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Tapestry Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom, Part 1: Materials and Tools

Posted by Sarah Buchanan on

Using Handspun Yarn to Create a Masterpiece

Part 1: Materials and Tools

      Tapestry weaving is a fun way to show off handspun yarn, but can be intimidating with all the tools and techniques that other how-to blogs describe. I’m going to break down tapestry weaving into 3 parts: Material and Tools, Spinning and Weaving Techniques, and Finishing. I will only be using what I have, and will provide the resources for you to do the same. No loom? No problem! No tapestry beater? Me neither!

      I am going to make approximately a 10” wide by 12” tall prairie-inspired weaving using only rya knots, plain weave, soumak weave, and the pile weave. Before we get to weaving, let’s gather everything needed.

handmade Rambouillet/milkweed batts, undyed roving, cotton yarn

Clockwise starting top left: "Bromeliad Party," "Pebble Beach," undyed roving, cotton yarn, "Heatwave"

Fiber and warp yarn. There are 2 components to any weaving, the warp and weft. The warp is under tension and will likely be hidden in your tapestry weaving (this is called weft-facing). The weft is what goes left (that’s how I remember it) and right as you make your design. A good choice for warp is cotton yarn. It doesn’t stretch as much as wool, making your tension easier to get even. It also won’t catch whatever you end up weaving with as the weft.

      One thing to consider is the thickness of yarn for the warp. A thinner warp yarn will be easier to hide. I’m using a sport weight cotton warp with aran and bulky-weight weft. The total yardage needed is ~25 yds of warp and ~200 yds of weft, including what I used for the rya knots. I started with about 5 oz of fiber, and had 2.7 oz leftover. Here’s a full list of what I used:

  • 1 set of “Pebble Beach” and 1 set of “Bromeliad Party” batts, both made of Rambouillet/milkweed. Anything from your stash will work though!
  • 1 mini batt in “Heatwave” from Classy Squid Fiber Co.
  • A small piece of white roving for the clouds
  • 1 skein of worsted weight Mountain Meadow Suffolk yarn. I used 125 yds, exclusively to stabilize the rya knots, the rya knots themselves, and attaching to the stick.
  • 1 skein sport weight cotton yarn 

Other Materials. I will be using a comb as a tapestry beater, a large plastic needle I’ve taken from the Purl & Loop weaving kit, a tapestry needle for weaving in ends, scissors, knitting needle for the pile weave, and a stick or dowel for hanging the finished tapestry. Thick scrap yarn or cardboard is needed to weave a header (this straightens out the warp ends and keeps your weaving in place, the scrap yarn will be removed at the end). I ended up using roving for the header.

supplies used for weaving: roving, comb, and large plastic needle

Top to bottom: roving, comb, and a large plastic needle


          I see a lot of tapestry weavers using specialized tools, but I didn’t find them necessary! The large plastic needle is probably my most specialized item, but you can use your hands to pass the weft back and forth since the tapestry isn’t that wide.

naturally colored Suffolk yarnMountain Meadow Suffolk yarn used for rya knots

Loom. I’m using a 20” Schacht rigid heddle with an 8 epi dent. Any type of rigid heddle will work, and if you don’t have a loom you can make one out of cardboard! You can follow the link to an easy and inexpensive tutorial on how to make one.

      Having a rigid heddle means I don’t need a shed stick (this separates the warp threads to create a shed for weaving in 1 direction). With a heddle, I can easily weave in either direction, although I didn’t use it all the time on this tapestry.

      If you make a loom out of cardboard, I’d recommend using a dowel or ruler to pick up every other warp thread. That way, you can push the ruler up or down to create a space to easily pass the yarn. When you weave the other direction, you’ll need to manually pass the thread over and under each warp thread.

Please see our next blog post for Spinning and Weaving Techniques! 

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