• jo - beyond the horizon sketch and tapestry
  • how to weave detail
  • setting up tapestry loom details
  • jo - tapestry
  • leila - tapestry

how a tapestry is made

The loom is made from builders’ scaffolding; it is strong and easily adjusted to suit the size of tapestry being woven.

To set up the loom, cotton warp is wrapped round the top and bottom bars of the loom, going around the front of the bottom bar and around the back at the top. It is important that the warp is plumb to make the tapestry level. Once plumb, both bars are marked in 1″ intervals. The thickness of warp is chosen to suit the tapestry being woven: the finer the warp, the more detail can be achieved.

Three rows of warp are then run horizontally through the  vertical warp and tied either side of the loom to pull the front and back warps together. This sets up the loom ready for weaving and creates a level base.

A leashing bar can then be attached at the front of the loom and each leash from this bar  goes around each back warp. This enables the weaver to pick up several warps at a time rather than picking up each warp individually.

Half hitch knots are tied onto the warp and a turn back (hem) is woven at the beginning and end of the tapestry. The knots hold the weaving from unravelling after the tapestry is cut from the loom and the turn backs are folded and sewn out of sight to create a clean finish.

In tapestry, the weft creates the image and the warp is not seen; you never go from side to side across the whole width of the loom as you would on a horizontal cloth loom. Instead, areas are built up in angles and follow the shapes of the drawing/cartoon which is tied directly being the warps on the loom.

Weft is put in using wooden bobbins, a “shuttle” which both carries the yarn and is used to beat down the weaving. There can be anything between 4 to 12 strands of different yarn hand wound onto each bobbin, creating a lively colour blend and surface texture to each tapestry. Both Leila and Jo like to use a combination of cotton, linen, tencel, rayon and Shetland wool for their weft.

Before weaving comes the idea and the drawing, which can often take as long or longer than the drawing. Leila preferred to work at full scale in black and white using pencil or charcoal as she felt it allowed the composition to be more fluid and balanced. Her colours were formed mentally as the drawing developed until she perceived the complete image in her mind’s eye.

Jo, however, generally works at a smaller scale in colour using a mixture of paints and pastels. She photographs and projects her drawings or paintings to get an idea for scale should she choose to develop them into larger tapestries. Once settled on an idea, she translates the drawing or painting into a black and white linear sketch which then becomes her tapestry “cartoon”. The “cartoon” is then tied behind the warp on the loom for the artist to work from. In addition to the cartoon, Jo keeps her original colour drawing or painting nearby whilst weaving for colour reference and to ensure she doesn’t lose any subtle nuances in her translation.

Although both artists work from linear drawings, both make constant colour and style decisions whilst weaving, often also making changes to the drawing as they’re working. The warp is their paper or canvas and the yarns are their paints. For this reason every handwoven tapestry they create is a unique piece of art, not a reproduced design.

Please note: this is not instructional, it’s more to give people further insight into our artistic practice.