Friday, February 19, 2016

That first four-selvedge tapestry triumph and the subsequent fall from grace

Of course I've heard a lot about four-selvedge tapestry weaving over the years, but it took a demonstration and blog post by Sarah Swett to get me to try it.

Susan Martin Maffei is often cited as the genius behind four-selvedge weaving. She didn't invent it. The Navajo have used this kind of warping for centuries. But Susan is definitely a master. What is marvelous about the way Susan and Sarah warp is that you can get a shed to the very top of the piece. No needle weaving (or swearing) necessary.

Sarah taught me a little different approach with some modifications of her own and Michael Rohde's. She describes it perfectly in THIS stellar blog post.

After a trip to the fly shop and hardware store, I had a jig and some fly line backing.

I headed home, and computer beside me, I used Sarah's post to help me set up for my first little four-selvedge piece (with a few modifications of my own as I was using a Mirrix).

The jig came right out, I tightened the tension, and I was weaving.

Four-selvedge weaving from the back.
Four-selvedge weaving from the back, almost complete.

The thing turned out square and the warp loops were almost perfectly even.

Thinking I'd like to use a colored warp that wouldn't show at the edges so much, and not being up to dyeing that particular day, I pulled out some 12/6 cotton seine twine in blue. I wanted to make a much narrower piece that was also shorter. I made some new pieces for the jig and warped up again.

This time I used another piece of rod at the top of the Mirrix to narrow that top beam. I also added very long extensions to the loom. As a final touch, I installed an electric treadle.

Disaster. I don't even have a picture of it it was so bad.

I don't know if it had to do with the extra length of the loom (probably not), the thinner rod on top (probably not), or the electric treadle's speed and force in shifting the shed (probably), but the warps "walked" immediately making the cotton warp I was intending to weave very uneven after the first change of shed.

I warped up again. The same way. Didn't change anything.
Guess what?

Same thing happened. Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

This photo is the one I took after I tried to even out the warps again and right before I turned out the light and walked away.

I will try again tomorrow. But this time, I'll modify some variables in hopes of a better result.
It just goes to show you that we might look like a freakin' genius on the first run through, but we shouldn't get too cocky! Expertise comes with practice, not luck.

Have you tried weaving a four-selvedge tapestry? Do you weave Navajo-style or do you use some variation of this idea? Leave a comment below!


  1. No help except to agree with turning off the light and walking away. Sometimes that's the best solution and frequently solves problems. ;)

    1. It has worked so far! No angst about that mess today. I'll see if I can sort it this weekend.

  2. I have my first attempt at 4 selvedge on the loom now. The only problem was getting the last 2 loops/warp to remain even at the top and at the same tension as the rest. I used a handspun Lincoln yarn for warp and was surprised at the elasticity. That helped with getting things evened up. The trade off was hairiness and stickiness. It was more difficult to get the weft beat in but it stays there. I did have to be extra vigilant that I was getting both warp ends of a pair until I had about an inch woven on the piece.

    1. The warp I used on the first piece at the top of this post was also wool (Brown Sheep). That probably helped it stay put also. The blue was of course cotton and I had a horrible time. I think it was mostly due to the treadle. I think I can use the treadle, but probably have to weave a few inches without it first so everything is held in place.

  3. I haven't tried tapestry yet, but your works are inspiring and beautiful.

    1. Thank you! Tapestry is a lot of fun... and sometimes it makes you swear. :-)

  4. this post makes me wonder if we could use this method (4 selvedge) to make a shaped tapestry that doesn't require sewing in a zillion warp ends in addition to the weft ends! When I was weaving in the ends of my recent piece (it'll be in U/U), I could have sworn that new ends were being born in addition to the ones already on the piece, haha... first I'll try doing a straight edged piece...

    1. I have also been wondering about that Jessica! I think it would be possible, but haven't worked out just how to do it. the jig is really helpful for this process and it seems like some sort of a jig might be needed in the shape you were making... let me know if you figure it out!

    2. it probably would require moving the threads around in the correct shape... not sure which would create (?) less swearing, that, or sewing in ends? LOL!

    3. So true! It seems like it might be worth it on a bigger piece... but then sewing in the ends on a bigger piece is easier also. Who knows! Sounds like a fun puzzle to work on sometime.

    4. I probably wouldn't mind sewing the ends of the warp in on a bigger piece. With the little one (fits in my hand), I was trying to find ways that I could use the warp for decoration so I wouldn't have to weave all the ends in. I managed to do that for about 16 of them...


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