Tapestry Weaving


Tapestry Weaving




HL Jahanara Vivana, CCL, Panache

[email protected]






This document can be found at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dqxd7tx_13d5ptkjw6Vocabulary

S-Spun threads- when you look at these threads the twist follows the same line as the straight part of an S.


Warp Threads- these are the threads that run length wise through your weaving project. If you are using a loom these are the threads you attach to the loom.


Warping- the process of putting threads on the loom or arranging your long threads for weaving.


Weft Threads- these are the threads that run the width of your weaving project. You place one or more warp threads between the weft threads to hold the weaving together.


Z-Spun threads- when you look at these threads the direction of the spin follows the same direction as the long part of a Z.



Tapestry weaving was used by various cultures through the Middle Ages from Romans to Persians, French, Flemish and others. Tapestries were used throughout the Middle East and Roman Empires to decorate clothing. The Victoria and Albert Museum holds many extant tapestry woven clothing decorations from the 5th C CE onward.


Linen thread for warp

Various colours of wool for weft

Paper for Cartoon

Loom (optional, but recommended)

Hair pick or Tapestry Beater

Determining the amount of thread you need:

Total Length of finished product X 1.2 + 50 cm

You want to add the extra 20 percent for shrinkage and the extra 50 cm for weaving space and knots.


Determining Sett


To determine the sett of a weft faced weave you should wrap both the warp and weft threads around a ruler for one inch. Then count the number of times both threads are wrapped around the ruler. You need to make sure that the threads are wound right next to each other without over lapping or stretching the wool weft threads.


Notes on Sett: Extant tapestries of the 6th & 7th Centuries average setts between 24 and 40 ends per inch. These are the tapestries that were found decorating clothing. Later tapestries, created as wall hangings, must have much higher setts. I recommend that beginners start with 6 or 8 epi.

Warping Process

Tapestry weaving can be done on any loom from tapestry specific looms, rigid heddle looms, table looms or floor looms. Warping for tapestry weaving is very easy. You simply warp your threads (all the same colour normally white or undyed as they are all covered) at the required sett for the required width. You need to warp your loom for a tabby weave, that is to say so that every other is picked up each time. If you are warping a rigid heddle loom warp it as usual. For table and floor looms you can either use only two shafts warping 1,2, 1,2 etc. or all your shafts in a straight order (1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,etc). For more specific directions see the instructions that came with your loom.

Preparing the Cartoon


For tapestry weaving you need a drawn copy of what you will be weaving, this is called a cartoon. The cartoon must be the size you will be weaving. Simply draw a cartoon on a sturdy piece of paper or print out to scale what you would like to weave. Your first tapestry should be simple, using a design that only contains squares and smooth, easy curves. Once the cartoon is prepared you should weave a plain background to start and pin the cartoon to the woven bit. (click on the pictures for larger image). When placing the cartoon in relation to the warp you want to look at the cartoon and any straight lines in the drawing. You want to place the majority of straight lines perpindicular to the warp. This allows you to weave these lines as horizontal lines, which are much easier to weave than vertical lines.

A Cartoon Behind the Warp

Attached Cartoon



Weaving tapestries is also fairly simple, though it gets more complex as the design increases in complexity. Tapestry weaving consists of only two sheds, pick up your first shed and pass your thread through. You need to pick up every other warp thread.

Creating a Shed


Your weft thread should be snug against the last warp. It should not however lay perpendicular to the warp, it should arch several times across the warps, this is commonly referred to as bubbling. This allows the weft threads to travel over and under each warp thread and completely cover the threads. You do the same with the second shed. As you weave, follow your cartoon.




After bubbling your thread, pack it in tightly with the beater, you can use anything from a tapestry beater or a hair pick. Once you have woven the first shed, you simply change to the second shed. If you are manually pick up threads this means you use your bobbin, needle, or finger to pick up the opposite set of warp threads (the ones that were underneath last time). After you pass the thread through this shed, bubble it and pac it you change back to the first shed and repeat. You repeat with these two sheds to build up areas of colour from the bottom to the top of the warp. Just follow the cartoon, you should fill in shapes and areas that are decreasing first. You do not want to put your yarn in an area where the area below is not already woven. If you have empty space below your weaving, it will be difficult to weave below that area and these wefts may slip out of place and fall into the wrong area. The picture below was woven first with the green then with purple. Notice that the green supplies the base for the purple. So you would not want to weave the purple higher than the green.

Building Colour




You can outline and area by building up the entire area by itself and lay the outline colour over this area in one sweeping line. Outlining can be used in a variety of ways, it can be used to distinctly separate two colours or it can be used for defining lines in the cartoon and the final tapestry.

Recommended Reading- In order of recommendation

Harvey, Nancy. (1991) Tapestry Weaving: A Comprehensive Study Guide. Interweave Press.

    This is a fantastic guide to tapestry weaving. This books contains great projects, as well as clear instructions that can be used to create your own designs from the start.

Glasbrook, Kristen (2002) Tapestry Weaving. Search Press

    This book also has some interesting projects.

Hart, Rowena (2002) The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving. Ashford Handicrafts.

    This is neither my favorite book for either rigid heddle or tapestry weaving. However, it does have two nice beginning tapestry weaving projects. One is a pillow and the other "mouse rugs". Both projects are easily done and well designed.


Recommended Links


Rakonczay’s Tapestry Weaving Page www.kolumbus.fi/rauno.huikari/tapestry.htm


Soumak Instructions gfwsheep.com/soumak/soumak1.inst.html


Bronach's Tapestry Gallery www.annerism.net/projects/tapestry.html


The Baldishol Tapestry www.aldus.dk/baldishol/default-eng.html


Norwegian Cartoon Kits home.online.no/~jevee/hflid/uk/


Unicorn Tapestries Reconstruction http://www.textile-conservation.com/portfolio/consultancy.asp


Third Unicorn Tapestry unveiled at Stirling Castle http://www.dorothydunnett.co.uk/blog/news/third-unicorn-tapestry-unveiled-at-stirling-castle.php


Unicorn Tapestry Book http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/v1/index/shop/product_detail.htm?legacypath=/index/shop/product_detail.htm&productid=1057


Fine Fiber Press Tapestry Yarns http://members.peak.org/~spark/FineFiberPressTapestryYarns.htm