Tapestry making has a long and distinguished history. It has told the stories of many cultures, from the ancient Egyptians onward. Modern tapestries can be very costly. But if you’d like to own a tapestry (or two or three!), it’s very possible to make your own using a variation of traditional crochet, or the technique of tapestry weaving.
Tapestry crochet is fairly new and may not be that familiar. But if you crochet, you’ll find that it’s possible-and not all that hard-to adapt some traditional stitches to tapestry making.
Tapestry crochet uses a standard crochet hook, yarn (or thread), and single crochet stitches to create the picture. There is one major difference from regular crochet: The stitches must all be worked on the right side. It’s possible to do this by making a circular item, just crocheting around. But this will not make a flat object (although it would be great for something three-dimensional, like a tote bag).
If you’re making something flat, the best way to do it is to work across the row, break off the yarn, go back to the beginning of the row, and attach a new piece of yarn. This does leave a lot of ends to deal with after the piece is finished. But these can be tied in knots and attached to the back.
The design is probably best worked using a chart or graph as a guide. It needs to be worked from the front because all the stitches must look alike, and crochet stitches don’t look the same on both sides. Single crochet is the stitch of choice because it’s compact; bigger stitches, like double or treble, are not only too tall but also have open spaces between them. Keep in mind, too, that if you use a fairly large hook and yarn, your stitches will also be fairly large, and it will be harder to capture details-or else your finished piece will just be very big!
If you’re interested in using crochet to make your tapestry, check out Tapestry Crochet by Carol Norton.
Many people tend to shy away from tapestry weaving, thinking that it must be very complicated or the equipment very expensive. This doesn’t have to be the case.
If you decide to take tapestry weaving seriously, you can certainly spend money on a loom made especially for tapestry weaving. But you don’t have to start out this way. A simple frame, like an empty picture frame (with the glass removed), will do the job. The frame does have to have the warp thread wrapped around it, but this is easily accomplished by driving small nails at evenly-spaced intervals on two opposite sides of the frame. And if you don’t want to use nails, you can simply wind the warp around two sides of the frame (it’s just harder to keep the threads evenly spaced that way).
Commercial cotton warp is available from weaving supply stores or online. It’s inexpensive and goes a long way. You can also use thin but sturdy wool yarn, as long as it’s not too stretchy. The main point is that what’s used for the warp must be fairly thin-and unobtrusive-so the weft yarn (the yarn you weave with) can cover it completely.
To weave a tapestry, you first draw your design at actual size on a piece of paper, then attach the paper loosely to the back of the warp. This drawing, called a “cartoon,” serves as a guide, telling you what color to weave and where to weave it. Tapestry weaving uses a simple “over, under, over” pattern that is barely noticeable when the design is finished, because the weft is so tightly packed.
Of course, there are more advanced techniques if you decide to get serious about tapestry weaving. Nancy Harvey’s book Tapestry Weaving: A Comprehensive Study Guide covers just about everything you need to know, whether you’re a beginner or expert.
Tapestries have been made for thousands of years, but they don’t have to look “old-fashioned.” Tapestry is an art form, and its creators are free to express themselves in any way they like. If you’d like to join the ranks of tapestry artists, don’t let a lack of knowledge hold you back. The skills are easily learned, and there are enough techniques to keep you busy for a long time.