How to Weave Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

How to Weave Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

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.

How to Weave Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

Choosing Weft Yarn for your Color Gradient

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.

How to Weave Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

Bundling Techniques for Color Gradients

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:

  • 1111
  • 1112
  • 1122
  • 1222
  • 2222

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. 

  • 1111
  • 1112
  • 1122
  • 1222
  • 2222
  • 2223
  • 2233
  • 2333
  • 3333

Adding Nuance and Play to Weaving Gradients

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:

  • Now that I’ve practiced tapestry weaving gradients quite a bit, I typically eliminate the bundle of four of the same shade in the middle of a gradient. For example, instead of going from 1222 to 2222 to 2223, I simply eliminate any length of 2222 and weave 1222 right into 2223, which creates a lovely subtle fade between shades. 
  • Blending the transitions: When I reach the end of my prescribed section of one grouping and pick up the next bundle in my gradient, I like to save a length of about 4 rows of the first group. I weave a row or two of the new group and return to the previous color combination for a few rows before moving on to the next. I find this blends the border at the color transition to create even more subtlety in the gradient. 
  • Stepping back from the loom—moving from a foot away from the piece to across the room—can offer some valuable perspective on how the gradient is forming and potential places to add some more subtle transition between groupings. 

How to Weave Color Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

Sample Tapestry Weaving Project: Gradient Table Runner

Weaving Supplies

This project does not require a specific sett and can be adjusted for size depending on the supplies, loom, and tools available to the weaver.
How to Weave Color Gradients on a Tapestry Loom

Weaving Preparation and Planning

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. 

  • 1111
  • 1112
  • 1122
  • 1222
  • 2223
  • 2233
  • 2333
  • 3334
  • 3344
  • 3444
  • 4444

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). 

  • Count the total number of weft groupings. For this project, I have 11. 
  • Divide planned length (14 inches) by weft groupings (11) to get the approximate length to weave using each weft grouping.
  • 14/11=1.27 inches per weft bundle. 

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.

Gradient Table Runner Project Instructions

  1. Warp your tapestry loom to a width of 10-12 inches. (I chose 10 inches).
  2. Weave a strip of at least 2-inch wide cardboard or paper along the bottom of your warp to leave space for finishing and create a natural fringe. 
  3. Create the first bundle of four weft threads. I started with four threads of Natural Array yarn. 
  4. Weave about 1.25 inches of the first grouping. 
  5. Leave off somewhere in the middle of your piece (it doesn’t matter if this is in the center of the piece or off to one side or the other, just not at the end of a row). 
  6. Where you left off with the first bundle, begin weaving with your second bundle of weft threads. In this case, it is 1112, or three threads of Natural and one thread of the second color, our lightest Cinnamon shade, Cinnamon 4. Weave 1.25 inches using the second bundle. 
  7. Continue in this manner—weaving about 1.25 inches of each bundle, transitioning in the middle of a row to the next bundle in the gradient, until you have woven to the final weft grouping (for this project, all four Cinnamon 2 threads).
  8. Finish the top and bottom with hemstitch
  9. Cut off the loom, trim the warp threads on either end to be about the same length for fringe. 
  10. Place on your coffee table, kitchen table, or bookshelf and surround with books, plants, and pottery, and enjoy the splash of color and texture a woven gradient adds to your space!

About Emily Wick

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.

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