Finishing and Hanging Two Sided Tapestries by Sarah Swett

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I dislike finishing work. When I think of the ease, in fact delight, with which I undertake the many hours of designing and weaving, not to mention spinning and dying warp and weft, I am amazed at the extreme impatience with which I contemplate and undertake finishing work. To this end, with each tapestry I endeavor to simplify my system.

After cutting it off my loom, I let a tapestry rest for a day or two. I twine both cut edges so that there is a clean finish. The whole work is then washed gently in the bathtub. I do this for two reasons: to make sure that the tapestry is free of any dust and grime that may have accumulated during the weaving process; and so that the wool warp and weft bond together, felt slightly if you will, forming a more stable and fluid cloth. Since I dye all the yarn I have no fear of the colors running. Spinning the tapestry in the dryer removes most of the moisture before I lay it flat to dry. A hot iron, a wet steamy press cloth and lots of elbow grease ensures that everything is flat. Several years ago I had some cotton labels screen printed with my name, logo, care instructions and spaces for information specific to that tapestry. I use a permanent marker to fill in the title, date completed, fiber type and any other pertinent information. One of these labels is stitched to the back of each tapestry.

I weave in all of the warp and weft ends so that my tapestries are two sided. It is sometimes fun to take advantage of this and display the tapestries in the middle of a room or gallery. They sway when people walk by, and light shines through the slits – a fascinating effect! This works best if I sew a simple hem/pocket at the top (or side if it has been woven sideways) of the tapestry. A hanging rod — strong, lightweight and as flat as possible — is covered with a layer of cotton cloth and slipped into the pocket, with screw eyes on either end of the rod. These screw eyes can either go through nails in walls (level, of course), or be threaded with monofilament (fishing line) and hung from the ceiling.

A number of years and many tapestries have passed since I wrote this article, and while I still wash, press and label them the same way, I have developed a hanging method that does not involve Velcro. It is not as good as the hem/pocket system for middle of the room display (still a favorite with both galleries and viewers), but it is better for hanging against a wall.

Using canvas stretchers (available at art supply stores) I build a small frame the width of the top of the tapestry and approximately 10 inches tall. The stretchers slide together at the corners where I put a dab of glue to keep them square. I then cover this rectangular frame with a layer or two of cotton quilt batting and another layer of washed cotton or silk cloth, stapled on the back of the frame so it can be pulled tight, but with the edge of the cloth folded and sewn over the staples for tidiness. Screw eyes go into the back of each side piece a few inches from the top, and a piece of picture wire is strung between them. I then stitch the top of the tapestry to the top of the frame so that it hangs straight down. This prevents that ugly and distracting bulge that invariably shows up when Velcro is stitched to the back. It allows airflow between the tapestry and the hanging mechanism as well as the tapestry and the wall, and the pieces retain their “clothness”, if you will, that delicious undulation that other media so sadly lack. For shipping or storage, the tapestries can be easily rolled around the stretcher bar frame into a 10” x n” (where n is the width of the piece) package. When they arrive at a gallery, each piece is simply unrolled and hung from a single point on the picture wire – simple, clean, and fast (always a plus with curators).

Sarah Swett, "The River Wyrd" 48” x 36”