Whether you’re an experienced crafter looking for a fresh outlet or a novice hoping to find the best avenue to channel your creative urges, there’s no time like the present to pick up a new craft. In the Learn From the Experts series, we poll some of the most skilled and inspiring sellers on Etsy for their top beginner tips.
Thanks to the seemingly unshakeable staying power of the boho aesthetic and an increasing interest in three-dimensional wall art, handmade and vintage woven wall hangings are bigger than ever. But there’s far more to the weaving story, as any search on Etsy will prove — pulling up rugs, blankets, table linens, and more, in a range of styles, techniques, and traditions with roots that go back thousands of years. DIY options are cropping up more and more, too, both in the form of readymade kits and tutorials for whipping together your own frame loom.
Whether you’re keen to tackle a rag rug, a funky, free-form art piece, or an intricately textured wrap, there’s just one thread common to all weaving: it’s not a pursuit well suited to seekers of instant gratification. “Anyone who is patient can weave,” says Brooklyn, New York weaver Rachel Gottesman, whose shop Heddle and Needle is filled with decorative wall hangings that epitomize today’s trends. “But remember that you’re creating an image row by row, like an old matrix printer, so it may take some time.” Still, there’s hope for those of us who skew a little more…improvisational. “With the more recent Saori weaving movement — a sort of no-rules, freestyle type of weaving — I think we are seeing a real flourishing of the more creative, fluid, less-rigid type of personality in weaving, showing all of us that there can be great beauty in spontaneity and imperfection,” says Donna Laken of LökenLoomWeaving.
Whatever style appeals to you most, the expert tips we’ve collected below are sure to come in handy.
Picking a Project
“Using a frame loom to make a small wall hanging is a great place to start,” Gottesman says. “A frame loom is essentially just a wooden square, so you can make one with an old picture frame and some nails if you’d like, or you can also buy frame loom kits on Etsy.” You can even use cardboard: this Etsy tutorial will walk you through the setup process and the steps for completing a simple rectangular wall hanging.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, plenty of other applications are within your grasp. “Cushion covers, table runners, placemats, and personal accessories such as bags, belts and iPad covers can all be constructed using simple rectangular shapes and are great for beginners looking for practical applications for their woven pieces,” says designer and instructor Andrea Rothwell, who stocks her Melbourne, Australia, shop LoomAndSpindleAU with handmade timber looms and specialty tools designed for her fellow free-form weavers. You can also find loads of project ideas and visual instruction on Pinterest, YouTube, and blogs.
Choosing Your Materials
Buy or make a loom. “When selecting a loom, size is the most important consideration,” Rothwell says. “I always suggest to new customers that they think about what type of projects they want to make and what size they want their finished pieces to be.” And it’s not just about what you’re making, but also where. “A large loom is great if you do most of your crafting at home,” Rothwell says, “whereas a small, travel-sized loom could be handy when you’re on holiday.” On Pinterest, you’ll find ideas for making looms from old picture frames, popsicle sticks, plastic straws, PVC pipe, copper tubing, hula hoops, cardboard, tree branches, and more.
Gather some yarn. “When you’re just starting out, don’t buy fancy yarns, which can get pretty expensive,” Gottesman says. “Basic cotton twine for your warp threads (the threads that are tied vertically on the frame) and acrylic yarn for the weft (which is horizontal) work just fine. Get them in your favorite colors and use your first few projects to decide what kinds of shapes and patterns you enjoy making; once you’ve grown more comfortable with techniques, you can try weaving with more pricey yarns, like tencel or merino wool.” And don’t overlook remnants from past projects that you already have on hand. “I’m a firm a believer that frame loom weaving should be inexpensive and accessible,” Rothwell says. “It can be as simple as warping up a piece of cardboard and using all the odds and ends from your last knitting project.”
Then mix things up. It’s smart to stick with basic, thick cotton yarn for the warp threads while you’re learning, as it’s strong and won’t break while weaving, says Julia Astreou, who spins traditional weaving and embroidery techniques from her native Cyprus into fresh creations, incorporating unconventional materials such as cane, copper and plexiglass. The weft is where you can go a little wild. “From organic fibers such as sisal rope and hemp to more unorthodox materials such as foil, cling film and canes, it is quite rewarding to see the different qualities each material brings to the fabric,” Astreou says. Rothwell agrees: “Get creative with materials — go collect some natural flora from the garden and experiment with weaving different plant and animal fibers.”
And test before you invest. “There are a lot of Etsy shops that offer a large variety of yarns; if you are buying large quantities, it is always good to get a sample first, so that you can see and touch the yarns before purchasing them,” says Astreou.
Rookie Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
Visualize the end result. “Planning the structure of the piece before you begin is really important,” Rothwell says. “Some things to consider before starting: Is the loom large enough to accommodate the piece I want to make? How will I start and finish the piece? Will there be enough room to tie off the ends? Am I going to work the piece the right way up or upside down? How will I hang the piece or hide the edges? Do I incorporate a plain or decorative header row into the design? By considering these things before I begin, I set up a framework to work with, and I find that I’m more likely to finish a piece when I know the direction I’m headed.”
But be willing to play. “Rather than trying to reach highly finished results too early, remember to enjoy experimenting and realize that it is an important part of the creative process,” Astreou says. “If I allow myself enough time for experimentation, I am usually a lot more pleased with the final result.”
Begin with a good foundation. “The most important lesson I learned in starting this craft was to always, no matter what, make sure the tension on your warp threads is even before beginning your weaving,” Laken says. “My college weaving professor stressed this over and over, and after all these years of weaving, that advice has never failed me. If your warp tension is even, you will have a good, solid weaving structure. If it is not even, you’ll spend the whole time weaving just wishing you had fixed your tension beforehand!”
Take your time. “The most common problem in weaving is that people are impatient and absentminded,” Astreou says. “Weaving is a slow process, especially at the beginning, and beginners often make mistakes without realizing it until later on, when some of the fabric has to be undone and rewoven. My advice is to be patient and enjoy the process (even if it is slow),” Astreou says. And be patient with yourself, too. “Don’t expect perfection right away, or even months from now,” Gottesman says. “You’ll go mad if you get too picky. Just enjoy the craft for what it is, which is a celebration of the materials.”
While many of our experts cited Pinterest DIYs and YouTube tutorials as valuable sources of both inspiration and instruction, they all agreed that nothing compares to learning from experienced weavers. “My local hand-weaver’s guild has been invaluable,” Rothwell says. “I recently participated in a tapestry weaving course that really helped reinforce what I had learned from books, and also gave me insights into traditional tapestry techniques. And their library was insane!” The hands-on help is even more important as you prepare to take your new skills to the next level. “I cannot stress enough how important interaction with experienced weavers is,” Astreou says. “It’s the best way to learn and progress, since weaving is a highly technical practice and often supervision from advanced weavers is required — especially when using big looms with two or four shafts.”
“One discovery I’ve made along the way that has made the creative process easier for me is learning — and reminding myself — that everything can be unwoven,” Laken says. “There is great freedom in knowing that whatever combination of yarns and colors you place into a weaving, you can somewhat easily go back and remove if they don’t seem quite right. Yes, it takes time to undo the work, but unlike many other art mediums (or real life!), your mistakes or poor choices aren’t permanent until the moment you cut the weaving off the loom. Knowing this fact allows me to relax a bit and take some creative chances. The worst that can happen is that I end up right back where I started, with a loom warped and ready to be woven.”
Valerie Rains is an editor at Etsy.