Monday, March 3, 2008

Walk Like an Egyptian...

...or Work Like an Artist. I told my husband yesterday that I'm badly needing to 'be an artist' again. When I'm not involved in creative work, I get the crabby face on, (much like the one in the previous post). Unfortunately, today, 'working like an artist' means getting my taxes ready to go to our tax guy. Yes, people, even artists must account for the meager amounts they bring in! So you can picture me in the midst of piles of receipts, scratching my head, drinking endless cups of coffee, AND with the grumpy face on.

But, in the interest of feeling 'artist-y', I will post this little tutorial on my flawless magic blocking method, because I took photos of the process, and haven't done anything with them yet.

I have found that, because I work with wool wefts, I can block almost anything to near perfect flatness and squareness with this method.

Step 1:
After the piece comes off the loom, AND you have tied off all warp ends, trimmed the yarns on the back down to about an inch long, and sewn all slits larger than 1/4 inch long, lay it out on one of those cardboard gridded cutting boards. Actually, I use two of them, one, on top of the other, so that it is thick enough that pins won't go through and scratch my dining table underneath them.
Find the narrowest place on the tapestry (assuming it is not perfectly even all round- which, the more you weave, the closer you will get to.) This "Wooster" tapestry was about 1/4" wider at the top than at the bottom. Now pin the tapestry on one of the grid lines, along one side, pinning every inch, using the narrowest measurement as your edge. Pin all the way around the tapestry, again to the narrowest measurement on each side. This may take some adjusting and re-pinning. If your tapestry really pulled in somewhere and there is a great deal of difference between the narrowest measurement and the widest on any side, there can be quite a bit of 'bunching up' in the middle of the tapestry. Don't worry about that, except to try to spread the bubbles and bunches evenly across the tapestry as you pin it as squarely as possible. If you look closely (click on it to make it larger), you can see I've spread that 1/4" of extra width across the top evenly; there are little pucker-y places between the pins there.
The reason we are pinning to the narrowest measurement and not the widest, is that we are working WITH the properties of wool. Wool is easily shrunk (as you know if you've ever accidentally washed your favorite wool sweater in the washer and dryer), but wool does not stretch.

Step 2:
Get a press cloth. I use a cotton 'flour sack'dish towel, because cotton works well, and there is no dye to run. You can find these at any hobby shop where embroidery items are sold. Old flat cloth diapers work well too, if you can find them.
Wet the cloth completely, and wring it out so it is still pretty damp, but not dripping. While you're wetting the press cloth, have your iron heating up to the wool setting. Then cover as much of the tapestry as you can with the damp press cloth. (This is a small tapestry, so it is completely covered.)

Step 3:
I love this part! Starting at the lumpiest place on your tapestry, set the hot iron on the press cloth. Listen to the very satisfying, 'SSSssssss,' as the hot iron steams the tapestry. Let it sit about ten seconds. If there is really a lumpy place there, I hold the iron and lightly but firmly press it on the spot for the 10 seconds, to make sure the steam goes into the wool. Actually, if there are REALLY lumpy areas, you can spray just those places with a bit of water before you start the steaming process.
Move the iron methodically over the entire tapestry, using less time and pressure at the narrowest areas, and a bit more where these is excess tapestry (the lumpy places where the tapestry was wider).

Step 4:
When you have gone over all the tapestry once, take the press cloth off and look at it. There may still be places that bulge. If so, spray those a bit, re-wet the press cloth, and re-steam iron just the lumpy areas. Keep re-doing them until you think it is as flat as it will get.
Then let the tapestry 'rest', still pinned down, at least 24 hours before you unpin it.

Here are a couple of things to be aware of:
I live in a desert. Things dry very quickly here. If you live in a moist region, you may not want to be as aggressive with the water as I am. You may need to do the steam process once all over, then wait a while, maybe even a day, before you repeat. Make sure the tapestry is totally dry before you unpin it, or it will go back to it's 'lumpy' state.
If you have used any fibers that are not wool, this process should be approached very carefully. If the fibers you have used are synthetic, I wouldn't even try it, as some of those fibers will melt if they are even in the same room with a hot iron! Wool is a lovely, weaver-friendly fiber. I love it more and more! Some fibers are pretty scary.

Step 5:
After the tapestry is flat and dry, you can unpin it, iron (with the press cloth) the hems under and stitch them down, and then I line the tapestry! Voila!

OK. I guess I've procrastinated away from that pile of receipts as long as I can. More coffee and the grumpy face comin' up!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the blocking lesson--another chance to see Wooster up close...from Janet

lorrie said...

you can probably easily find those diapers on ebay nowadays-- they're back in style! usually listed as "flats". :)

tapestry13 said...

Thanks for the tutorial, Kathy!
Your blog is a great teaching tool.

OzWeaver said...


Thanks for this tutorial! I do it mostly this way, and now I realize I really must use my gridded surface for complete accuracy.

I'm thankful that you are so generous to share these tips!


Anonymous said...

I am a self taught weaver, slowly learning the ropes. This lesson on blocking was invaluable to me as I just took my second project off the loom and it's a bit wide in the middle. Takes after it's mom. ;-) Many, many thanks.

Julie D

all said...

Thanks so much for your blocking tutorial!

Lining is a bit of an issue for me. Would you care to outline the process for lining tapestries, please?

Many thanks!

K Spoering said...

Christopher, if you'll email me privately at I will give you some lining tips.