tapestry loom

Tapestry yarns! Which are good and why?

Tapestry yarns! Which are good and why?

If you’re a tapestry weaver, finding just the right yarn might seem like a difficult proposition. Through my students and my own testing of various yarns, I’ve found a few sweet spots in tapestry yarns over the years and I hope these ideas are helpful for you, dear tapestry friend. I’ll briefly tell you what makes a good tapestry yarn and then I’ll tell you which ones are my current favorites and where to get them.

If you’re just starting out, it is helpful to pick one yarn and sett to learn on. I always recommend starting with just one yarn. Learning tapestry is tricky enough without having to learn to manage the way different yarns behave. A teacher can help you with this information but this post should help get you started. Notice as you use that yarn at the sett recommended, what you think about it. How does the yarn serve your design ideas? Does it come in colors you like? Is it easy to work with? I have a few possible combinations at the end of this post, but there are many other possibilities. I also cover this topic in my online course, Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry.

My very first loom: Union Loom

My very first loom: Union Loom

The very first loom I ever owned was a piece of junk. Literally. Judge for yourself.

This loom was found in a my partner's family barn in New England where I suspect it had been for about 100 years. I can hardly believe Uncle Les paid shipping to send this to Nevada, but there it was. It was missing a lot of parts but it was clear it used to be a two-harness counterbalance loom.

What do you need to get started with tapestry weaving?

What do you need to get started with tapestry weaving?

I get a lot of pretty great email, but this one really made me smile. 

" My 10-year-old grandson was given a loom for Christmas last year and there it stood on the piano as they couldn't fathom how a large ball of wool was supposed to go through narrow slots...."

It goes on from there. In this post I talk about what you need to get started with tapestry weaving. And it isn't much!

It's the DIY season, so let's make a loom!

It's the DIY season, so let's make a loom!

Halloween is bearing down on us like a freight train. Even if I never left the house, the Pinterest-y projects would tell me this was the case. I love Pinterest because it is a nice way to tag interesting things I find on the internet to return to later. Mostly I am looking for tapestry-related content. 

But I can't help but laugh at the blog and Facebook posts that start this time of year with titles like, "Nailed it!"

... Today I am going to tackle one of the final projects for the upcoming Tapestry Weaving on Little Looms online class. I'm making a new copper pipe loom. I expect it to be so much fun that I'll run right down to the corner hardware store for more pipe.

Textiles in the hardware store

Textiles in the hardware store

I headed to the big orange box hardware store on Saturday to purchase the materials for another copper pipe loom. The first one I made using the push-on copper elbows. That meant I made the loom in about 10 minutes, but it also meant that the loom "racked" or twisted all the time. This being immensely frustrating, I wanted to make another and I wanted to solder it.

As I was standing in the check-out of that big orange box store, a gentleman came running up to me and said, "THIS isn't a textile store!" and ran off. I was wearing the pictured T-shirt. However, he is clearly wrong. Archie Brennan says all the time that you can buy looms at the hardware store. They just aren't labeled as such. 

The cutest little loom you ever did see

I'm teaching one of my favorite classes at YarnFest next week. It is an introductory class called Tapestry Answers and it is all about why you might want to be a tapestry weaver.  The class includes being able to try out a wide variety of tapestry looms. I've been wanting to add some different looms to my stash for students to try for a long time and so yesterday I made a trip to a couple hardware stores for the parts.
I was inspired by a recent post by Tommye Scanlin on her Tapestry Share blog where she built a tiny galvanized pipe loom.
And before that I was inspired by seeing Sarah Swett's little pipe loom in a workshop and her subsequent posts about looms on her blog.
And before Sarah Swett introduced me to the tiny pipe looms, I read about all manner of looms in Kathe Todd-Hooker's books So Warped and Tapestry 101.
And I would dare bet that all three of these tapestry artists got a lot of their information straight from Archie Brennan.
Sarah Swett weaving on a small galvanized pipe loom she made
I have been influenced by all four of these sources and the links to their work are below.
To paraphrase something Archie says in his DVD series, hardware stores stock looms! You just have to know how to put the parts together.

Yesterday I set out with the intention of getting parts for two looms: a very simple copper pipe loom, and a tiny galvanized pipe loom.

I have been asking about 1/4 inch galavanized pipe at hardware stores here in Fort Collins for at least six months and not found it. But after seeing the photos on Tommye's post, I had a better idea of what I was looking for. The first hardware store had the copper pipe and elbow joints, but they didn't have the steel pipe I wanted.

The second store had a row of dusty boxes labeled 1/4" nipple... and that was what I was after. I bought almost their entire stock and judging by the layer of dust on these parts, they aren't restocking. For a complete list of parts, see the Tapestry Share blog post linked below.
All the steel parts were in the shopping cart. I'd already bought the copper at the last store. All I needed was threaded rod. In case you hate wandering around a big box store pushing a gargantuan cart as much as I do, look in the vicinity of the hardware first. The big orange box had the rod I needed for both looms as well as wing nuts and hex nuts.
The galvanized pipe loom was pricier than I thought it would be. The copper pipe loom parts were definitely cheaper and I even bought the special locking corner joints so I don't have to solder. I'll give you a price comparison when I get the second loom done.

This is what two looms look like when you're hunting in the hardware store.


Links to make your own pipe loom:
Tapestry Share post by Tommye Scanlin
Sarah Swett's post about pipe looms on her blog, A Field Guide to Needlework
Kathe Todd-Hooker's website: Tapestry 101 has a great description of how to make a copper pipe loom and So Warped shows you how to warp a million kinds of tapestry looms.
And Archie Brennan's legendary loom plans can be found on his website.


The galvanized pipe loom goes together in a snap. I spent much longer shopping than assembling it.

I'd put that second loom together right now, but I have about a foot of snow to shovel first.
Yesterday I put the little loom pictured at the top of the post together on the back deck in the sunshine in a T-shirt.
This morning, this is what I woke up to. Welcome to spring!

I am pretty sure the garbage man is not going to pick up our recycling today. I am off to find the sidewalk that is under that drift. The daffodils are going to have to fend for themselves.

P.S. I still have spots in my color class at YarnFest. Live close enough to Colorado to come and hang out with me? I'd love to see you. 
P.P.S. I thought my Tapestry Answers class that I am using these looms for was full, but it turns out it isn't. You can still get in. HERE

Warping the LeClerc Gobelin loom

I have never before used an upright tapestry loom except for small frame looms and my Mirrix. My grandmother Marian gave me her beloved tapestry loom when she moved across the country a few years ago. I was so enamored of the loom my grandfather gave me, the Harrisville rug loom, that I had neglected this beautiful LeClerc.  But when I moved to Alamosa and was faced with which loom I could most easily liberate from the storage locker in Taos, the LeClerc won easily. So I brought it home and my father put it back together for me and now I am ready to have a whack at using it.

It needed some cleaning up first however.
The linen warp that my grandmother had last put on the loom was still rolled on the top beam. I loved the curtain of linen it made when I pulled it down... but eventually I had to cut it off.



But not before examining how it was warped!
Clearly the loops from the cross end of the warp were at the top indicating to me that a warping board was the best way to warp this loom as opposed to some modified Navajo warping technique. As I knew Tommye Scanlin used to have a loom just like this, I consulted her for advice and she was exceedingly helpful.

I found when I unwound the old warp that water had dripped onto the top beam at some point when this warp was sitting in my grandmother's dining room waiting for a Maurice Sendak tapestry (see blog post HERE) to be woven and the two iron bars were rusted. Upon the trusty advice of my Uncle Carl, I used plain old vinegar to get the rust off the bars. I made a sort of tub with plastic sheeting and the widest crack in our back deck. It worked perfectly and only took a couple cups of vinegar. After a little scrubbing with steel wool, I had perfectly clean bars again.





There was also an issue with mold on the apron. The new version of this loom which LeClerc still makes doesn't have the canvas apron. The rod attaches directly to the beam in a slot. But this loom is an old one and the apron molded where it was wet. I opted, in this dry climate, to wait to replace it and rolled the mold right back up. I will need to replace the apron sometime soon.


I wound a warp on my warping board.  Here are the warp sections hanging ready to be put through the reed.

I then threaded each loop into every other dent in an 8 dent reed (warping for 8 e.p.i.). I held the reed vertically with two clamps as I did this and slid the loops onto the bar which would hold the warp loops at the top of the loom tied to the bar that goes through the apron rod.

The entire warp was put through the reed.  Unfortunately I don't currently own a 60 inch 8 dent reed and ended up using two shorter reeds to accomplish this. Because this piece has several sections, the break between the reeds didn't matter. If I was doing a piece without sections, this would not have worked.

With Emily's help, I tied the reed onto the frame, leash sticks below.

The warp was slowly rolled around the top beam and then tied at the bottom like you would a floor loom... ready to weave.


My grandmother loved to mark things and much of my weaving equipment like these leash sticks are covered with her writing.
Another helpful resource for warping and for this project was Kathe Todd-Hooker's warping book, So Warped. It is available from her business, Fine Fiber Press. She specifically mentions a wide variety of looms and how to warp them and I recommend all tapestry weavers, especially ones like me who like to play with a wide variety of looms, have this book on their shelves.

One of my favorite bumper stickers, also from Kathe Todd-Hooker
After the warp is on, you still have to tie leashes. This loom comes with a 1 1/2 inch leash bar which has adjustable height via chains on each side of the loom. 

The leashes are tied one at a time to pull forward the second shed. I learned this method of tying leashes from Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei in their tapestry course, Woven Tapestry Techniques. I have never tied leashes like this before as I usually use a loom with harnesses and treadles. Archie's description in his DVD course is helpful and clear.

I used a long copper bar to hold the open shed in place. The leashes are used to pull the back threads forward to make the other shed.



And the loom is tied up, the tension extremely even if I do say so myself!

Now all that remains is to turn this:

into a finished work of art.