This year I have returned to tapestry weaving on a Mirrix Tapestry loom, and recently started using two varying ends-per-inch (epi) while I weave. That means I can weave dense parts with thinner yarn and chunky raised parts with thicker yarn. As soon I began weaving in this way a lightbulb went off. I tend to want fine detailed work in my pieces, yet I often feel overwhelmed by the time those processes take, especially since having an baby – I just don’t have the time I used to. So, weaving with two shedding devices (and therefore two different EPI) seems to be the perfect compromise: I get my tight dense weave (which makes me swoon), but I can also whip off a circle or two during Sam’s nap and feel productive.
This piece is woven using Mirrix’s wool warp and my own naturally dyed yarns as weft. The indigo background weft is a double strand of fingering merino. I set up the shedding devices to have one weaving tabby at 12 ends-per-inch and the other weaving tabby raising two warps at a time, at 6 ends per inch. My design features mostly circles and I have just been picking the colors as I go. I've been a little picky and even unwove one circle ’cause the color placement just wasn’t right. I created one pill shape to interrupt the repeat pattern and create some interesting negative space, and more indigo (this is key! I love indigo.), as well quite a long slit which I’ll sew up before I take it off the loom – I just wasn’t into interlocking this time ’round. There is also going to be a stealth indigo circle in bulky yarn, too
Okay now let’s talk weaving circles for any of you who are tapestry weavers too. I, like Claudia over at Mirrix Looms, always draw my circle right on the warp and follow it precisely. This means covering up the drawing completely. I’m not super picky about my circles being exactly symmetrical so my stepping will not be the exact same on all sides, but I do want to point out a couple of things about weaving a circle that might not seem obvious to a beginner tapestry weaver.
make sure you are beating (or packing down) each line of weaving consistently, erring on the side of packing it densely. If you you don't pack it enough and go back to push it down after you've woven part or all of your circle you will squish the shape and end up with a horizontal oval.
Don't decrease until you run out of warp ends
Unless you are making tiny circles you do not need to continue to decrease (or increase, depending on which end of you circle you're weaving) until you are wrapping around a single warp thread. If you operate under this assumption you will most likely end up with points. This entirely depends on your ends-per-inch (epi) and the size of your circle, but if you’re weaving large circles the top and bottom of your circle might have 8 warp ends on both the top and bottom, like mine. See picture above with text.
Similarly those circles have a middle area which have no stepping at all – they go straight up, mirroring the top and bottom – mine are 11 wefts (or picks) high.
Smooth vs Stepped edges
If like me you enjoy the kilim-esque look of stepping and slits you needn’t read on, but if you require a nicely rounded circle you could consider weaving more densely, as in with finer yarn and more ends per inch. The finer you weave the more detail you can achieve and with circles that means the more smooth your edges can be (ie avoiding the stepped look)
For smoother rounded edges you can also try outlining your circle using the sumac stitch. I recently asked Kathe Todd Hooker (who writes these tapestry weaving books) and she put it like this “You can outline in sumac in the colour of the base or the colour of the circle as you go. Weave the circle and when you reach the top sumac in either the circle colour or the fill in colour around the circle. It’s done while you are weaving. Also pay attention to whether you are moving up on a hill or a valley thread. The trick is to remember if you go up on a valley thread the weft sinks and the turn is lower. If you rise on a hill thread the weft pass stays higher. So you can jump up and pull the corner off of a stairstep and hold it in place by weaving lower then the stairstep”
Feel free to leave questions in the comments!
Tomorrow I’ll be at the New York Handweavers Guild meeting demonstrating my Mirrix. If you’re in the area, come say hi.
Janna Maria Vallee