DIY wall hangings on a cardboard loom

Have you seen the anthropologie, boho style wall hangings popping up everywhere lately?  This fall I got really into weaving again because of them.  

I say again, because when I was in high school, I did some weaving, both on a tabletop cricket style loom (my color choices were... lacking on that one), and also a straightforward tapestry loom.  I still have the tapestry hanging in my office, and it's one of my favorite things I've made.

it's held up quite well since 1993, no?

Here's the thing:  weaving is not hard--over, under, over, under.  Making a loom from cardboard is not hard.  They are literally crafts for preschoolers.  But you can make some gorgeous stuff on them just with a few key choices on your part.

There are several gorgeous small maker tapestry loom artisans out there making some amazing tools that are totally worthwhile if weaving is going to be a major hobby for you (heeey there Hokett looms! I got three of you for Christmas and am LOVING THEM), but if you just want to try it on for size, and don't want to financially commit much scratch to the project, just scrounge around for some cardboard.  I'm sure you've got an amazon box floating around somewhere. The weaving I made it on waaaay back in the early 90s? Done on cardboard.  

Now, ovbs, that's not the same loom I made back in 93.  I keep stuff, but I'm not a hoarder.  This one is a new one I made to do a few wall hangings on.  It's a top flap of a box something or other came in, and perfect for a loom because it's relatively sturdy with no creases or bends, and not enormous.  This is a lap loom, so think about what will make an appropriate size for you.

I took a ruler and pencil, and marked a straight line across each short end, about an inch in from the edge.  Then I measured every 1/2" along that line, and drew a line for my notches.  Using scissors, I cut in along those notch lines from the edge to the marked line, and no further.  Do this on the top and bottom, and voila.  A loom has appeared!

As a reminder: warp threads are the threads that go up and down vertically on your loom.  You weave over and under, back and forth, with weft threads.  Warp threads are best to be relatively smooth and strong, as they are more under tension than weft.  You can use pretty much anything for weft.

a wall hanging done with a jute twine warp

For a tapestry or wall hanging loom, when I don't want the warp threads to show, I just use crochet cotton, the kind that comes in a ball with a cardboard core.  It's thin, so the weft threads can pack around it; it's strong, so I don't need to worry about breakage; it's smooth, so I don't need to worry about weft catching on it or it abrading away with all the over-under-ing going on; and it's cheap.  You can, of course, get actual rug warp thread, which is advisable if you're going to go hardcore on this, but I have yet to have a problem with crochet cotton.

I've also done several weavings where the warp was designed to show, and in this case, I used sisal twine.  Though a bit rough and not super flexible, it looks great and rustic, which is what I was going for.  Kind of a pain in the ass to warp the loom the first time, but I got used to it.


to begin to warp your loom, and secure the ends

To warp your loom, first secure the end of the warp thread to the back of the loom--see above.  Sometimes I use tape, sometimes I tie a double knot around the notch.  Tape's easier, but can work itself loose.

Once the end is secure, run the thread down through the notch to the front of the loom, and down to the corresponding notch on the lower edge of your cardboard.  Run the thread through the notch, and back around the next notch in line, making a little loop behind the notch, as you can see above.  Make sure you pull your warp snug, you want a bit of tension in the warp but not so much you bend the cardboard.   Run the thread up to the next open notch on the top edge, go around the back of the notch, and run the thread through down the front again.  Keep doing this for every notch, so the warp threads are all on the front of your loom, as seen here:

When you've filled your last notch, cut the warp thread from the spool, leaving a good 6" or so, and secure the end to the back--again, either with a knot or a piece of tape.  Voila, you've warped your loom!

Now, check out that image above again.  There's a narrow rectangle of cardboard down at the bottom.  That's from a cereal box, and I wove it over and under the warp threads to keep an even space at the bottom.  Later, when you're done with your weave, you'll need to finish it by tying off the warp threads and either making fringe or weaving the warp ends in the back of the piece.  You can skip this spacer if you're planning on using a dowel or stick at both the top and bottom of your weave.

over, under, over, under . . . note the rounded shape of the weft

Now you're ready to weave! Thread a tapestry needle, or other needle with a large eye, with your chosen weft yarn, and start going over and under your warp threads.  Leave a bit of a tail in the back of the piece to weave in later to secure the weft threads.  

Oh, and if you've done any weaving before I'm sure you've encountered the dreaded pulling in of the sides.  It happens to all of us the first few times and the key to avoiding it is to NOT PULL TIGHT.  In fact, bubble the weft thread at an angle as you go over and under, and don't yank on the weft.  Gently push the threads down with your fingers, a wide toothed hair comb, or even a fork (this is called beating down the weft).  The actual act of going over and under threads takes up some of the length of the yarn, and by bubbling or angling the weft up before you beat it against the previous rows, you're allowing the weft to take up that length, and settle nicely.

I highly recommend using a relatively plain worsted weight or thinner yarn for the first few rows of weft, and weaving a plain weave, or tabby weave, for several rows.  The plain weave is literally: over one thread, under the next.  On the next row, go under the threads you went over last time, and over the threads you went under before.  This will help give a nice selvedge edge to your hanging.

When you come to the end of your weft thread, pull it through to the back, leaving a few inches as a tail.  Then thread another piece--same color, different color, whatever you want!--and keep going.  Change colors, skip warp thread (over 2, under 2; over 2, under 1, etc.) to get the pattern you want.  Add fringe with rya knots, texture with soumak weave, weave straight lines, angles.  There are infinite possiblities! And try lots of things for your weft! I love working with roving and wool top (unspun fiber), jute twine, and metallic fibers, and I've seen amazing weaves made with birch bark and ribbons as well.  Mess around, see what you can come up with!

I am not the fringiest of ladies, but sometimes, it's called for.

work in progress, featuring rya knots, soumak, and roving. The big puffy white section is wool roving, the narrow line of white is a line of soumak weaving in a chunky yarn.  The rya knots make a fringe.

When you've reached the top of your cardboard loom, you're ready to finish your weave! You need to pop the weave off your loom, leaving the warp loops as is.  Since I tend to hang my weaves from a stick or a copper pipe, I use the warp loops at the top of the loom, and just slide a dowel or a stick into them.  The bottom loops I cut and tie together in pairs using a square knot.  If I've done fringe at the bottom, you can leave the warp ends as is.  If I've skipped fringe, I use a tapestry needled and weave the warp ends back up into the weaving on the back side. I also weave in the loose ends of the weft from color changes and yarn ends to secure them a bit, and trim close to the work.  Because the wall hangings don't actually take on a lot of stress or weight, the ends are not likely to work themselves loose.  

 The Weaving Loom has some fantastic weaving tutorials for things like rya knots and soumak weaves (wrapping around the warp threads for texture).  I highly recommend checking them out, as well as a number of other weaving tutorials on you tube. There's a wealth of information out there.

It's weird because after years of training myself not to work with yarn under tension, and to never tie knots, I'm now into two fiber crafts where it's ok to keep yarn under tension and ok to tie knots. 


8-bit / Minecraft old school knitting

I am old, and therefore remember when 8-bit graphics were all you got, man.  But these kids today, and their 3-d fancy rendered video games don't know how good they have it!  Hey you kids, get offa my lawn!

Anyway, a few folks I know are interested in making all the cool hipster 8-bit, or Minecraft, graphic knitted things, like say, a hat.  To which I say, I can help with that! (After they told me to write this. So ok. I do as I am told, sometimes)

Knitted color work is not that difficult, it's a trick, like anything knitting.  Once you do it, and puzzle it out, it's easier than you think.

Especially 8 bit graphics and Minecraft emblems, which are already pixelized and therefore DEAD EASY to transfer to a knitting colorwork chart. (I know, all those words may sound scary but THEY ARE NOT, TRUST.) I am going to assume that you already know how to knit, and can knit in the round, because while I can teach someone how to knit in person, online is a whole other ball of wax. 

Colorwork knitting is also called stranded knitting (because you are knitting with two strands of yarn, different colors), or fair isle knitting. In stranded knitting, you are using two colors of yarn per row, and are knitting some stitches in one color, some in the other color.  (There's also intarsia, which is a whole other thing--think the images in ugly Christmas sweaters and big blocks of color.) 

This is not an ugly Christmas sweater. This is Paper Dolls sweater pattern (c) Kate Davies

This is not an ugly Christmas sweater. This is Paper Dolls sweater pattern (c) Kate Davies

You can make all sorts of amazing, complicated-looking color patterns and pretty things with this technique. Kate Davies is a master of this--this is her Paper Dolls sweater, (ravelry link) is it not GORGEOUS? Go click through and look at her other stuff. Go buy her patterns. Support knitwear designers!

So there are a few rules to stranded knitwork, which will make your life easier.   When you're knitting a stitch in Color A, you carry along Color B behind; and vice versa.  Best practices is to keep the strands behind pretty loose so you don't lose the elasticity of the knitting, and to also not have more that 5 stitches of one color at a pop (so your strands, or floats, aren't too long and easily caught on things like hands, and ears, and glasses).

It's easier to understand when you see it (this is not me--this is the wonderful youtube channel, knittinghelp):

Now, the 8-bit stuff! Go find, or go draw, an 8-bit image you like.  Or pixelate a regular image to make it 8-bit-y.  Got it? Ok good. Now you're going to take that image and make it into a knitting chart.  I'd suggest starting with a one-color image, since you're really going to want to only work 2 colors per row of knitting.  Plus it'll look cool and graphic and stuff. 

You can make a pretty simple knitting chart for colorwork in Excel, if you're tech inclined.  Or on graph paper, if you're not or just want to play with colored pencils or markers. Hell, you can even go download knitters graph paper, which mimics the proportions of the knit stitch (slightly taller than it is wide) so your image doesn't come out wider and shorter than anticipated as it may using regular square graph paper.

Take your graph paper, take your image, and transfer the image to the graph paper, square by square.  If you're working on paper, this is actually pretty easy--put the graph paper over the image, and unless you're using fancy thick paper you should be able to see the ghost of the image on the graph paper.  Color it in.  Voila! You now have a chart!

Remember how I said you generally don't want more than 5 stitches between color changes? Look at your charted image and count the squares.  If there's more than 5 stitches in a color span, add a dot of the contrasting/background color.  (like so: XXXXXoXXXXX) I promise it won't look too weird.  

Ok, so now you have your charted, tweaked, image.  You can knit it! Knitting from charts is straightforward. Each box is a stitch. If the stitch is colored in, knit it with your image color.  If it's not colored in, knit it with your background color.  You'll be working from the bottom of the chart up, and reading/knitting the chart from right to left, bottom to top. Each row of the chart is a row of knitting. If you're knitting in the round--and for reals, you should be, it's easiest to go circular for stranded knitting--this means each row is a round, and you will ALWAYS be starting at the right hand side of the chart and working to the left. 

Depending on your gauge/the size yarn you're using, you can repeat the image around the circumference of the hat, like say, a line of space invader dudes around the brim of a beanie. To do this, take your chart, and  make sure you have a few stitches/columns on either side of the motif in the background color. Now, count the stitches in the chart, including these columns, this will be your repeat.  

Let's say you're doing a hat with a 10 stitch motif, and you want two stitches between each motif--your repeat is 12 stitches.  Cast on a circular needle enough stitches for a hat: MAKE SURE THE NUMBER OF STITCHES ON YOUR NEEDLE IS A MULTIPLE OF YOUR REPEAT. (in this case, 60 st, or 120 st, or whatever works with the size yarn/size head). No one wants a space invader cut in half.  Use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of your round. Work a few rounds in the background color, either in a non-curling pattern (like rib) or for an inch or so in stockinette (for a rolled brim)

When you hit where you want the image, begin your chart. As you knit, you'll knit the first row of your motif as per the chart, and then the two stitches in the background color, then knit the first row of your motif again. And the two stitches of the background color, again.  Repeat all the way around.  Then do the second row of your chart, and repeat it all the way around.  Then the third row....etc. when you've completed the full chart of the motif, break the motif yarn, leaving a tail, and finish up your hat with the background color. 

(How to finish a hat you ask? Knit until it's as tall as you want, then decreasing for the crown at even points. Divide your stitch count by 6 or 8, and mark these points using stitch markers. K2together at those points every other round until you have half as many stitches as you started with. Then k2tog at these points every round until you have either 6 or 8 stitches--depending on how many points you picked--break yarn and pull the yarn through those stitches left, pull tight. Weave in ends, boom you have a hat.)

So, let's say you're working in super bulky yarn and only want one image on your hat.  

  1. I hope you like weaving in ends.  
  2. Consider two images? One front, one back?
  3. No? How about a dotted hat, alternating the two colors around the hat, except where the motif is (aka:  knit the motif, then knit 2 stitches background, 2 stitches motif color, around until you get back to the motif)?
  4. Still no? Welp, get ready to weave in ends. 

Ok then. Follow the same instructions, only decide where you want your motif.  When you're ready to start the image, begin knitting your chart the same way. Knit the first row of your chart once, drop the motif yarn, cut leaving a tail. Knit in the background color til you get back to the motif. Add in motif yarn, leaving a tail, knit the second row of the chart, drop the yarn leaving a tail. Repeat.  

Finish up the hat and weave in the copious amount of ends and regret your choices in life.  (I kid! I kid!)