The Tapestry Cartoon as Road Map

A tapestry cartoon becomes a “you are here” guide, a road map for the overall design that helps me to keep track of where I am while weaving.  This is especially helpful when I am working on a large format piece in the traditional manner of Aubusson tapestry, which entails weaving from the back as well as with the design turned sideways.

I use Dura-lar Matte (comes in 25" x 40" sheets, 0.005 weight), a type of opaque velum that is strong enough to withstand sewing without tearing and works well with black permanent markers, in that their lines are clear and do not smear or bleed.  With my drawing flat on a table, I place the Dura-lar on top, and trace an outline of the curves and shapes in my design, using a combination of solid and dashed lines with fine and ultra fine point markers.

To ready the warp for weaving, I first weave a heading out of the warp thread, which is either 12/9 or 12/12 cotton seine twine. I then use my awl to even the spacing in the warps.  It is critical that the spacing between the warp threads is the same all across the width of the warp. This establishes the foundation of a consistently woven, sound cloth.  Next, I put in a row of twining to hold the spacing in place, as well as to insure that the weaving will not unravel when the tapestry is done and removed from the loom.

Now I am ready to weave the hem of about 3/4 - 1 inch for the tapestry itself.  Rather than use one bobbin and weave all the way across, I divide up the width into multiple sections--anywhere from 6 to 8, depending on if I am weaving the full 60-inch width.  This helps to maintain the full weaving width and prevents the hem from drawing in. 

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my basse-lice loom    © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my basse-lice loom    © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Now, I am ready to sew on the cartoon.   I use clothes pins to clip and anchor the cartoon square to the warp, and a curved upholstery needle of quilting weight thread to sew large running, or basting, stitches across the entire width of the woven hem.

My basse-lice loom has a built in cartoon tray on which the upper part of the cartoon rests. 

Cartoon tray on basse-lice loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam.    © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon tray on basse-lice loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam.    © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

For my counter-balance rug loom, I make a support for the cartoon out of lease sticks, tied to the castle of the floor loom, and anchored to the front beam with a heavy chord.  For this, I need a hole in each lease stick at about the width of the front beam. (A power drill comes in handy for creating holes in the right place).  I do not use the loom's beater, as I weave by building shapes, rather than row-at-a-time.

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom.  Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater.    © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom.  Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater.    © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

When advancing the warp, it is important that the cartoon does not roll around the front beam along with the completed weaving, as this will cause it creep and shift.  Before advancing, I stitch the cartoon to the weaving about an inch below the fell line, again using clothes pins to anchor the upper part of the cartoon square to the warp. After the new row of stitching isin place,  I remove the first stitching at the very beginning.   As I advance the woven area around the front beam, the beginning part of the cartoon separates away, which I later roll up and hold with clips.  It looks a bit like a scroll.

There are many sections of the cartoon where I am filling in the details of the design as I weave, without having drawn it out precisely before hand.  Usually I do not yet know all the details until I am weaving each area.  The tapestry talks to me a lot during the weaving process about what needs to happen next, which colors to transition to, which techniques to use for specific effects.  Since I tend to work in layers of images, I also am keeping track of which image layer is in front, and what is receding.  I find that I must engage in clear and attentive listening to what the tapestry is saying, while the cartoon guides me with the overall design. 

When the weaving gets sluggish, or I cannot figure out exactly what I need to do next, I know it is time to take a break, step away from the loom, so that I can return later and look with fresh eyes.  Then I can see what needs to happen next, and the weaving proceeds more smoothly once again.