How to wreck an idea for a tapestry.

I had wanted to try some texture in a fairly simple yet bold piece. Fossicked through the old photo file and came up with this b/w version of a lost colour original:


However I had worked on the lost original and still had this cropped, chopped and colour-manipulated image:



And its reversal:


I thought I’d  go with the middle image above – the red-green reduction.

I wanted to use my current large loom – the steel one from Warrnambool, open frame space: width 20.5” ( say 51 cm), height 28” (say 71cm). I didn’t want to work too close to the top of the frame as I usually have a lot of tension on the warps (it becomes very tight indeed as one moves up the loom), so I thought I’d work to a height of piece of about 17” (say 43 cm).  Taking into account that the floor would be a little under 3” (about  7cm) above the base bar, that would mean working two-thirds up the loom. Should still be possible.

Further, looking at the lay of the verticals and horizontals, I’d need to weave the piece on its side:


This then dictated dimensions of, width 11” (27.5 cm) and height 17” (42.5 cm).

Looking at the occasional thin colour bands of reds and yellows, I reckoned I could manage them with an epi of 8 (13 in 4 cm). I think this was my major error, and instead of my newly arrived 3×4 (12 thread) Glenora warp at 8 epi, I should have used the Ashford, which, as far as I can pick it apart, seems to be 3×2 (6 threads), and on Archie Brennan’s test (number of wraps per centimetre gives warps per inch) would have given me an epi of 11 (17.5 in 4 cm:35 in 8 cm).

The reduced flexibility at 8 epi led me to oversimplify and exaggerate. The following is the current state of play – leaf 1 completed:


The little purplish patches in the blue are blobs of open soumak. The yellowish-gold leaf outlines and central rib can be seen either as half-hitches with the knot pulled frontwards or as closed soumak on two warps, and the red or bronze leaf outlines and central rib are closed soumak across three warps, returning on the alternate warps.

The leaf side-ribbing is half-hitched, and particularly on the top-side (the bronzed side) it has burst the banks, as it were, and is too blatant and bubbly. I attribute this to a combination of too thick thread (too much in the mix) and clumsy knotting, often inconsistent in direction round the warps.

Unless persuaded otherwise I will probably close this piece off at this point with a double row of half-hitches.

Currently it’s still sitting on the loom – seen here with the cartoon mounted:



Not warp speed, Mr. Sulu.

I had begun measuring out the warp for my next project when, much to my surprise I got to the end of my 12/12 Glenora cotton warp, and not yet half-way through. A phone call to Christine at Glenora Weaving (02 4234 0422), and hopefully 750 metres will arrive in the next few days.

But meanwhile, there are all those leftover tidyings up that one never seems to get around to. For instance, the need for a haircut and braiding at the back of The Forest Below:

messy back

And after that I’ve got to ball up the third skein of rather lovely silk I got at one of the little places on Salamanca, Hobart, last year. Just balled up the first two over the last couple of days. There must be a kilometre of winding in those skeins – next time I’ll have to try and improvise a swift. And then, still more braiding and finishing of my two white monochrome bits.

tasks outstanding


As to my next project – once the warp arrives I’ll begin documenting it.

A Summation of Soumaks

My next piece had been planned to be in monochrome with emphasis on textures. But what textures? I decided to do a sampler.

Texture can be added in four main ways (considering here only flat-weave):

  • by warp wrapping – which is the basis for the Soumak technique,
  • by the insertion of supplementary wefts,
  • by looping, such as a continuous, uncut ‘rya’,
  • by a combination of the above.

I wove 12 soumak variations, based on the examples in  Mette Lise Rossing’s ‘The Threads Course in Tapestry’. The sampler is very small: width 15 cm (6”), height 10 cm (4”). In the list below the block type gives the corresponding paragraph number in Mette Lise Rossing.


Reading from the bottom up there is

  1. mlr 75     open soumak, one pass, ;
  2. mlr 77     closed soumak, one pass;
  3. mlr 78     open soumak, one pick, closed soumak one pick, open soumak one pick;
  4. mlr 82     double open soumak, one pass, notated as forward 3 back 2 or 1/3/2;
  5. mlr 84     double closed soumak, one pass, 1/3/2;
  6. variation on mlr 79-81   extended open soumak, one pass, 1/5/3, so with overlap;
  7. variation on mlr 79-81  extended closed soumak, one pass, 1/6/2, so no overlap;
  8. mlr 91     double closed soumak on alternate warps, 3 picks,  each alternating                                    with the last;
  9. mlr 93     as 8 but with the insertion of a supplementary weft;
  10. mlr 102   a ‘continuous rya’, one pass – can be seen as open and closed                                               soumak on alternate warps, the second pick alternating with the                                          first;
  11. mlr 103    as 10, but the second pick stacked on the first;
  12. mlr 90     3 triple half-hitches, knots to the front, one pick – essentially a  triple                              closed soumak on 1 warp.

Items 1 and 2 show the basic soumak chevron. The doubled variations in 4 and 5 make the chevrons larger, more obvious.

Item 3 stacks one half only of the chevron.

Items 6 and 7 give elongations of the chevron, and convey a sort of lengthening, smooth effect.

Items 8 and 9 have an interesting pattern variation, quite different to the ‘bricky’ or chained appearance of  items 10 and 11.

Item 12 gives the appearance of a strong raised welt.


There seem to be 4 basic patterns:

1 the chevron

2 the ‘fasces’ – items 8 and 9

3 the chain – items 10 and 11

4 the ‘welt’ or ridge – item 12.

There are clearly a large number of possible variations, depending on

1 the number of warps crossed forwards and backwards,

2 whether open or closed,

3 whether crossings are over or under, and

4 whether the following pick is stacked or staggered.

The notation I improvised above does not cover all the possibilities. A full notation system would be quite complicated, BUT when actually working it is essential to know exactly how the effect is being produced and to be consistent in its application.

If anyone knows of a notation method, I’d be interested to hear of it.

For this exercise I used this little ramshackle sampler loom, knocked up in a hurry and held together by string, a clamp and hope. The open frame dimensions are width 27 cm  (10.8”), height 32 cm (12.8”).


The Forest Below


44 cm (17 1/4″) x 28 cm (11″), 7 epi, mixed wool and mercerised cotton, from 3 to 8 ply.

Oops! This is not what was on the cartoon. Somehow it seemed to get a mind of its own and went wandering… It’s a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts. Some egregious mistakes (which I’m keeping to myself for the moment). But for a first effort back after a long absence, I’m pleased.

Not quite finished yet. Still on loom – have to do the final double half-hitches, slit sewing and off-loom braiding. Might mount it inset on a board – or just let it hang.

I’ve just reread Lurcat on The Design of Tapestry – limited palette, no colour mixing by thread substitution, but by shades and hachure. [I suppose we just ignore his insistence on work being on a major scale.]

Next task is a thorough sifting of the yarn cache and trying to get some order into it.

I’m not sure whether the next attempt will be monochrome plain weave using several shades, or alternatively, a monochrome textured piece using soumaks – Mette Lise Rossing’s manual details a number of fascinating soumak variants.[Or, of course, something completely other.]


The Forest Below – week 1



The Forest Below – Day 1


Starting weaving again, from the ground up.

A new post after a long absence, being

  1. Sorry I was away, and
  2. Weaving from the ground up.
  1. Sorry I was away

Back in mid-2015 I noted an “inner-tube replacement, new valve, timer mechanism reset and air intake filter cleaned. A busy few months!” – which referred to a replacement stent, a new heart valve, a pacemaker and an asthma attack. Even so, I still don’t understand why my GP’s referral’s call me “an elderly gentleman with multiple problems…”  Elderly? Multiple problems? Pshaw!

More recently there have been the minor inconveniences of losing my voice for a number of months, until finally a growth was removed from my vocal cords, and then that thunderstorm which set off another bout of asthma.  An asthma attack can lose me a month of time, during which sleep becomes less and less possible as the prednisolone builds up – and with it the weird semi-hallucinations.

So prednisolone became the town of  Prednyi Solonyi in  my last delirious post on the Phoenix Rescue Mission – Palmer 2.


a week or so ago my younger daughter took me to the Australian Tapestry Workshop’s 40th anniversary donor’s night (she works in philanthropy administration – has a great blog at https://ozphilanthropy.com ).  Had an interesting chat with one of the three new interns – a young woman who had done the first two years of the Warrnambool diploma (as I myself did) finishing at the end of last year just as the course closed down.

And talking to her and seeing those huge looms again and the smaller sampler looms, my appetite was re-aroused…  so:

2. Weaving from the ground up 

  1. Do I have stuff to weave with – checking the stash.
  2. Design selection.
  3. Loom selection and producing the cartoon.
  4. Warp calculation and warping on.
  5. Heddle bar and leashes and cartoon setup. 
  1. Do I have stuff to weave with – checking the stash

This is the stash:


A large part of my stash is still a hangover from before I began the Warrnambool course, when I had been doing a fair bit of weavette style continuous warp work on home-made little pin looms. I knew nothing about wools, and collected a lot of, to my jackdaw mind, lovely bright colours mainly in 8-ply! I used a lot of it in my course work, so it is possible to use it (judiciously) for tapestry. Much of the rest comes either from Warrnambool or from the mixed off-cut bags they sometimes sell at the Australian Tapestry Workshop.

Anyway, it looks to me like it’s strongest firstly in greens/yellows, and then in blues.

  1. Design selection.

So – now for something greeny yellow!

I have a number of potential designs already stored in their own file on computer. They are of two kinds:

Firstly are designs I have drawn myself, either on paper or on computer. The hand-drawn ones were either photographed or scanned in. The programs I use for computer drawing have usually been the old Naturepainter or Microsoft Paint.

Secondly are designs derived from photos I have taken. I use two main programs to manipulate photos – Picasa has sufficient flexibility for most of my purposes, leaving it to Mtpaint to resize the results up to an acceptable pixel count.

For my current project I selected a design based on this photo:


This is looking down on the rainforest from the Kuranda skyrail in Far North Queensland. Applying various filters and crops in Picasa produced this image:


Printed on A4 this will be the maquette or reference image I will use.

Loom selection and producing the cartoon.

I’ve currently got four tapestry looms, three home-made wooden ones and one steel frame from Warrnambool,  ranging in size from open frame dimensions of 9 cm x 22 cm  to  52 x 73 cm.

Notwithstanding the fact that Skyrail has a couple of prominent near-verticals, I have decided not to weave the image on the side – but I want it as large as I can manage. So it will be the Warrnambool steel frame.

To produce the cartoon I segmented the original image into quarters by cropping it four times in Picasa. Each quarter was pasted on screen  into an A4 page (landscape format) in Microsoft Word, and reduced to a width of 22 cm, using the Word rulers as a guide.

After printing the pages and trimming them, I sellotaped them onto a thin cardboard backing sheet.

Warp calculation and warping on.

I am using a fairly heavy warp (3×6) at 7 epi. I used Archie Brennan’s method of epi calculation: number of close wraps per centimetre = warps per inch. Total warp length is calculated as ((individual warp =frame length plus frame thickness) x (tapestry width in inches x 7)) plus (individual warp x 6 – this gives 3 blank warps on each side) plus (enough to tie on and off – say another individual warp length).

After measuring the width of the actual loom I divided that into the calculated warp length. Using the loom itself as a warping board that gives me the number of half turns needed to measure off the required length – nearly two hundred! After winding that onto the loom across its width, near the top of the loom, I then rewound it all onto a home-made wide wooden shuttle:


Then came the actual warping up. In order to be able to pass the warp easily below the bottom bar, I set the loom as a bridge on two equal height boxes on the garage floor. I tied the warp end onto the left hand end of the top bar, and began winding from top to bottom and up again in a figure of eight – crossing the warps on each turn.

The tie on is done either as a larkspur knot (neat) or as a surgeon’s knot – a reef knot, sometimes called a square knot, plus an extra half-hitch. Not so neat, but more Irish (to be sure to be sure.) Winding in a figure eight means that a shed is automatically built in. As I wound on, every half dozen turns I would pull down on all the warps in sequence from the left to keep up the tension and remove any slack.

I have marked off in permanent marker both top and bottom bars in inches. As I wound, I checked to keep seven crossovers in each two inches – which would give seven individual warps per inch.

It was incredible that even while paying strict attention to what I was doing, I still managed to miss-wind, forgetting to do the crossover, several times, and having to correct.  Weaving is a painstaking process – how many times during the actual weaving have I noticed a missed warp three or more picks back and had to unpick to that point!

Tie off at the end with the same knots.

Heddle bar and leashes and cartoon setup.

 The loom is now in from the garage and clamped onto an ironing board. This is a tip I got from Glennis Leary (she has a blog at http://windingthread.blogspot.com.au  but does not seem to have been active recently) . Rather than having to have a number of different height seats as the weaving level goes up the loom, one just readjusts the board height.


I then put in several rows of ‘floor’, which will be pulled out at the end. I decided not to do a fold-over, but to braid as usual at the end, and after sewing in will colour the braids.

Did a row of double half-hitches in a green blend – these will show.

Then dismounted the loom and placed it flat on the garage work-table, with cardboard padding on which is placed the cartoon below the warps. Traced the  major lines of the cartoon onto the warps with thick permanent marker.

Re-clamped the loom to the ironing board (not the one used for our ironing by the way – this one was off the nature strip, and is stripped down to the metal.)

This loom did not come with a heddle bar, so I improvised one. I cut a piece of dowelling the width of the loom, and nailed a strip of ply about 8 cm x 2.5 cm to each end. At each end of the dowel I screwed in a small hook which I had prised open slightly. I then clamped the two side pieces to the top of the loom very tightly with a couple of small clamps. I straightened out a metal clothes hanger and cut a length just over the width of the loom and set it into the hooks on the dowel.


Now for the leashes. First I wove a single strand of household string high up the loom, maybe 14 cm below the heddle bar and tied it to the frame on both sides. This brought the back warps forward, so I could catch them when putting on the leashes.

I used the same cotton that I used for the warp and made continuous string heddles using Laverne Waddington’s page at  https://backstrapweaving.wordpress.com/tutorials/tutorial-continuous-string-heddles/ as a guide. I looped the cotton onto the strip of coat hangar from the right-hand end. When I had done I ‘lashed’ the coat hanger strip to the dowel with simple household string every three or four inches – and removed the guide string I had woven.


Finally, the cartoon was mounted and set just above the row of double half hitches.


All these steps together were spread over about four days.

The next step is to start the actual weaving.