I am the tapestry artist, Ulrika Leander, and as I enter my studio, I have just returned from a meeting with my client to discuss the project that you are about to follow from the very first thread to the very last. I go through my notes from the meeting and then it's time to start work on a water color design that will embody the general ideas and themes arising from my discussion with the client.
I use high-warp looms and in the background you can see the largest loom which can accommodate a maximum of 12 feet in one direction and more than 40 feet in the other. After I have come up with a design that the client is pleased with, a contract is prepared and a one-third down payment is made to cover the cost of the yarn used in the tapestry; orders are placed for the yarn.
This is the design that has evolved after several weeks at the drawing table and making the presentation to the client; we are now ready to go ahead with the project.
The design is first traced and enlarged to the final dimensions of the tapestry so that it may be used as a cartoon or map while I am weaving.
The warp is prepared on the warping mill, and then transferred to the loom.
Each warp thread is now pulled through the dents in the reed and then attached to a rod that will be connected to flat, broad ribbons that will guide the warp onto the warp beam.
Now all the warp threads are in place and ready to be pulled on to the warp beam.
The "Warp Crew" holds the warp evenly while the warp is slowly rolled onto the warp beam on top of the loom. I make sure that everyone pulls with the same tension. If this is not done correctly, the tapestry will be uneven. When this is complete, the warp threads are pulled out of the reed and tied together in small bunches.
Now one warp thread is fed through the eye of each of the heddles which, in response to the movement of the foot treadles, will control the opening of the warp (when weaving-in the weft threads) and the closing of the warp (to keep the weft in place).
After threading through the eyes of the heddles, the warp threads once again are fed through the reed.
The warp threads are now tied to a rod that is connected to the cloth beam with broad ribbons. Using the foot pedals, I can now control the opening and closing of the warp threads.
The preparations are all done and I am ready to start weaving the tapestry.
First I have to weave a couple of inches to establish a straight line of weft to which I will attach the cartoon.
Using long stitches, the cartoon is attached to the 2 inches of woven section.
The original design is placed by the side of the loom and will serve as a guide in choosing the correct color tones. (Note that this tapestry is woven from the side).
I am now about one month into weaving the tapestry. Each of the different shapes on the cartoon is woven or "sculptured" by hand, one part at a time; the threads are set in place by packing by hand or by using a small hand beater.
Progress photograph after two months of weaving.
Because this tapestry is woven in a slit tapestry technique, wherever there is a straight line upwards, the two parts are not bound together. Therefore small bows are used to tie the two parts together to avoid a lot of tension when the tapestry is cut down from the loom. The ties are later taken away and the slits are hand-sewn together at the back of the tapestry.
Progress photograph after seven months of weaving.
After about eight months of weaving the end is in sight.
The weaving of the tapestry is finished and a couple of inches are woven on top of the tapestry and then beaten into place; this is to stop the threads from sliding in the weave when the tapestry is removed from the loom.
The tapestry is cut off the loom.
All the slits in the tapestry are sewn together from the back and the weft ends that are too long are shortened.
The warp ends are now braided together to secure the woven part from sliding and then attached with fine stitches to the back of the tapestry.
Fiber boards are laid out on the studio floor and the tapestry is wet-blocked for a couple of days. This adjusts any unevenness and also revives the surfaces of the tapestry that has been under pressure on the cloth beam for several months.
A cloth lining is made with pockets on the top for holding a flat aluminum bar for hanging the tapestry. The lining is first attached to the top on the back of the tapestry and then I sew with long, loose stitches in a zigzag pattern all over the tapestry, going through the lining and slightly into the tapestry itself. This distributes the lifting of the tapestry and makes it hang beautifully.
Here is the tapestry, ready to be enjoyed by generations to come. For a better look at a larger version, view our public & residential tapestries.
The artist, Ulrika Leander.
Enter the tapestry artist's studio and follow the most important stages involved in the making of a tapestry, from the drawing table to the moment when the tapestry is hanging on the wall.
Creating a tapestry requires a thorough training in drawing and painting for the design work, complete mastery of weaving techniques and knowledge of the behavior of the yarn.
The tapestry showcased here is 6'6" high and 13'10" wide. It took about nine and a half months to complete, including design time.
It was commissioned by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, and is called "The Bryant Tapestry", being a memorial tapestry for Chief Justice William B. Bryant.
Beater: Frame holding the reed, used to beat the weft threads in place.
Cartoon: A drawing in full size used as a "map" for the weaver.
Cloth beam: A beam in the back, below the warp beam, that rotates and holds the woven tapestry.
Dent: Narrow spaces in the reed that hold the warp threads in place.
Heddles: Loops held by the shaft with eyes for threading the warp through: in conjunction with the treadles they enable the warp to open and close and bind the weave.
High-warp loom: A loom with the warp set on a vertical plane.
Loom: A structure made to hold a warp in position for weaving.
Reed: A comb with both sides closed which sits in the beater below the heddles.
Shaft: A frame, with heddles, which moves to form sheds.
Shed: The opening created on a loom where the weft passes.
Slit tapestry: A tapestry technique, leaving slits where two colors meet.
Treadles: Foot pedals used to move the shafts to open and close the sheds.
Warp: Threads running the length of the loom, across which threads are woven.
Warping mill: A four corner frame that rotates and arranges the threads into the correct length of the warp, and produces the right amount of warp threads for the width of the tapestry.
Weft: The threads which are woven under and over the warp threads, building the design in the tapestry.