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Tapestry Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom, Part 2: Spinning and Weaving

Posted by Sarah Buchanan on

 Using Hanspun Yarn to Create a Masterpiece

Part 2: Spinning and Weaving

      Now that you’ve gotten all the materials needed (Part 1 if you missed it), it’s time to think about what your tapestry is going to look like! I find this part can be even more overwhelming than figuring out what you need because there’s so many beautiful tapestries and what seems like way too many techniques.

      I’m going to show you what I did step by step using only plain weave, rya knots, soumak stitch, and pile weave.

Inspiration. Before I started spinning, I somewhat knew what I wanted the tapestry to look like when it was done: green prairie with rolling hills, bright flowers, and a sky with fluffy clouds. One tapestry I found to be particularly influencing is the one below, which I found on Instagram. You can search #tapestryweaving to figure out what you like.

Spinning. Before I started spinning, I decided which colors I wanted to use more of in the tapestry. I then spun those a little thinner (still an aran weight), so I’d get more yardage. The colors I wanted to use less of were spun into a really thick bulky weight yarn. Every yarn was spun into a 2-ply. This was done to maximize yardage compared to a 3-ply, and to add durability compared to a single ply. 

      I kept the white roving as roving, because I want that to look like clouds when I do the sumac stitch and pile weave.

handspun yarn ranging in color from pink to blue
About 115 yds of handspun yarn

Warping the Loom.  The following steps are specifically for the direct tie-up method of warping a rigid heddle loom. If you’re using a cardboard or tapestry loom, directions for warping can be found here

  1. Calculate loom waste. There will be more warp waste using a rigid heddle than when using a tapestry loom, I always estimate 18” of loom waste when calculating warp, and that applies here.
  2. How many ends per inch (epi)? I’d suggest making the warp spacings larger than you’d expect. You need to make sure there’s enough space between the warps to pack in the weft and to manipulate different weaving techniques. I’m going to do 3 epi for this project. My heddle is 8 epi, so that means I’ll have 2 blank spaces between each string.
  3. Calculating warp. I’m going to make the weaving 10” wide and 12” tall, so this means I’ll have 30 ends total at 3 epi (10x3=30). Now I need to add in the waste. For each end I’ll have 18” of waste, meaning each warp will need to be 12”+ 18” = 30”. Last, I need to multiply 30” by 30 warp ends, which is 900”, or 25 yards!
  4. Warping on. If using the direct warp method on the rigid heddle (see video for a brief how-to), you’ll need to remember to leave extra space for when you redistribute your warp so it sits in the slots and holes of the heddle. For my weaving, I pulled a warp thread through one slot, then left 2 empty, then pulled another thread through the 3rd. Once I’ve finished adding all the warp ends, I redistributed the yarn so there’s 1 slot and 1 hole between each warp thread.

 comparison of heddles before and after finishing warping
Left: adding all the warp threads. Right: after warping and redistributing threads.

Weaving! I’ve used two main resources to learn how to weave a tapestry. The first place is The Weaving Loom. They have a ton of techniques and it’s all free! The second is a 45 min class from Skillshare, called “Weave your First Woven Wall Hanging” by Rachel Denbow. I found her videos to be informative, well made, and not too overwhelming. If you don’t have a Skillshare account, you can follow this link to get 2 free months.

      I’m going to introduce techniques as I used them in my tapestry. First we will weave a header and add rya knots, then we will make shapes using plain weave, next is the pile weave for making the flowers, and last is soumak stitch for defining the hills.

  • First: Weave a fat piece of roving or thick yarn across 2-3 rows to create the header. This will be pulled out at the end and is used to straighten out the warp. It is needed for any weaving.
  • Rya knots: You need to weave a few rows of weft BEFORE starting the rya knots. This will keep them from slipping off at the end as they’re not really secured in. Find something you can wrap the yarn around to give you the length of fringe desired. This is much faster than cutting each piece of yarn individually, I used a book and wrapped it 10 times. More rya knots details can be found here.

rya knots half completedRya knots being added to the tapestry.

  • Plain weave: I used a lot of plain weave throughout this tapestry. I didn’t want it to be too funky and I didn’t want to have to learn a ton of techniques either. One thing to note with the plain weave is if you’re creating shapes that have one color ending on the same warp thread for a few rows or more, you’ll need to connect to the other color you’re using. I’ve attached a picture since it’s easier to show than explain.

Picture showing two pieces of yarn interlocked to prevent a gap from formingThis is how I interlocked the yarn so gaps wouldn't be formed.

  • The Pile Weave: I used this for the flowers in the foreground of the weaving and the cloud on the left. This was really easy to do, just weave as normal, then go back with a dowel or knitting needle and “wrap” the area you want raised around the tool. I found doing 2 rows of this looked really nice. I also doubled up on my pink thread to make it extra fluffy - so instead of weaving with 1 piece of yarn at a time, I wove with 2 pieces. More pile weave details can be found here.

picture showing knitting needles wrapped around a white piece of roving to create a pile weaveKnitting needles pull the roving up to create the pile weave and add depth.

  • Soumak Stitch: I found this to be very versatile and used it to define my hills as well as my cloud on the right. I found it to be easier to learn from the Skillshare video than description, but a few things to note include:
    • I skipped anywhere from 2-4 warp threads, sometimes varying it in the same piece of yarn I was working with.
    • To make the roving thinner, pull tighter and skip fewer warp threads.
    • If you have 1 warp thread less than needed, that’s fine, just wrap around the next thread to make it work. I did that to my hill on the top left – you can’t even tell!
    • You can switch "directions" by changing whether the working yarn is wrapped above or below the previous wrap. Wrap above to increase height and wrap below to decrease height.
    • More soumak weave details can be found here.

Green yarn being wrapped to create a soumak stitchThis shows how I switched directions in the middle of a soumak stitch.

Tip: If you start weaving from the edge of your tapestry, tuck the ends in right away, not after you take it off the loom. I’ve found tucking in right away makes for a cleaner edge. However, if possible, I prefer to weave starting from the center of the tapestry because there’s more places to hide the end that way. 

Image showing how to tuck in the end of yarnWrap your ends!

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and makes tapestry weaving more accessible! Please read the final installment of the series about how to finish your tapestry.



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