Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mounting large format tapestries

Someone emailed me a few days ago asking about hanging methods for tapestries. Apparently sometime in the past I put some information about this online somewhere, but I can't remember this for the life of me... neither can I find it on the internet. To be honest, my memory is a bit like a colander. Things just fall out of it all the time and I have to hope that they show up again at some point. I thought it was a great question and a couple years from now when someone asks me where I posted about mounting tapestries, I can search my blog and say, HEY! See? Things show up again, colander or not.

I know that "large format" is a bit of a contentious term these days if you read the ATA-talk listserv, but I want to make clear that this hanging method works best for larger works rather than works you might sew to a frame covered with fabric or perhaps put into a frame to display. What constitutes "large" and "small" is entirely up to the artist! I want no part of that particular discussion. The world needs both small and large things and it is all relative anyway.

The largest of my tapestries at the moment are over 4 feet wide (what that is in meters I don't know and I feel rather ashamed for not being able to converse in metric. After all, it does seem the better system), but I hang many narrower tapestries this way also.

Here is a snapshot of Emergence VI hanging in the client's home. It was mounted in the way I am going to describe below.
Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence VI, 16 x 49 inches, hand-dyed wool tapestry
When weaving the tapestry, I follow these steps:
1. Put in waste yarn (same weft I use for the piece) until the warps are evenly spaced and you have enough to hold the whole thing together when you take it off and as you are doing the finishing work.
2. Do a line of twining with the warp yarn.
3. Weave three sequences of warp used as weft.
4. Weave three sequences of weft in the color of your piece. This part will get folded under in the hem.
5. Do a row of soumak with the ridge on the front of the tapestry. This creates the fold line for the hem. The soumak forms a ridge and it does show in the final presentation at the very bottom and very top of the piece. With this in mind, you may want to change colors of the soumak as you go across to match what you will weave next. There are many references for soumak. Kathe Todd-Hooker has many in her books.
6. Start your tapestry.

Here is a photograph of that process. The purple yarn at the bottom is waste and will come out. The white is the warp and the 6 picks of weft are in red with the soumak going in at the top. The back of the tapestry is facing me. I weave from the back. If you weave from the front, you'll need to flip the soumak. You want the ridge on the front of the tapestry.
 At the end, do the same thing backwards.

You will need to finish the ends of the weft threads hanging on the back however you do that, vacuum, steam, and then take out the waste and tie a damascus edge or some other kind of knot with the warp ends. I then sew the warp ends down with a sewing machine into the 6 picks of warp used as weft.

Below you can see the damascus knot tied along the edge of the warp. The warps are then sewn into the warp header with a sewing machine and the (black) twill tape sewn through the same band of warp used as weft.
Attach some twill tape for the bottom hem with a sewing machine and then fold along the soumak and stitch by hand.

Below is another tapestry with a wider twill tape folded back and stitched invisibly by hand. (At the top of the tapestry I do it the same way but there is velcro sewn to the twill tape before I do the hand stitching.)
On the top, I also use twill tape as wide as the velcro (1.5 inches, but it will depend on the size of the tapestry and the bar you are using) to back the velcro as I don't know what kind of plastic that stuff is made of. I'm more confident in the longevity of the twill tape against the tapestry. I sew the twill tape to the tapestry and the soft side of the velcro to the twill tape. This will mate with the sticky part of the velcro that is on the hanging bar. Don't put the stiff part of the velcro on the tapestry. It will continually stick to it when stored or shipped especially if it is woven with wool.

Below you can see the ridge of the soumak at the fold and the 3 sequences of weft. The twill tape is sewn right over the warp used as weft section so all you see is the weft yarn.

My tapestries are hung from wooden bars made of one by two inch poplar (or whatever they have at Home Depot that day, just make sure they are straight). The actual size is 3/4 inch by 1 1/2 inches. I'll never understand why wood is sold by the measurements before they plane it. A one by two inch board is definitely not one by two inches. Neither is it one by two centimeters, just for clarification. I sand the wood, paint it black, drill two holes 3 to 6 inches from both ends, and staple the stiff side of the velcro to the wood.

Detail of the soft velcro sewn to the twill tape sewn to the tapestry as well as the bar and the stiff part of the velcro.

That is it! There are many ways to hang a tapestry. This one is my favorite at the moment. I intentionally hang my tapestries about an inch from the wall because I really hope this helps keep the critters from wanting to live back there.


  1. Thanks Rebecca for the information. Its very similar to the method I use though I don't do any work the size of yours. Would you then encourage purchasers to screw the batten to the wall, I don't find it works very well if you use any sort of picture framing hanging systems.

    1. Debbie, you are correct that this style of hanging doesn't work very well with the gallery hanging systems. I have had to modify the bars in numerous ways to make them hang flat in gallery shows. When purchased for permanent installation, yes, I encourage them to screw the board directly into the bar. If I am doing a commission, I'm open to different hanging systems if necessary however.

  2. Thanks for posting this Rebecca! It's handy to have a step-by-step method - I especially like your explanation for sewing the warp ends to the 6 picks of warp used as weft!

  3. Excellent description.

  4. I use basically the same method to hang my large pieces. I put 2-3 screw eyes along the top for the gallery to hang the bar from. They sit just below the top of the tapestry so on't show. However, since having a apes try stolen from a gallery, where the theif just pulled the tapestry off the hanging bar and evidently folded it into his or her coat and walked out, leaving the bar on the wall, I now also make several fabric loops that go around the bar, so the tapestry cannot be pulled off it when it is hanging. It would have been more difficult to have walked out with a large tapestry still attached to it's hanging bar.

    1. Kathy, I have never had a tapestry stolen (so sorry!), but I have done a similar thing to make it difficult to detach from the hanging bar in a hurry. In one show that had the gallery hanging hooks, I drilled holes straight down through the bars and detached the hook thingies from the airplane wire, slid the wire through the holes, then reattached the hangers. It would have taken anyone a really long time to steal those tapestries... though it also took a very long time to hang the show.

  5. interesting, so you don't do a fold-over hem? Sounds like you just sew the twill tape (and velco) the immediate back of the tapestry? Nice, saves a few inches of weaving hems. Though I kind of like the heft that a bottom hem gives to a hanging tapestry (assuming it is a vertical piece - would be different for a piece woven horizontally I suppose). Thanks for posting!

    1. Susan, there is a fold-over hem, but it is very small. There are only 3 sequences of weft plus the weft header that get folded back along the soumak. I think I'll update this post with some more photos to make this clearer. The yarn I use isn't particularly hefty and the hem is sufficient to keep my tapestries flat. I can see if your tapestries didn't naturally lay flat or you were using a different weight material that you'd want something different. And no, I don't spend much time any more weaving hems! I used to do that but like this better.

  6. For those of you who have commented thus far, I have updated this post with more photos to make the process clearer.

  7. Are Joann's or Michael's good places to get twill tape?

    I made strips with a light canvas (? heavy muslin?) fabric for the untitled/unlimited show.. I had MEANT to get twill tape after the RI show, but this time I'll have it for 2018...

    1. Mostly what those stores have in my experience is polyester twill tape. I think cotton is much better. Nicely woven twill. Someone I ran across recently actually wove her own for her tapestries. Tommye? Not sure. Twill has it. You'll get a lifetime supply though! Go in with a friend.

  8. From this description I understand you do not line the whole tapestry. What do you think of the practice of lining the whole back of the tapestry?

  9. That is correct. I do not line my tapestries. My backs are clean and there is no reason to do so. I have heard people say that a lining introduces a place for bugs to live, but I've seen many conservators line tapestries, so I'm not sure that is a valid argument. I'd ask a textile conservator!


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