have no idea why certain mediums come in and out of favor for me. I had stopped preparing my own yarn (getting the fleece, washing the fleece, dyeing the fleece, combing or carding the fleece and spinning the dyed fleece into color-blended tapestry yarn) and I guess I just didn’t feel I could weave without using my own yarn. The reason I had stopped the whole fiber preparation process is I ran out of time. Between running Mirrix, my family and being a State Rep. there didn’t seem to be that extra time to turn fleece into yarn. It’s such a long and meditative process. There are so many steps and so much time involved in each step. I do miss it. So from my spinning glory days when a basket of my homespun yarn graced the covers of Spin-Off magazine accompanying an article I wrote about how to spin for color, I was back to using commercially prepared yarn.
Now, I am inspired. Turning the yarn for the kits into balls allowed me time to think about the process of weaving again. It is so different from bead weaving. I can no longer say which one I like best. Ten years ago I would have said tapestry. A few months ago I would have said bead weaving. At this moment I will say BOTH. I love both.
What I have rediscovered:
First of all, I am not going for a great design here. I am just playing with color. The goal was to take the Mirrix tapestry starter kit and turn it into an iPad case. First I had to figure out the correct measurement. The first warp I put on the loom was not wide enough. In fact, I had put two warps on the loom: one for the iPad case and one for an iPod case. Once I wove in the header I discovered that the iPad case would be about seven and a half inches wide and the iPod case would be about three inches wide. Both pieces had drawn in. Of course they did. That is the nature of tapestry. Figure roughly an inch of draw in for every foot wide of weaving. And because you know it’s going to happen eventually, you need to make it happen with the header. What you see in the spring above in terms of width is not what you are going to see below once you’ve woven in your header. So to fix this I had to add more warp. Since I already had the heddles on and had started weaving, this wasn’t that easy. I had to sneak another eight warps onto the iPad case and another four or five to the iPod case. I released the tension on the loom to do this and amazingly enough was able to get the same tension on the new warps. Then I had to add new heddles. To do this I had to remove the shedding device from the clips and kind of let it just hang there. I also had to remove some of the heddles already on the loom and tie them with string so I could easily replace them. All of this was slightly awkward and not a lot of fun because I wanted to start weaving already! I did fine with the iPad case but somehow screwed up the heddles on the iPod case once the shedding device was back in place. So everything was ready to go and I discovered that the iPod case had a heddle in the wrong place which would have meant redoing all those heddles and once again delaying weaving. I did what anyone would have done. I cut the iPod warp off! Which is why the loom now just has one warp (in a previous post I said it would have two).
What I relearned/remembered:
Tapestry and bead weaving are two very different species. Beads are tiny and sometimes hard to catch and put in place but they are hard and require only a couple of techniques to weave. Sure, you can do get fancy and increase and decrease, but even that is pretty straight forward. Tapestry, on the other hand, can employ dozens of techniques. Each one needs to be mastered. But first you have to master the technique of getting your selvedges to be straight. Fortunately, you have an extreme advantage with the Mirrix Loom because of the tension you can ramp up on that warp. The greater the tension, the less chance the selvedges will start to draw in. But tension is not the only ingredient. Understanding what’s happening with that line of weft is crucial in understanding how to prevent your selvedges from drawing in. I was nervous that I would fail at even that basic goal. However, it did come back to me (I am getting my bicycle out tomorrow!). Let me explain the basic concept here. If you lay a straight line of tapestry weft into the shed the line of weft remains straight until you change the shed. Once you change the shed the weft becomes scalloped in every place there is a warp. If you’ve just laid in a straight weft, in order to produce enough weft to allow for those scallops, extra weft will be pulled from the selvedges of your tapestry. There just isn’t enough weft to go around. So you have to compensate for that in the first place. When using a bunch of discontinuous wefts, compensation almost happens naturally. You’ve got the extra weft just because every start and ending creates a little more yarn in the joining places. But if you are using one or just a couple of wefts (and yes, sometimes just weaving stripes is really hard!) you have to do the following: Make sure the weft is wrapped tightly enough around the side warp to not have a baggy loop but not so tightly that it draws in at all. Lay the weft in to the warp in a curve and then take your finger and push down on that curve about every three or four inches so that the curve becomes a series of humps. Change the shed. Do this again. Change the shed. do this again. Then take your beater and beat it all together. If you’ve done this correctly there will be no loops of wefts at the selvedges, the selvedges will not pull in at all, and there will not be little extra blobs of weft sticking out anywhere in the weaving. What you will see is a smooth patch of flat weaving. The best way to test your skill at this is to weave simple stripes for a long distance. If you can accomplish that, you’ve mastered the art of straight selvedges.
Think about the two possible final products when weaving stripes. One piece has straight selvedges and is totally flat with no visible loops around the side warps. Another piece pulls in like a triangle, has baggy bits here and there, loops hanging off the side warps and is not flat. Obviously, the first one would be lovely as long as your weft yarn is attractive and the colors work well together. The second piece would be a failure no matter how gorgeous your yarn and your colors.
A trick for making sure your don’t get too complacent. You can be doing everything right but get so into the flow of things that your weaving starts to pull in slightly. That happens even to the best tapestry weavers. So a rule of thumb is: measure your width every half inch or so. Don’t just eyeball it because your eye wants to see what it wants to see. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen perfection and then found I was actually off by quite a lot. If you find your are starting to pull in by even the slightest fraction of an inch, you can correct it by making sure the next row is wider.
Another complicating problem with tapestry that doesn’t happen with beads (which are even and hard and make their own rules with or without your input) is the tendency for warps to want to not always be evenly spaced. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they are just mean and want to test you every step of the way. Again, excellent tension is imperative to prevent this from happening. However, even with excellent tension sometimes you will find that the warps on the outside of the piece are growing farther and farther apart while the inside warps are drawing closer and closer together. It is so annoying. You’ve got to fix this the second you see this happening. Just start pushing those warps back into place with each new line of weft. Make them listen. Place extra weft on the sides, weaving short distances back and forth to bring those warps closer together. You can fix it but not if you’ve let this go too far. The other result of your warps becoming too spaced at the selvedges is the appearance of ridges where the warps aren’t lying as flat as they should. It’s almost a curling process. It’s not pretty. Again, it can be fixed by pulling those warp threads back into their correct alignment.
Beyond the Basics:
Thinking about it: tension really is the key to almost all fiber or bead work. Once you’ve mastered that in any given medium you can move on to the fun stuff. It’s always frustrating to have to get past that point. I remember trying for days to figure out how you actually start crochet! What a mystery. Now it seems so utterly simple. Same with knitting. Same with bead crochet, peyote, herringbone stitch . . . . rug hooking, basket making . . . they all have that weird “how the heck do I start this and then get the tension even???
My goal with this iPad case is to get my selvedges even, keep my warps nicely lined up, make sure my rows of weft are flat and even and to stay sane with my color placement. I just want to produce a functional and attractive piece. If the case proves to still be a little to slim for the iPad, I plan to weave a fake inkle band on the Mirrix and sew that along the sides of the tapestry, giving a little more width to the case as well as a handle. I also crocheted a small patch that I plan to felt and then apply as an outside pocket.
Now back to the loom!