How to mount small tapestries so they look great and sell well

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My studio table has been covered with mounting projects for a few weeks now. I sold a handful of small-format tapestries and not all of them were mounted. I also finished a small tapestry that was a donation to Petrified Forest National Park from my artist residency last November. (Read about that HERE.)

I have been posting photos on Instagram as I worked on this but thought I'd show you the steps all in one place.

What you'll need to mount a tapestry this way:

  • a finished tapestry
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • regular sewing thread, Gutermann is high quality
  • cotton twill tape (if you use this method of finishing)
  • curved sewing needle is really helpful though you can use a straight one
  • stretcher frame
  • linen fabric
  • cotton quilt batting
  • back covering fabric like cotton muslin
  • light duty staple gun with staples

I teach how to finish tapestries in my online classes, and this is the method I use to mount small tapestries most often. As part of the finishing process, I like to use a half-damascus knot.

The 45 second video below shows how I make a half-damascus edge. This knot is a great way to fold the warps back against the hem which allows me to tack them down with my sewing machine and trim them short. 

After tying the half-damascus edge, I use my sewing machine to secure the warps. I run a simple straight stitch across them twice. This is a very basic Kenmore machine. You do not need an industrial sewing machine for this. Mine was my high school graduation present and it is still working just fine.

Stitching down the warps that have been folded back with a half-damascus edge

The short video below shows me doing this.

After stitching the warps down, I trim them fairly close to the stitching as you can see in the next photo.

The back of the tapestry with warps stitched on the machine and trimmed off

The next step is to attach some twill tape. I like good-quality cotton twill tape and have never been able to find it in a fabric store. Even a super high-end fabric store in Santa Fe didn't carry any. Mine comes from twilltape.com. You want the heavy version. You'll get a large enough roll to last for three lifetimes, but you'll never run out. I use a narrow tape like this (I'd prefer black, but white is what I have) for small pieces and a much wider one (2 inches) for my large tapestries.

I stitch into the warp-as-weft rows that I use as part of my finishing hem. I run one line of straight stitching and then I do a narrow zig-zag stitch over the edge to make it nice and flat.

Stitching on twill tape

Using stretcher frames

Stretcher frames are the frames that painters use to stretch their canvases on. They come in many lengths and the great thing for us is that you can choose the height and width that will work best for your tapestry. The one pictured below consists of four 8-inch lengths so it will be square. These are available in many sizes and often many choices of quality at your local art supply store. Go to a place that sells a lot of painting supplies. If you don't have such a place, try Dick Blick.

Choose a size that gives your tapestry the presence you want it to have. If the piece is very small, you might actually want a lot of open space around it when mounted. Don't be afraid to go bigger than the size of the piece by at least several inches on all sides.

Stretcher frames used for mounting small format tapestries

I will warn you that the stretcher frames can be frustrating to put together and if you can afford to pay a few dollars more for more precisely made ones, I would. You have to fuss with them until you get all four corners square. Make sure to check this! Use a quilter's square or the corner of a table or piece of paper to make sure the frame isn't cock-eyed. This is important if you're going to have the piece put in a decorative frame by a framer.

Labels

I have used many different kinds of labels over the years. I often make them with stiffened fabric (use an iron-on interfacing or fusable of some kind) and write the information on them by hand. For this little piece, I printed out a label on my inkjet printer. Look for printable fabric at your local craft store. I am stitching it onto the back layer of muslin so that it will show behind the stretcher frame. 

Stitching on the tapestry label before stapling the fabric to the stretcher frame

Covering your stretcher frame

I need three layers of fabric to cover the stretcher frames. If you buy a frame that already has canvas on it, you don't need the muslin layer. The bottom layer is a piece of cotton and in this example, I've sewn the label to it. The middle layer is a bit of cotton quilt batting. You'll find this at your local quilt shop. It isn't cheap, but I prefer a nice batting made of cotton over that fluffy white polyester stuff that costs less. The top layer is what people will see. I have mounted these tapestries on a cream-colored linen. You could use some kind of silk or any fabric that will keep it's form when stretched. Use a woven fabric, not a knit.

Cut all three layers the same size. You need enough fabric to wrap all the way around all four edges of your stretcher frame.

Cut each layer of fabric to the same size

This is where a light duty staple gun is going to serve you well. I would never choose to mount a tapestry like this without this tool. The wood of these frames is really hard and trying to nail the fabric on would be impossible. A staple gun is quick and easy.

Staple your lining fabric onto the frame first. You can skip this step if you've purchased a frame that already has canvas on it. Notice in the photo below that I have centered the previously sewn label in the middle of the frame.

An option when you're finished is to cover the whole back with a piece of fabric to hide the stitching and staples. In this case, you'd want the label to go on that final fabric and not inside the frame.

Staple the innermost layer on first

Start by stapling along one side of the frame as I show above. The next side you should staple is the one directly across the frame. You want to gently pull the fabric tight. The fabric mount in this method is not supported by any solid pieces of wood or foamcore, so you are relying on the fabric to stay tight. Making this base layer nice and firm is the best way to do this.

Staple one side and then the other, pulling the last side tight as you do it. Leave the corners flopped open as I show here.

Cutting off the corners

The corners can be the trickiest part of all of this. You want them to look nice and neat without unsightly flaps of fabric. For the bottom layer and the batting, I cut the fabric right off at the corners. Notice I have secured the cut fabric with a staple across the width.

Below all four corners are cut on the first muslin layer. 

The video below shows you how I cut the corners for the bottom two layers--the muslin and the batting. Do NOT cut the corners this way on your final top layer.

Your next step is to do the same thing with some quilt batting or perhaps flannel. I am using this Mountain Mist quilt batting which is 100% cotton. It is very thin. You may like something more lofty. It comes in sizes made for bed quilts, but I just buy a big roll and cut away.

Follow the same steps to attach the batting as you did for the first muslin layer.

Cotton quilt batting used for a layer of padding in the tapestry mount

Staple all four sides of the quilt batting just like you did the first fabric and cut the corners as I show in the video above.

The linen layer

You don't have to use linen for the top layer. This is what you'll stitch your tapestry to and what will show around the edges. You want a woven fabric that looks nice. Linen is a good choice but you could also look for silk or a nice cotton.

Staple the fabric on exactly like the other layers but you will treat the corners differently.

Stapling the outer linen fabric

The corners of the top fabric need to be neatly folded over. To decrease some of the extra fabric, I do trim a corner off. Make sure to leave plenty of fabric to wrap around the corner and staple.

Trimmed corner on top decorative fabric

You'll make a neat crease along either the bottom or side of your frame. Decide where you want these creases and be consistent all the way around. Either do both on the sides or both on the top and bottom.

Folding the edge of the top fabric to make a neat crease

At the point of the arrow, I've pulled at little bit of the fabric out of the fold to keep it from being so bulky. There is a slight secondary fold here. It isn't all that important that you do this in any particular way. You just want the crease to look nice and even without too much bulk on the back of the frame.

Making a small secondary crease in the fold of the final fabric

Use that staple gun to flatten and secure the tucks.

Staple the folds a few times to secure

Now you have a blank canvas to which you can stitch your tapestry.

Mount ready to have your fiber art stitched to it

I start the stitching by basting the tapestry down. One of the hardest parts of this process is getting that tapestry to stay in place while you sew it. Basting is simply running some large stitches all the way through the mount to hold it on. I baste all the corners and the center fairly well before I start stitching.

Basting the tapestry to the mount

I find these curved needles are really helpful for stitching the tapestry down. If you don't have one, you can use a straight needle, but they help grab just a little bit of the fabric and even an occasional warp without distorting the fabric of the tapestry or the mount very much.

Using a curved needle to stitch the tapestry down

Finishing the stitching

And with that you might be done!

Further options:

  • Add another piece of fabric to cover up the staples and folds.
  • Have this presentation framed by a framer. This is a wonderful option.
  • If you're not going to have it framed, attach a hanger. You can add screw eyes on each side and a picture wire or you can use a toothed hanger in the center of the top bar.

Mounting a tapestry on a stretcher frame, the final piece of fabric stapled on

Here are the small format tapestries I have mounted over the last few weeks. Thank you to all of you who purchased them! I hope you enjoy them for many years to come.

If you click on the gallery below, each photo can be opened in a larger window with captions.

Further resources

There are many ways to finish and mount a small format tapestry. The American Tapestry Alliance has many educational articles and a few are on this subject. You can find two by Susan Martin Maffei and Tommye Scanlin HERE. I'd also suggest watching Tommye Scanlin's blog. She frequently posts about how she does things and you can learn a lot from her current work and the archives. 

Have you found ways you like to mount small works of fiber? Let us know in the comments below.