Since I first began weaving tapestry on a frame loom, I wanted to learn to weave excellent gradients. I live in northern Minnesota near the shore of Lake Superior, which offers up a brilliant color gradient with every season, sunrise, and shift in the weather. The idea of being able to weave a gradient—to capture a gradual transition between two or more colors—like what I saw in my surroundings in a tapestry has inspired me to practice weaving gradients often.
Woven gradients are interesting because they can be explained and created very systematically, yet they really click when the weaver applies nuance, experimentation, and play. To practice gradient technique using Gist’s Array Wool, I created a straightforward project: a woven placemat which can be used as a small table runner centerpiece, an accent underneath a potted houseplant, or an addition to a coffee table to add warmth and texture under lamps, books, or other decor.
You can purchase the yarn bundle that I used to weave this project here.
While gradients of the same color with variations in shade (which is where my particular interest lies) can be woven using any type of yarn, Array is ideal for exploring gradients. Providing groupings of several shades of one color, it simplifies the process of selecting yarn for the perfect, subtle gradient. Additionally, I found the size of the thread perfectly conducive to bundling, which is crucial for weaving a gradient.
No matter what yarn you use, you will be bundling multiple strands of weft yarn to create a gradient, so it is important to ensure that the yarn bundles easily and that the resulting thickness of 4+ weft threads is easy to manage with the sett of your tapestry loom. My loom has a sett of about 7 EPI warp threads, and a bundle of four strands of Array wove up wonderfully.
Gradients can be broken down very systematically. They are created by bundling a consistent number of weft threads in different color combinations, forming a subtle shift in color by blending yarns as the weaver flows between combinations while they weave.
For example, to create a gradient of two colors with bundles of four weft threads, the first bundle will use four threads of the same color (color 1). For our example, let’s say each bundle will be an inch of woven length on the loom. After weaving one inch with the first bundle of four weft threads in color one (1111), a second bundle is created with a new color make up—three of the first color with one of the second (1112)—and the second inch is woven with this second bundle.
The color ratio looks something like this for a gradient of two colors:
The more threads in a bundle, the more subtle and gradual the gradient will appear. To create a gradient of many shades, going from light to dark or dark to light, the same technique is applied.
This formula is the basis to start weaving color gradations. As I have continued to practice gradients in my tapestry weaving, I believe that the beauty and challenge of weaving a good gradient is in taking that foundational equation and applying a bit of nuance.
The ways I like to do this include:
Before weaving, gradients take a bit of planning!
First, determine your planned weaving length. Because of my loom size, about 14 inches is a comfortable length to weave. Since I knew I wanted a rectangle shape for my table runner, I chose a width of 10 inches.
Since I chose four colors for my gradient—three shades of Array Cinnamon and one neutral color, Natural—I wrote out my plan for the color bundles I would be using.
I chose to include single-color bundles (all four threads of the same color in a bundle) at the beginning and end, but not in the middle where I wanted the blending between shades to be very subtle (see underlined sections for the transition).
If you have the option, I highly recommend using a yarn ball winder to wind each shade into a yarn cake. This way when creating your bundles, you can pull from the center of the cake as well as the outside as you wrap multiples of your weft around your shuttle stick.
Emily Wick is a tapestry weaver living in Grand Marais, a tiny town in far northern Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior. Her tapestries and home decor are greatly inspired by the natural beauty of the place she calls home. To see more of her work and keep up-to-date on events and collections, follow her on Instagram and subscribe to her newsletter.