A tapestry project for the holidays

This time of year I start asking myself serious questions about the holidays.

Do I really want to spend half of my Thanksgiving vacation at Dallas/Fort Worth International potentially sleeping on the floor with thousands of other people who were trapped due to a freak snowstorm in New England and the resulting air traffic nightmare? 

Do I really need another stack of things to take care of in my life or could Christmas money go toward helping others or purchasing experiences? (I'm no saint. Santa already told me he is bringing me a drum carder. But he needn't bring anything else. I have plenty of fleece, thanks.)

The holidays are certainly a time where I love cozy time on the couch, good food, friends and family, twinkly lights, and a mug of hot chocolate that might just have a little cake vodka in it. In my head it feels like it should be a time of love, expansion, and joy.

But in reality, the holidays are often a time of tension and of unattainable expectations from others (and ourselves if we're honest).

I think we should use making and craft as a gift to ourselves. Sure, we can make things with the expectation that the final product will be a wonderful gift for someone we love. But make the process of creating it a time for you to experience the joy of making. Have you ever experienced that state your brain enters where you lose track of time and are just enjoying the thing you're focused on? Some people call it flow. Tapestry weaving is especially well suited to creating this state. And we all need a little bit of this in our lives every day and more so during the holidays. 

With that in mind, I have a holiday project for you. 

A holiday project: hitting up your LYS

I believe that we need places in our communities like independent bookstores and a local yarn shop (LYS). I am fortunate to have both in my community. In fact, there are four fabulous yarn shops right in Fort Collins with another excellent one an hour away in Boulder. I think it is essential that we support our LYS when at all possible. These shops are where the people who know about yarn are. They can help you with projects and questions and selection... but please buy yarn from them. How else can they stay in business? Many shops are now focusing on indie yarns that you can only get in local shops. You never know what exciting yarn you might find by walking into The Loopy Ewe or My Sister Knits or Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins on any given Saturday.

A few Saturdays ago I made a pilgrimage to The Loopy Ewe. I wanted to use a yarn that people could buy in a shop for tapestry weaving. This is a rather tall order. If you've taken my online classes, you know that I do not like knitting yarns for tapestry weaving. They are too bouncy and stretchy to make a firm fabric and you need that firmness to create images and control the weaving. So I'm always looking for a tightly twisted yarn, either singles or plied. I knew the closest I was going to come was a sock yarn, so I headed straight for the sock yarn aisle. If you've ever been to The Loopy Ewe, you know that they have a monster selection of sock yarn. And they had just gotten a cartload of indie yarn in marvelous colors. So I took a deep breath and bought some.

With the intention of using it for tapestry weaving.

I know. It made me gasp too. But I wanted to experiment with the wonderful color variations that happen in sock yarn that you don't get in immersion dyed tapestry yarns which are always a solid color.

It turns out that most sock yarns are still really soft for tapestry. But I kept going and finished my first holiday tapestry while teaching in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. 

So I'm going to show you this project and I'm even going to encourage you to go and get some sock yarn. But I want to encourage you to look for the firmest yarn you can find. Airy and bouncy are not qualities you want for weaving tapestry. I talk about a few true tapestry yarns later in the post if the sock yarn thing is not for you. (Or for heavens sake, just pull out whatever tapestry yarns you have in your yarn basket closet room.)

What to look for when shopping sock yarn for tapestry weaving

After you've located the yarn that has the tightest twist and the least bounce, look at how it is dyed. Obviously if it is a solid color, that is fine. But most sock yarns are dyed so that they create stripes or patterns when knit. Open the skein up and look at it. Most sock yarn is fingering weight. I used some lace-weight yarn in this project also. Yarns will be different thicknesses regardless of whether they are all labeled fingering or lace. If they come from different manufacturers, they will be different sizes and they will weave differently. All this means is that you'll weave more sequences with the thinner yarns.

The yarn below was painted or dipped in sections.

Sock yarn dyed in sections. Lorna's Laces Solemate: Rocky Mountain Primrose colorway.

But you can't tell once it is wound into a ball.

The same yarn wound into a ball.

Many sock yarns look like this and create stripes when the yarn is knitted. If you're weaving something very tiny, you might get a long big of yellow showing up before you get the same distance of pink or green. You can cut the yarn and make the colors change where you want them to, but that rather defeats the purpose of using the dyed yarn to create effects in the weaving easily.

Another option is to look for yarns that are dyed with less evenness and more colors throughout. It is very hard to tell what a yarn will look like once it is balled. So look at the skein before you wind it.

Less evenly dyed sock yarn. Miss Babs SAFF 2015, Hot Shot

Miss Babs in a ball

I found more yarns to use on my last teaching trip at Quillin Fiber Arts in Las Cruces, NM. The shop owner, Dedri Quillin, dyes these yarns herself. I am using one of them for the background of a second piece I'm weaving now. Dedri creates these yarns with a real spatter effect and I love how it looks in the weaving. I needed some light colors for this holiday light piece and these splattered yarns were perfect.

Yarn made by Dedri Quillin and sold at Quillin Fiber Arts in Las Cruces, NM

Holiday weaving on Hokett loom with yarn by Quillin Fiber Art. Bobbin by Milissa Ellison Dewey (Bobbin Boy)

The yarn in the background of the christmas light weaving below is one of Dedri's spattered yarns (pictured in a ball above). The Christmas light to the right is the Lorna's Laces Solemate yarn pictured above. See the difference? The Lorna's Laces has a fairly long section of each color so you get woven blocks of color before it changes. The yellow background is dyed with more of a splatter effect so there are flecks of color, but no streaks or blocks created. (The dark purple/red lightbulb to the left was a leftover bit of a singles shawl yarn which is probably Madelinetosh but the ball band is long gone.)

Rebecca Mezoff, Holiday 2017 weaving comparing different dye jobs in sock yarn.

So with that information, you're ready to pick some sock yarn if you're game.

The tree project

In this project I describe how to weave a holiday tree like this one.

Rebecca Mezoff, Holiday Tree tapestry project 2017

I wove this on a 6-dent Hokett loom (intermediate size but it would fit on a regular size loom also) with the warp doubled at 12 epi. I used 20/6 cotton seine twine for the warp and the weft is all sock yarns of various brands.

The background is an indie yarn I found at The Loopy Ewe by Leading Men Fiber Arts, Show Stopper, Colorway: Cherry Blossom. I loved how much the colors in this yarn felt like holiday lights. 463 yards in 100 grams (which is about 4 ounces).

The tree yarn was by Julie Spins. SW Merino Lace Yarn, Colorway: Salem. 960 yards in 4 ounces. (Notice how you can tell that this yarn is much thinner just by how many yards there are in 4 ounces? Bigger yardage in the same weight of yarn means the yarn is thinner.)

The tree trunk was a little bit of Weaver's Bazaar 18/2 yarn I had along. The yellow decoration and star was another Julie Spins yarn.

Project instructions

For complete project instructions to weave this holiday tree, click the button below. I'll send you a PDF with a step-by-step and a cartoon.

Design ideas

You most certainly don't have to weave my project. When searching for holiday images to weave, I used Google images and Pinterest to get some ideas. Just searching something like holiday crafts on either site will give you loads of images to spark your creativity. Remember that horizontal lines are easier to weave than vertical ones and if you're weaving something quite small, your design should be simple.

You don't have to weave a recognizable symbol. Consider getting some inspiring yarns and just weaving squares or squiggles or stripes. As you weave you'll have many ideas of where you want to take your explorations. Maybe you can get some ideas from my online students' work. Take a look at this video if you haven't already.

A footnote on price of yarn and some other options

So if you've looked at good quality sock yarn, you know that it is not cheap. If you're not a knitter and you will have no other use for these yarns, you might reconsider using them if the price is a barrier. On the other hand, if you love the effects, buy a handful of choices and use them for a long time mixed with less expensive wool. A good skein of sock yarn costs anywhere from $15 to $30. Most have enough yardage for a complete pair of socks, but not always! Quillin Fiber Arts was selling some small skeins of yarn which allowed me to get more variation for about $5 per skein. If you know any indie dyers, ask if they have smaller bits of leftover yarn they will sell you.

Other yarn options:

  1. Try Paternayan if you're in the USA. It comes in many colors and you can buy an embroidery hank for around $1. This only has 8-12 yards in it, but it allows you to get many colors for not much money.
  2. My favorite tapestry yarn dyed in gradations commercially is made by Weaver's Bazaar in the U.K. If you want to try their yarn and you don't have any, order it today as it takes a little more time to get here. They have wonderful gradation packs like THESE. (Hint: I like the 18/2 size for small weaving but it is so small you'll have to use several strands at once, so if you don't want to do that, get the medium weight yarn.)
  3. There are a million others but some of the best are: Vevgarn, Harrisville Highland, or Faro.

Post your work! #holidaytapestry17

I would love to see what you weave. You can email me an image which I will post on the blog or you can post it on my Rebecca Mezoff Tapestry Studio page on Facebook. This blog post will be pinned at the top and you can post your image in the comments. While you're there, please Like my page. It really does help.

If you're an Instagram user, post there and make sure to tag me in the post so I can see your work. @rebeccamezofftapestry

Hashtag your images on whatever social media you use with #holidaytapestry17.

Happy Weaving!