Tapestry Tutorial

This page is to give a step by step illustration on how to construct a raw edge wall hanging that has the appearance of a tapestry. This method was developed from 2 raw edge workshops that I took, and was modified to fit my own style. My thanks to Rosemary Eichorn and Candace Kenyon Dove for sharing their techniques with me. 

Tapestry Design

I design my tapestry in the same manner that I would design my impressionistic paintings. Few details, lots of color, and contrast. Abstract form is best. Keep realism to a minimum. These tapestries are made to be viewed from a distance. 

I like to work on muslin. I sometimes use a darker cotton fabric, but muslin is usually my choice to build on. It is considered my foundation. If I have an element in the composition that needs more definition, like a vase for the flowers; I will draw it on a separate piece of muslin with a black Sharpie Pen. The ink will go through to the back side and that is important. If I am doing a field of flowers, I do not need a defined element. 

Like making any other composition, I must choose my pallet of colors. I can get technical and use my color wheel, but mostly I am looking for contrasts. Especially light against dark. Warm against cool colors. So I get all my leftover scraps from other projects and hunt for pieces that will work well together. This really helps get rid of all those small pieces. It is good to have a large amount of choices. 

I try to get rid of any fuzzy edges. Later, it will have enough frayed edges and I don't want to start out with them. There is a method to my madness, but it may not be apparent just yet. My basic color for my vase will be this bright turquois. I always keep a stash of brights. 

Auditioning bits of darker turquois and mid green fabric for shadow and contast. This is no different than trying dabs of paint on a canvas. 

You can now see how I am building my dark side of the vase. The side that would get more shadow. Forget about staying in the lines. Remember that the lines are now on the back side. 

I repositioned some darks now to see if this is the side I want and added some pattern and warm color for contrast. Trial and error. Seeing it take shape in my minds eye.

I picked up some white for highlights. Imagine that light will dance on the surface in facets. The dark on the left will only be a rim of line after it is cut away and gives definition to the light side of the vase. 

It is now easier for you to visualize what is taking shape. Light dances and bounces off of everything. That is what abstract painters were all about. If you successfully build your lights bouncing off the darks, the brain will put the picture together. 

So my rough sketch outline is complete. I now put watersoluble stabilizer over the fabric cuts to keep them in place, while I sew them down. 

I like to use the long, thin daisy pins to bite into each snip of fabric so that it will not move during the free motion quilting process. 

The daisy pins are easier to remove as you go, but you really get the death of a thousand cuts before this process is over. This is how it looks from the front side. Now you flip it over. I like to use a neutral color thread and keep the same thread throughout this process. 

This is how it looks from the back side, after the free motion quilting. I try to catch all the edges of my snippets of fabrics. But if I missed some, it doesn't matter; as it will get another round of quilting when it is placed on the batting and backing. 

Using the lines on the back of the fabric, cut out your design. Yes, it looks like a vase. Very textural. 

Setting Up Your Composition

Make sure that your final background piece is about three inches bigger than your final size. Allow for irregular edges to take place. I divide my muslin foundation into thirds. Just like I do my paintings. Mark the center and move your focal element a little to the left or right of this center mark. I am allowing headroom and table room. 

Now is the time to audition all the neutral fabrics that will make up your abstract faceted background. Remember that they MUST remain in the background and not fight for dominance. Keep them subdued. Use you lights, mediums and darks. Build the room behind your flowers. Where is the sun coming from? Where are the shadows? Will my flowers stand away from the background?

You can already see my light side and my dark side. You can see that the burnt orange is not going to work there. 

Now the bigger picture is forming. Stand away and look at this through your camera. It will start coming to life. Make a line for your table edge and keep it straight. 

I do not use a rotary cutter on these. I want random shapes. Some straight edges and some rounded. Light medium usually make up my background. I save the darkest color for my focal areal. Cut leaf and stem shapes. Use dark for shadows near the opening of the vase. Use some brights in the stems and leaves. Think about how the light dances off of them. By now, I am knee deep in pieces of fabrics; looking on the floor and all around me for colors. 

I have built my background behind the flowers. I get out my brightest, most saturated colors now. But they also must have light bouncing around them and darks to set them off. 

There is no way to construct this without the use of your camera, as you cannot do it on your design wall and walk across the room. You must keep looking in the camera after each section is placed. Think about the lights, are they dancing off of the surface. Is the color bright enough? Is there a balance of darks? 

I got a little too high and should have taken off the top flower, but I left it there. Notice that I now sprinkle a lot of tiny snippets of the fabrics across the whole piece. This gives it movement and life. 

The bottom third of your composition, must anchor your piece. I placed everything in a horizontal direction and introduced a lot more darks. I use some of the background fabrics and suggested shadows and light falling on the table. The lines on the table must stay horizontal. 

I now proceed to cover the 30 X 30 inch piece with watersoluble stabilizer and use the daisy pins to hold it together. Let the stabbing begin. This really takes patience. Try to catch as many edges as you can in your stitching using the neutral thread again, go over the whole piece, except the vase. You can just anchor the vase with a minimum of stitches. 

Put it on your design wall and analyze it for flaws. You can fix them in the next phase. Now throw the whole thing in the washer and dryer. No more stabilizer. It comes out all scrunched up and ragged. Iron it flat again. Trim any frayed edges that have too many strings. You may see parts that did not get attached as well as you like. Put a dot of glue on them to hold them down. On this one I used some silk fabrics. They didn't hold up well in the washing process because the pieces are too small. I won't use silk in this process again. So, I had to add some additional pink cotton snippets to replace them. I put a little glue on them to hold them down. You can correct any flaws at this stage. 

The final stage is to pin the raw edge, quilted top onto the cotton batting and backing fabric. Go over the entire piece with free motion stitches, and make sure all added fabrics or glued down edges are gone over evenly, matching the surrounding areas. This is a lot of stitching, but it is one of the things that unifies the whole piece and makes it look like a tapestry. 

I made sure that my vase got an even pattern of stitching that made it blend in with the rest of the tapestry. 

As you can see, the finished work looks just like an impressionistic painting, only with lots of texture. You can either put a binding on it or make facings. 

I hope you will try this process. It is a lot of work, but there is just no way that a photo can show you how textural this art quilt looks. Pay attention to how the light bounces around and makes the whole still life come to life. 

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