Feline Masterpiece: What I learned (and why it hurts)

I have not been able to bring myself to write recently. After I got Squib’s portrait off the loom, and wove in the ends, I discovered a major problem. So major that I will be weaving her all over again once I’ve got my holiday gifts done.

[I  should point out that I re-do a lot of the things I create. Although I immensely enjoy my finished objects, I’m really all about the process of creation. So starting all over doesn’t usually bother me much, because it means I’ve learned something.]

What happened is hard to photograph, but oh so obvious in person. David (my husband) and I took the beadwork to a local framing shop to get an estimate, and to my horror I discovered that there was no way to get the entire piece to lie flat. I haven’t noticed at home because duh I hadn’t tried laying it on a large table to see how it looked.

Ripples of DoomThis photo shows one of 18 sections. The severe rippling affects about half of the piece.

[Lesson #1: Look at woven beadwork on large flat surface area after it’s taken off the loom and rested for a couple of days, before showing it to a complete stranger or several.]

I think there are two major culprits in the disaster: the size of the sections I used to split the piece up, and the tension I used while weaving.

Sections: My sections were only 31 beads across (pretty minimal even for a novice loom-weaver). the entire piece being 6 sections across. The tension on each of those sections is essentially independent from the sections surrounding it, *especially* when you weave through the edge beads many times (as I did, to make the seams less visible). What this means for the current bead portrait is that if you try to get all the sections laid out flat, you discover evil little Pringles potato chip-like peaks and valleys in the middles of the sections.

There’s no good fix for this. I tried re-weaving the entire piece from edge to edge, to see if I could even the tension out by (basically) pulling the edges in with a single weft that ran side-to-side. This helped — at least the edges were mostly straight — but I can still see the bubbles within the individual sections.

Salvage attemptYou can see the edges pulling in where I’ve woven all the way from edge to edge and the spots with the worst ripples, ugh.]

[Lesson #2: (not yet tested): if you are going to weave in sections, don’t use any more than you absolutely have to.]

My other problem is that I think I wove with too little tension throughout the entire tapestry. The wefts are very visible; ideally the wefts should be inconspicuous, if not entirely hidden by the beads. When I weave off loom I tend to weave much too tightly, so when I started on the loom weaving I went too far in the other direction. If I’d concentrated on minimizing the visibility of the warp threads as I worked in each section, the entire piece would look better — and if I was really lucky, the problem with inconsistent tension across the piece would have also have been less visible.

In the first picture, above, you can see how exposed the warp threads are.

More tension, better resultsIn this (much narrower) piece, there are no obvious warp threads.

[Lesson #3: weave with enough weft tension to hide the warp threads. This takes a lot more effort on a 9″ wide tapestry than a 2″ cuff bracelet, duh…]

The Mirrix WeaveWith for October, along with loom-woven Christmas presents, are now my main priority. The largest piece so far is 125 beads across, and I’m weaving it in one piece, without breaking it into sections. I’m hoping that the additional practice will give me the confidence to weave wider pieces with no sections (or the smallest number of sections I can manage); and more consistent tension.

Once the presents are done, I’m going to re-do Squib’s portrait. No, I’m not happy about it. But I will be able to incorporate what I’ve learned the first time around, and my technique — especially the consistency of tension — should have improved thanks to the other tapestries.

Even if no one other than David and I ever see the piece in real life, I want them focusing on Squib, not on trying to figure out why it’s so rippled. And in my soul, I don’t really mind doing it over, because every bead that creates Squib’s image is a little voice that says how much I love her and how much I miss her.

[I am updating my earlier post, on weaving in sections, to reflect what I’ve learned and how the technique might be improved.]