Two components go into establishing the foundation for well-woven tapestry cloth: an evenly tensioned warp and equal spacing between each warp thread. Once you tie the warp onto the front beam, next comes the task of adjusting the tension so that each warp thread is equally tight. Then, comes weaving the heading to equalize the spaces between the warps. Different tapestry traditions have various approaches to weaving the heading. Here is how I do it on my low-warp, basse-lice (or basse-lice), Aubusson loom:
On this loom, you will notice that the tie-on rod sits in a groove on the front beam, and the warp threads are in tie-on groups of 4 warp threads. To spread out the groups of threads, I weave the heading in a process that gradually shifts and equalizes the spacing. The tools I use are: a flat shuttle, a gratoir, an awl, an Aubusson bobbin, as well as my fingers. (awls, gratioir and bobbins available here)
In the video, you will see that the first step is to weave four rows (or two full passes) with doubled warp threads,. I am using 12/12 cotton seine twine for my warp. The doubled warp threads start the process of gradually spreading the warps. For a 60” width, I will wrap these doubled warp threads around a flat shuttle, for ease of passing through the shed as I weave. At each edge, I leave about a one-inch loop of extra warp. To place and pack each row, or half-passe, I use the gratoir.
The second step is to weave four rows, (or two full passes), of single warp, that I have wound onto an Aubusson bobbin (also known as la flute).. I use my fingers to pack it in. Again, I leave about 1” extra slack in the loop at each selvedge. Each half-passe, or row, of single warp continues the process of spreading the warps out further.
The third step involves looking closely at the spaces between the warps. Jean Pierre Larochette calls this “reading the spaces between the warps.”
I use the awl to begin shifting the warps, often poking the tip into the double warp woven area below the fell line. It is best to start in the middle and work your way out to the edges. I push the threads that are further apart closer together, and the threads that are too close, further apart. As I move and shift the warp threads, I use the tip of the awl to poke the upper area of single-warp weaving down, to hold the revised spacing in place.
I want to make sure that the bottom edge and the side warp thread are square. I use a very large, clear triangle (available at Dick Blick or any good art supply store) and place it on the warp. Since it is hard to see the clear triangle in the photo, I added the smaller darker triangle to make it easier to see.
Now I am ready to twine across the warp, to hold the spacing in place, and to prevent unraveling of the completed woven tapestry, once it is cut off of the loom. I measure a length of warp thread that is 3 times the width of the warp. Since this warp is 60” wide, I will need a length that is 180” wide. Because the thread is so long, I wind each end onto a bobbin, placing the midpoint around the second warp thread, The warp at the very edge will be my guide thread, which will not be woven. The guide thread helps me to see to notice, as I weave, when my selvedge is beginning to either draw in or expand. I can then immediately make any necessary adjustments as I weave.
Once I have completed one row of twining across the width of the warp, I am ready to begin weaving the hem of the tapestry: a moment so many of us eagerly anticipate!
I find that this process of weaving the heading to be good practice to do on my other looms—such as the Hagen or Mirrix—as well.