On the Difference Between Tapestry and Rug Weaving


As I’ve been working away on my upcoming online course, Geometric Tapestry Weaving for Beginners, there’s one question that keeps coming up- “How is the online course different to your rug weaving workshop?”

At first glance, it would seem like the differences between tapestries and rugs are pretty obvious. One goes on the wall, the other on the floor, right?

However, both tapestries and flat woven rugs (which the style of rug weaving that I specialise in) are made in the same way- by weaving separate areas of different coloured weft yarn to create a pattern or image. This type of weaving is known as “discontinuous weft” and is seen in both tapestry weaving and rug weaving around the world. In my own work, I’ve frequently blurred the line between wall-hangings and rugs, so you can see where the confusion begins.

But if a tapestry is intended for the wall and a rug is intended for the floor, they need to be woven in different ways. A rug must be sturdy and solid, able to withstand the general wear and tear from being walked on every day. A tapestry doesn’t face the same challenges.

This means that tapestries can be more finely woven and delicate than rugs. Rugs must be woven on a thicker warp, creating a solid inner structure. The weft must also be thicker, and made from a harder wearing fibre, like Axminster rug yarn, and it needs to be packed down firmly over the warp, to create a solid woven surface.

Beating down the weft to create a solid woven surface

Beating down the weft to create a solid woven surface

These differences influence how I teach both tapestry and rug weaving. In my rug weaving workshops, the primary focus is making a structurally sound rug. I spend a lot of time emphasising things like weft thickness, warp spacing and beating down the weft. The woven design is secondary and is kept purposefully simple- often no more than one or two shapes- to allow the students progress quickly in their weaving.

In the geometric tapestry weaving course however, the focus is on more intricate geometric forms. In this course I will be teaching how to weave more complex designs, and how to create really clear-cut and precise geometric shapes. I’ll also cover making your own looms and tools, sourcing materials, finding inspiration and much more. (Click here to view the full week-by-week curriculum)

The other main difference is timing and situation. The rug weaving workshop is a two-day intensive, whereas this course is a six week slow burn.

In the rug weaving class, people are motivated (whether by peer pressure or by my watchful gaze, haha) to keep weaving. I am on hand throughout to guide them through every single step, with the end result that they end up weaving quite a lot… even if they are often stiff and very tired afterwards! Rug weaving is tough, slow work. I’m very aware that without the structure of the in-person class, it might be hard for people to persevere.

On hand to help in the rug weaving workshop.

On hand to help in the rug weaving workshop.

That’s why the online course is designed to make things as acheivable as possible. Instead of asking you to go for broke over the course of one weekend, I’m releasing one module a week full of clear and concise information, step-by-step instructions, and beautiful photography and video.

You can go at your own pace, and each design template is suitable for small-scale weaving. I don’t want to drop huge, time-consuming projects on people and expect them to figure it out- my hope is that wherever you are in the world and whatever your schedule, you can get started.

In the online course, I’ll be talking through how to weave more complex designs like this one

In the online course, I’ll be talking through how to weave more complex designs like this one

But while all the projects in the online course are designed for smaller-scale weaving- they can also be scaled up. Throughout the course I will be drawing on my background as a rug weaver, and giving plenty of tips on how to go BIG, whether that’s rugs or larger wall hangings.

The course also goes into detail on warp spacing and weft thickness, including the correct spacing and thickness that you’d need for a rug. And of course, I’ll be answering questions in the private course Facebook group and via email, so if you want to weave bigger, I’m here to help.

In the end, the focus of my rug weaving workshop is simply to weave a finished rug in the class. The online course is going to cover a lot more ground, and with lifetime access its something you’ll be able to keep coming back to wherever you are in your weaving journey.

My hope is to give you a grasp of the fundamentals, to help you understand how the structure of tapestry works, and to build the skills so that you can weave whatever you want.

Christabel BalfourComment