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Tapestry with Lynette van Niekerk 
Carol Ellis

Lynette van Niekerk, an accomplished and experienced tapestry weaver, distinguishes between tapestry and frame weaving although both are woven on a frame of some kind.

This article is based on a series of workshops presented at meetings of the Johannesburg Spinners and Weavers Guild.

This is what she has to say:

“The ancient craft of tapestry weaving is woven only in tabby with very thin wools or yarns. When Frame Weaving the ideas and methods are endless. In general a thicker warp and weft are used as are many different stitches. Think creative, design something yourself or take a design from wherever. All you need is a frame the size you want it to be, 4 pieces of wood put together in a square or whatever shape you want and nails for the top and the bottom of the frame. 

All frame/tapestry weaving can be done without expensive equipment or involved preparation. It allows the use of coloured and textured yarns totally different to those used in any other media. The pictures grow slowly with shapes following and overlapping each other. Frame/ tapestry looms are portable making it simple to take your work with you. 

The closeness of the warp depends on the design you want to weave. Tapestries have been woven at 24 ends per inch and closer. These very fine tapestries take on the appearance of paintings. A warp sett at 12 ends per inch or less is quicker to weave and the design takes on boldness. I use 8 ends per inch and recommend this to a beginner. A single warp end is strong enough for small and medium tapestries, large tapestries need a double warp end 

The nails are usually ¼ inch or 6 mm apart, place the nails to conform to your preferred sett. Winding the warp double on the nails when using a single warp allows twice the number of ends per inch, for example a warp wound at 4 ends per inch will give you 8 ends per inch when spread by the header. 

Bobbins or ‘butterflies’ are used to weave with as there are many coloured threads used at any one time and left hanging down as the colours are changed." 

As inspiration and as illustration of the various tapestry techniques, Lynette brought along several completed samples. 

 She made several cartoons available to members. These allowed the use of as many techniques as possible in a single tapestry.

    Warping the Tapestry loom

Tie a slip knot and slip it over the first nail at the top of the loom.

Remember the warp needs to be nicely taut. Bring the warp yarn down to the first nail on the lower side, once the yarn has been wound round the first nail tug on the warp to keep it well tensioned.

Holding the tension, wind the warp around the second nail on the top side of your tapestry loom.

 Again tug the end to ensure a tight tension.

Continue to the next nail on the lower side of your tapestry loom, still keeping the tension taut.

 Wind the warp around the second nail and tug the end to ensure tight tension. Carry on in this manner until the loom is fully warped.

Whether to warp the entire loom or only a section thereof is entirely up to the individual and the size of the cartoon pattern you have chosen to weave.

    The Cartoon

Although we could use a cartoon of our own choice Lynette provided several of her own cartoons. We transferred these designs to our own cartoons.  Here a cartoon is being traced from Lynette’s original design paper onto paper, ready to attach to the loom.  The window is serving at a light box.

Here, the weaver is tracing from the original paper cartoon onto a heavy plastic sheet which she will attach to the loom. 

The plastic sheet can be cleaned and a new design drawn onto it when the tapestry is complete.


The cartoon is being attached to the warp frame with drawing pins.

 If preferred tape can be used to secure the cartoon.

Double warp ends are being added to the warp to create special design effects. The extra warp threads can be left open while the original warp threads are woven below. 
 Or double weave effects can be added.  The double warp ends must be added before weaving the header.

If, other than the width of the nails, you need a finer set for your tapestry wind the warp double all along and separate the threads when you weave the header.

Starting to weave on the Tapestry/frame loom.

The warp is wound, the cartoon attached and the weaver is beginning to weave the header. Use the warp yarn to do this and weave 1 cm of tabby.

When the header at the bottom is complete do the same at the top of the loom. You now have a header top and bottom of the loom. These headers make a neat edge for when the work is completed and lifted off the loom. They can be folded over and stitched to the back of the tapestry.

The warp threads are lifted by the fingers and the butterfly of weft thread is threaded through.   A sacking needle threaded through the end of your butterfly can be useful for those who find it difficult to use the fingers when lifting the warp threads.

    To make a butterfly

Wrap the start of the warp yarn for the butterfly twice around the thumb. Then wind the yarn continuously around the thumb and little finger as shown in the diagram. If a smaller butterfly is needed wind the warp yarn around the forefinger and little finger in the same way as you would around the thumb.

Once the required amount of yarn has been wound into a butterfly, break the yarn and tie the end around the centre of the butterfly with either of the knots shown.  It is always a good idea to break the yarn rather than cut it. 

 The ends will then blend together more smoothly at the joins in the tapestry.

To weave Tabby

Start at the bottom right of the tapestry loom. Lift every alternate thread and pass the butterfly/small shuttle through the ‘shed’ you have created.

Then starting from the left, lift every alternate thread (the threads which were not lifted in the previous row).  Lay the beginning end into that shed to neatly hide the tail, and then pass the butterfly through the shed from left to right.  Beat down firmly, you can use your fingers, a comb or even a fork.

Continue to work each row, lifting alternate threads in each row and beating the work down after every row. It is important to keep the edges straight without any pull in. Make sure the wrap on the edge fits snugly but not tightly.

To stop any ‘draw in’ on your work, insert the thread in an arc as shown above, then beat the thread down.

Other Tapestry Techniques

Joining wefts.   Weave till the end of the first weft and lay the new weft thread over part of the old thread and in the same shed as the old thread. For 4 or 5 cm. there will be a double thread, this will disappear as each subsequent row is beaten down.

Use the same technique when threads of different colour or texture are added.

Texture and colour inlays.   Break off rather than cut the threads to be inlaid these must never be longer than the width of the tapestry.  In the same shed as the previous row lay the new colour/texture thread. The inlay makes a double weft which you need to beat down firmly.  Spread the inlays evenly over the weaving to avoid build-ups and make the rows even

Vertical weft joins – slit. Decide where to put the slit.  Weave up to this point and turn, continue until you have built up the required length.  Weave the second weft thread to cover the exposed area.

Very long slits will weaken the tapestry, these can be stitched together when the tapestry is complete.

Vertical weft joins – dovetailing.   To prevent slits where the weft threads meet at the join they are turned around the same weft thread.

A ridge is created at the turning point so do not use this method for very long joins.

Vertical weft joins – staggered dovetail.   Suitable for long joins as the weft joins do not form a ridge and are very strong.  Weave the two weft threads from the opposite sides.   As in the illustration, on the first 2 rows the weft threads meet between the warp threads 1 and 2 and on the following two rows the weft threads meet between the warp threads 2 and 3.  Repeat these four rows as shown until the required length has been reached.

Vertical weft joins – single interlocking.  To avoid a slit the weft threads are woven from the opposite sides, twisted around each other between the two warp threads and woven back.   If the warp threads are pulled too tight at the join, the warp threads will be pulled in.  If the warp threads are too loose at the join, the weaving will be untidy and bulky.

Diagonal join – angle 45 degrees. Weave the warp threads from opposite sides. In every 2 rows, at the turn, the join between the warp threads will move over by one space.  You can move either left or right to slope the diagonal in the required direction.

Diagonal join – angle less than 45 degrees.  Weave the warp threads from opposite sides. In every 2 rows, at the turn, the join between the warp threads will move over by 2 spaces. Move the diagonal in the direction required.

Diagonal join – angle more than 45 degrees.   Weave the warp threads from opposite sides.  In every 4 rows, at the turn, the join between the warp threads will move over by one space. You can move either left or right to slope the diagonal in the required direction. 

NB. When weaving diagonals the slope is determined by either duplicating rows (steep slope) or moving the joins over to other spaces (gentle slope).

Curves.   Draw the curve you want on your warp, and weave diagonal slopes to fit your curve as illustrated. 
                  You can complete your curve before weaving in the background.

The Circle.  Draw the circle on the warp before you start. Start with the background of the lower circle then build up the circle. Weave section 1 then 2, 3 and 4 in numerical order.   When the nearly perpendicular section of the circle is reached the two colours should be dovetailed.

The Circle continued…   The background should be woven before the section of the circle that fits into that part of the background. The circle and the background should be built up in steps.

The Circle continued…   Dovetailing on the nearly perpendicular section.
Once the perpendicular section is complete, return to shaping the circle with steps.

Hatching.  Use this technique to join two or more colours vertically when you would rather the colours flow together and not be a definite line. The weft threads are woven from the opposite sides in the same shed to meet at a certain point, in the next shed both weft threads return to the selvages. In each two rows the weft threads do not meet at the same warp thread. Decide beforehand where to use this technique and also whether the lines should be long, short, broad, narrow, regular or irregular. This technique must be worked row by row using both colours of weft.

Weft looping.   Use two threads, a thick and a thin so that the weaving structure remains sturdy. To start weft loops, weave the first row with a thin thread and beat down.  Weave the thick thread through the same shed,  do not beat down.  Using a crotchet hook,  pull out loops where the weft crosses over the warp beginning where the weft entered the shed.  Weave the next shed with a thin thread then beat both the loops and the thin thread down.   The loops will now be firmly in place. The loops can vary in length and be placed over a whole row, here and there, singly or in groups.

Rya Knot.   (Ghiordes-, Turkish-, Smyrna- or Flossa- knot) the pile can be either short or long.  Cut the thread in lengths of 6-8 cm, lay it over two warp threads.  Fold the ends of the threads to the back on the outside of the two warp threads then back to the front in-between the two warp threads and below the head of the knot.  Pull the knot tightly against the last row of weaving.  Achieve a wide variety of effects by changing the number of threads, the colour combinations and the length of the pile used in the individual knot.

Rya Knot with loops.  Take the weft over two warp threads and bring it back under the second warp thread, between the two warp threads (half a knot).  Pull the knot around the warp tight.  Leaving a loop, take the weft under the right side of the next warp thread, around it and over two warp threads.   Pull the weft through the centre of the two warp threads and pull the knot tight leaving a loop below the knot.

Soumak.   Take the weft over 4 warp threads to the right then back under 2 to the left below the 4.  Once the row is complete beat it down well.  To make a single Soumak, take the warp over 2 warp threads and back under one.   A single Soumak is useful for outlining curves. One row of weaving between the rows of knots make the ridges lie in the same direction.  Two rows of weaving between the rows of knots makes the ridges lie in alternate directions.

Basket Weave.  For two rows take the weft over two and under two warp ends.  For the next two rows take the warp ends under two and over two (opposite warp threads) as shown.

Removing the warp from the Frame

If you weave to the top nails, the top and bottom edges form self edges and less time is needed to be spent on finishing.  When about 5-10 cm from the nails weave an edging to be beaten up to the top nails, then using a darning needle carefully fill in the gap.  When the warp is covered, loosen the knots at the beginning and end of the warp (use a darning needle to loosen the knots). Unhook the warp from the nails, alternatively from the top and bottom, with a crotchet hook. Sew loose threads into the edges.  The edges can be folded over to the back and sewn down with hem stitch.

If you do not weave up to the nails, leave enough warp to allow you to knot the loose ends easily (at least 5 cm.). Finish the weaving with a 2 cm woven selvage or, if you wove a header at the top of your frame in the beginning, beat the header down to the top of your tapestry fell.  Check the tension of the warp is the same throughout. The length of the work can be corrected by beating down.  Cut off two warp threads at a time from the top and knot them together just touching the top end of the weaving.  Loosen the warp knot at the bottom and use a crotchet hook to remove the tapestry from the nails.  Loose threads are worked into the edges and the selvages can be folded back and hem stitched.  Add a fringe if you wish.

Your frames can be used to create other articles such as mats and even article to wear.  Choose a pretty warp, some lovely weft and perhaps a pattern such as twill (hand manipulated) rather than tabby then do not beat down too tightly.  If the warp threads are too far apart wind, a warp of two threads and separate the threads when you weave.    


        Source ‘Creative Frame Weaving - a complete guide’ by Claudine Louw

        Drawings by Carol Ellis