Saturday, August 6, 2011

From (almost) the very beginning...

I first will apologize to those of you who are familiar (and even over-familiar) with the process of tapestry weaving for this post and some upcoming posts. As I am beginning a commission for a church, I want to document the process of the creation of their tapestries, and also to share the process with the people whom the tapestries will eventually belong to. So much of this will be aimed at non-weavers.

Of course, the design process has already taken place. It required almost as much time, possibly more, than the weaving process will require. I am hoping these two tapestries will be done by the end of the year. Reaching that goal will require full-time work on my part.

As I began the warping process in my studio several evenings ago, my husband called to me to look out the studio window. The late afternoon/early evening had turned cloudy and dark, and a very bright rainbow appeared between the treetops from my upper story studio window. I decided to take this as an auspicious beginning; a blessing for the project ahead.

The thread on the cone above is my warp thread. I use a fine cotton warp. It is the same kind of cotton that is used for fishing nets, as it has to be strong to withstand the tension my loom will put on it. The two tapestries will each be 20 inches wide, and the warp will be strung tightly across my upright tapestry loom with 8 warps per inch. That means I need 320 warp threads measured and put on the loom, plus 8 more for the selvedge edges, a total of 328 warp threads.

The tapestries will be 40 inches long. Adding some length to tie around the lower beam and to knot each thread to my dummy warp (which I keep on the loom, replacing it only as necessary,) plus some waste length for hems, etc, I needed each warp thread to be about 2 yards long.

So I wound the warp thread around two yard lengths on my warping board, 328 times. A back-breaking procedure!

Then the warp threads had to be tied to the dummy warp, one-by-one. The above warping steps took me the greater part of a full work day.

After winding the warp evenly around the upper beam of the loom (the top part), each thread had to be put, again one-by-one, through a heddle string. The warps alternate going through the upper loops and the lower ones, which will pull the threads backwards and forwards for me in an alternating action, giving me a space between them (a 'shed') to weave the tapestry.

In the above photo, I have half the warp threads through the appropriate heddles. I will be weaving the two tapestries side by side, so have two 20-inch wide warps on the loom, with a bit more than an inch between them.

By the end of today's work time (which ended just in time to make dinner) I had both tapestry's warp threads through the heddles. Tomorrow, I will tie the warp ends onto the beam at the bottom of the loom.

Today's mail brought me the weft - the colorful wool which will be woven into the Nativity tapestries. The wool originates in Sweden, and comes to me through North Carolina. When I open the box and the bags which hold the beautiful yarns, a soft whiff of moist air comes into the room. I can hardly wait to pull these yarns out and begin to work with them, but the warping must be finished first. Soon, after several more day's work, I will begin with the colors and shapes that will create the Nativity Tapestries.


Tommye McClure Scanlin said...

Beautiful description of the process, Kathy! Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

Mary said...

Thanks for the description, I don't weave in this way, being a beginner, and find it fascinating. I have just visited France and all the people we visited did their weaving on a horizontal loom, from the back, using a hand mirror to see how they were going. The cartoon was under the warp, as in your description in your later post. They were not familiar with upright weaving (with one exception) and were happy to weave in the traditional way. But I am going to follow your progress with interest, especially if you post the process as you go. Once again, thanks.