The Woven Purse: Beginning to Weave

Quite a few years ago when Elena was a “wee babe” and I was determined to learn how to weave tapestry, there was no internet.  I had briefly taken a tapestry class while living in San Francisco when pregnant with Elena.  We were given rigid heddle looms and not a whole lot of guidance.  They were also doing “natural” dyeing.  Which sounds good.  But even though the color producing material was “natural” the chemicals they were using to make those colors stick (mordants) weren’t so great, I thought, for that little fetus.  So I quit.  By then I had bought my own rigid heddle loom but rather than weave tapestry, I wove about ten alpaca scarves which I gave away to family and friends.  It wasn’t until after Elena was born and we were living on the East Coast in Northern New Hampshire that I decided to learn tapestry.  I had no books (they weren’t in my local bookstore or library) and only a vague notion of what I was meant do do.  I knew that the warp needed to be covered.  I knew that I was intended to weave shapes of some sort.  But I didn’t know much more.  OH my gosh. I made every mistake possible about a thousand times over.  I have this very stubborn personality that doesn’t let me give up.  So I plowed through my self instruction in tapestry for several years.  I came to realize a couple of things within the first year:  rigid heddle looms are really bad for weaving tapestry, tension is the single most important things when weaving tapestry and it was time to buy a tapestry book.

A wooden tapestry floor loom was just waiting in someone’s barn for me to buy.  I hauled it home an set it up and learned that tension is indeed the most important thing.  Weaving on this loom was a dream.  Now it was time to really understand and learn tapestry.

It took me a few years to get good at tapestry.  I created a bunch of really grand failures.  I saved some of them just to remind me of my roots.  Certain concepts seemed so hard to get inside my head even with a couple of decent tapestry books (although some of the really great ones to be found today were then just a gleam in someone’s eye).  What shed?  What weft?  Who can cross over whom and why and when?  Weaving in opposite directions?  Are you kidding me?  Why???  But as these concepts settled in tapestry became easier and easier and I tore out less and less.  I am pretty comfortable with most tapestry techniques now (not all, though) but I still make mistakes.  You just can’t take this medium for granted.  It always wants to test you.  Ah, but worth learning it is!

So get ready for a fun, frustrating, time-consuming ride.  This is not going to come to you over night (or maybe it will and aren’t you the lucky one!) and this purse may not be perfect.  But it will be a great beginning to, I hope, a life time of tapestry weaving.

We suggest you get a good book on tapestry.  We sell them on our site but you can also get them elsewhere including the library.  It’s like having a dictionary when you write.  It’s a good place to look up things when yo aren’t sure or need reminding.

I realize that not everyone will want to jump into this piece for their first foray into tapestry:

Thinking about it, I realized that although in some ways it is the perfect first piece because it teaches you two very valuable techniques:  weaving in opposite directions and slit tapestry.  However, as I wove and photographed the details of this technique I realized that for those of you who have never woven tapestry before this might turn out to be very frustrating.  So last night I sat in bed in the dark for hours and hours thinking about what I could do to make sure everyone has a great experience weaving this small purse.  I had already created the beginning weaving of the above purse for this blog and was planning to just add a little more before posting.  But last night I realized I would have to create a secondary piece for those who want to experience a somewhat simpler piece and yet still experience tapestry.  Maybe the above piece should be a second project, not a first, for some.  Or maybe some of you will want to combine the techniques.  Start off with the “easier” one and end with the more difficult one.  In any case, no matter what path you choose, you are going to have fun.

That being said, I am going to post first the above purse and then below I am going to post and entirely different approach.  So PLEASE read or at least look through this entire blog before deciding which path you want to take.  And remember, you can start with one, decide it’s not your journey, unweave and begin a different journey.  The goal is to learn, to have fun and to create something you are proud of.  Let’s begin.

The Tapestry Purse employing the techniques of weaving in opposite directions and slit tapestry

A few words about this piece before we begin.  I am going to show you a picture of the finished piece before it was sewn into a purse.  This design is not set in stone.  In fact this piece is not the piece I am weaving for this weave-along.  I am weaving a different piece and I can promise you it will not be identical to the first piece.  It will have the same feel, the same pattern idea, and the same colors, but it won’t be identical.  I don’t want you to copy me exactly.  I want you to get a feel for the techniques and then make your own color combinations, your own shapes.  Yes, this is sort of a sampler, but not really because the same technique  keeps getting repeated which gives you room to fly.

There she is:  my first tapestry made from this kit.  

Let’s begin . . .

To begin with, you are going to start four weft yarns, all traveling in opposite directions.  By doing this, wefts can travel into each other’s areas and be in the correct shed.  That most likely will make no sense to you.  It might take this whole weave-along for that to make sense to you.  It might take a year to make sense as it did with me.  But someday it will become second nature.  Don’t get frustrated, just try.
Your first weft thread will start where your warp thread ended. See how the tails meet behind the warp threads?

To start your second weft, push it’s tail in between warps 20 and 21 or thereabouts.  Don’t start getting to specific about where you begin or end these wefts.  If your square is a little smaller than mine, so be it.  We aren’t going for a carbon copy of my piece.  I want you to start off sort of copying me to get the  hang of it.  For example, you do need to start with four wefts.

The orange weft tail starts where the green tail ends.  It travels away from the green weft (whereas the blue and green wefts travel toward each other).

And lastly, the orange weft heads toward the yellow weft.  Because the end warp is raised, the orange tail is in fact in back of the weaving.

From a little distance you can see what we’ve done.

Change sheds and weave every thread once.  The blue will be woven to the left to the edge of the weaving.  The green will be woven right until it reaches the yellow thread.  The yellow thread will be woven left until it meets the green thread and the orange thread will be woven all the way to the right edge of the weaving.

How it looks thus far.

Change the shed and weave back from whence you came with each thread.  I want you to just build up color areas with slits in between.

I don’t seem to have a photo of this but please weave one more time after the above photo so that your blue thread ends to the right of the blue square, the green thread ends to the left of the green square, your yellow thread ends to the right of the yellow square and your orange thread ends to the left of the orange square.
Now we are going to throw in a new element.  We are going to make a pink square in the middle of the blue area.  The nature of tapestry being what it is, you can’t add or take away just one weft unless it is at the very edge of the weaving.  Otherwise, you’ve got to add two wefts.  Stick the tail of the blue weft in between warps 5 and 6 and weave to the left.  Stick the end of the pink weft between warps 6 and 7 and weave under one warp thread. Weave the existing blue weft to meet the pink weft.

Weave the rest of the squares.  Then weave the left blue toward the pink, the pink toward the blue and the blue to the green.

Weave the green four warps into the yellow area (this is what I mean about being able to weave into another color area when your wefts are traveling in opposite directions).  Weave the yellow to meet the green.

Continue weaving these color areas.

And look what you get!

Weave the pink and right blue weft toward each other and bury ends behind tapestry.

Change shed and weave the left blue weft over the pink and the right blue weft.

Weave the green weft for a couple of warps and then bury tail behind weaving.  Begin a pink weft where it ends and weave as far as the blue weft.

Weave the yellow weft a couple of warps and then bury end behind weaving.  Start a purple weft where the yellow weft ends and weave into the orange territory a couple of warps.  Weave the orange weft to meet the purple weft. We’ve started some new shapes!

Weave everything back.

And one more time.

Stick the end of the orange weft behind the tapestry and start rose/purple weft.

Keep weaving these new colors.

Remember how  I said you can begin just one weft at the edge of the weaving?  Here we want to add a yellow weft. Because the warp thread is up, if we just inserted the weft, the tail would essentially be in front of the weaving.  So wrap that tail around that warp and stick it into the weaving between warps 1 and 2.  It will then be behind the weaving.

 Weave everything back once.  You now have a yellow square starting on the left.

Keep weaving all these color areas.

This is how it looks!

Continue with this concept.  You pick where the colors change and the width of your shapes.  That’s a tall order but it makes this your piece.  Trust me, when I tried to copy exactly the finish purse I was not having a lot of fun.  This piece is all about trying to master the two techniques of weaving in opposite directions and being able to add and take away wefts as well as slit tapestry.  
More photos of weaving with this method:

What you should have finished by next weekend (or more if you’d like!):

The Tapestry Purse employing the techniques of weaving in the same direction and slit tapestry (easier, but just as pretty!)

After weaving your header, stick four pieces of yarn between warp threads to determine the width of each of the squares you will be weaving.  Make each space a slightly different size.  Don’t stress.  Whatever you do will be fine.

Insert your first piece of weft yarn where your header yarn ended.  Weave to the first marker yarn.

Insert the next color where in the space occupied by the next marker yarn. Weave in the SAME direction as the last weft.  Do this for all five weft yarns, weaving them all in the same direction and sticking their ends where the marker yarns are.

Weave each weft back not going past the marker yarn.

Keep weaving these weft yarns back and forth until you build up rectangular shapes.

Remove the marker yarns.

End each weft end by sticking it in between the warp yarns where they end.

 Weave the yarn at the each of the piece in a few warps.  You will start a new weft where this ends.

Start a new weft yarn where the edge weft yarn ended.

Place a new set of markers.  Make sure they occupy a different place from where the old markers were.
Start new weft yarns at the markers and weave to next marker where you will start a new yarn.  Remember, these weft yarns all travel in the same direction.

Remove the markers when you can clearly see where your new shapes should be placed.  Weave these shapes until they are approximately as tall as the previous shapes.  Use your eye to gauge what you feel looks best.

Once again, end your weft yarns at the edge of your shape with the exception of the side weft, which will get woven back a few warps.

Place new markers.  This time I’ve used only four.

Begin new wefts.

Remove markers and continue weaving new wefts.  The following records my progress using this method.

Continue with this method.  Have fun.  See you next week!

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