Valley Grove Tapestries: Taming the Tangles of Thread Tails

My friend Josie Owens asked if I was attending our book group last week. I said I could only listen to the discussion of Cloud Cuckoo Land if I sat and sewed in threads on the back of one of two tapestries. “Bring another needle,” Josie replied. “Really.” We both wove in ends during the satisfying discussion, and at the end Josie voiced the feeling I always have after a session of weaving-in. “I thought I was going to get more done!” I assured her she had a very credible pile of yarn bits. As an example, one night I worked for nearly one and half hours on the back of the stone church tapestry, and this was the pile of threads I cut off.

Then, in the following days, Josie even took the “Oak Tree and Animals” tapestry home and adopted it as her TV-watching project. When it returned to me this morning, there were threads dangling from only a small portion of the tree. What a gift! I finished up the remaining patch.

I once read a joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. In like manner, how do you weave in all the ends? One thread at a time. Just keep it up. Using a tapestry needle, you thread the dangling yarn on the back of the tapestry and weave it through, “hide” it in a channel of the weaving. Here you see the needle ready to pull through a thread on the back of the Ladies Aid member face.

Finally, two of the four tapestries have cleaned-up backs and are steamed and ready for the next step, when textile conservator Beth McLaughlin will add conservation-level lining and hanging devices.

The stone church tapestry. I think people like the chickens the best, and the church tower.

The third tapestry, “Pastor Quammen Skis between Parishes,” is off the loom. Will I meet my one-week deadline for sewing in ends?

I posted the skiing pastor photos on Instagram (@robbie_lafleur) and one reader asked why I don’t just clip off the treads on the back rather than weave them in. Because in historical Norwegian tapestry, the ends were woven in. This was likely because the billedvev, or tapestries, were used as bridal coverlets, so the back would be visible. And even though this finishing step takes so long, I love the smooth, finished back.

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