As tapestry weavers, unless we are weaving free-form, we need to plan carefully and make a lot of decisions up front. That’s where sampling comes in. Sampling can take many forms and involve testing out the structure (warp and weft combinations), choosing colors, or fine-tuning with specific techniques. I will touch on structural sampling here and focus on color and techniques; areas where Array really shines.
Before I get into each form, let’s talk a little bit about the importance of documentation. I can’t begin to stress enough how valuable a good documentation process is. You may think you can remember a specific color, or warp sett, but trust me—memories.
There are many ways to keep track of your weaving projects and process. My method is to always have a weaving journal beside me wherever I am. I like sketchbooks, as shown in the photo above, but you might prefer something different. Some like to use binders so samples can be added. What I do, instead, is to photograph my samples on regular copy paper; it’s only for documentation purposes so quality isn’t important. I then tape or glue the small images in my journal.
One more tip: if you choose a method like this and keep all your notes in one journal, it can be hard to find what you’re looking for when you want to go back and refer to a project or notes. I use the Bullet Journal method of numbering my pages and creating an index as I go. It’s saved me a lot of time over the years.
Even if you’re new to weaving, these records will be very helpful in the future. Now, let’s look at some ways to sample, starting with structure.
When sampling the structure, I’m referring to several elements of the tapestry. The warp size and/or material in relation to the sett and the weft size and/or material in relation to the warp chosen.
Examples of sampling sett, warp, and weft combinations might be trying different warp thicknesses or fiber content (cotton, wool, linen) for the weft size you will be working with. Or, conversely, it could involve determining how many strands work best for the warp thickness and ends per inch you’re working with.
In the image above (12/12 warp sett at 8 EPI), I show weaving with only 2 strands of Array at the bottom, moving up to 10 strands at the top. You’ll notice how smooth the 2 strand weft is in relation to the 10 strand. Also how “plump” and textural the top area is compared to the bottom. This surface— or “stitch”—is referred to as “the bead” of the weaving. Some like a rounded bead while others prefer a smoother surface.
If you do this experiment, you will also notice how thin the 2 strand weft is compared to the opposite end. Which one you choose is a personal preference. A good rule of thumb for tapestry weavers is to use a weft that is about the same size as the space between the warps. I found my sweet spot at 5 or 6 strands for most of my sampling.
You can also sample with different setts and compare the number of strands. If you change setts a lot, that could be helpful in planning future weavings. I tend to stick with 8 EPI most of the time, so these samples are all woven at 8 EPI with either 12/9 or 12/12 cotton seine twine warp.
Unless we have a set palette for most of our work, we also need to choose colors in every tapestry we create. This is the form of sampling that takes the most time in my own work. It can take me months to decide on exactly the right colors for a piece. Sampling colors can be done on the loom or with yarn wraps. Yarn wraps are a handy resource and much quicker than weaving.
My favorite color blending technique is weft bundling, gradually changing the gradations or color in an area. I do a lot of weft bundling in my own tapestry work. I can occupy myself quite happily for hours making one sample after another to test combinations. Considering the number of values within each hue of Array, I can imagine endless color sampling in my future!
Weft Bundling can be done in specific techniques (above) or as a horizontal or vertical blend (below). For this type blend, start with a bundle of a specified number of weft threads in a solid color that merges into a solid color of another hue by replacing one strand at a time with the new color.