Introduction: Weaving With Nature

Spring is here (in the northen hemisphere anyway!) and I'm looking at my deck/patio/balcony/whatever you want to call it, and thinking it needs something else... I did a weaving project at school using sheeps wool right off the back of a sheep and it worked out really well, so when I found a discarded canvas I decided to try constructing a lap loom and make something using materials I found in the area I live.

My daughter has named the end result 'Moana' and wants me to make a bigger version for her to wear as a costume! Maybe something for the future...

I have to say this is the most fun I have had in ages - even when it was frustrating and required far to much concentration. Give it a go! Its pretty easy and cheap as chips! The entire build cost me $2.89 for the cotton yarn!

Step 1: Building the Loom - What You Need

Lots of people have indulged in the 'paint night - paint your own masterpiece' craze over the last few years. This means that there are a number of canvases in cupboards or garages once the thrill of having your own painting on the wall wore off. I picked up one of these discarded canvases on the side of the road and turned it into a lap loom to build my own unique outdoor art.

  • old painting canvas
  • screwdriver
  • pliers (not the ones I used - husband got all annoyed to find me using his good needle nose pliers ;) )
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • drill (optional)
  • small nails
  • hammer
  • suitable twine - this will depend on how chunky you want your final product to be. I went for a cotton yarn.

Step 2: Building the Loom: Construction

Using your screwdriver and pliers, remover the staples that hold the canvas onto the frame.

Lay the frame down and draw a line along middle of the top rail.

Measure and mark every 1/2 and inch along this line.

Make a second set of marks half way between these marks (offset by 1/4 of an inch) along the top of the rail. This offsets the two rows of nails vertically and horizontally as shown in the photo.

Drill (if you wish - the wood tends to be quite soft and i was worried about it splitting with so many nails in one piece!) and hammer in a nail at each point.

Repeat at the bottom of the frame.

Tah dah!! Your loom is done!

Step 3: Preparing to Weave

Your loom is not going to be much good to you until you have a warp (the threads that hold the weaving together lengthwise) and some other tools to help you out...

Warping the Loom

Decide how wide you want your art to be.

Tie the end of your thread to the outside nail of that space and loop the thread around the nails until you get your desired width. Cut the thread and tie off the end onto the last nail you are using.

Be careful with how tight you pull the thread. The warp should bound back when pressed down, but also not be too tight! It will tighten up as you weave things into it.

Other stuff

You will need something to help with separating the warp threads. I used a bit of dowel. Weave the piece of dowel through the warp - one under, one over - until it sits right through the middle of your warp. This makes weaving in one direction (say left to right) super easy! The space this creates is called the shed.

For weaving right to left you need a needle of some description. I used a popsicle/ice block stick. I drilled a hole in the end of it to use as an eye. The stick I used was a little bit bent up at one end which helped a lot!

To give yourself space to tie the weaving off at the end you need a section of cardboard which you slide into the loom (using your piece of dowel for ease, or weaving it in) and slide it right to the bottom of the warp.

Step 4: Finding Materials

This is the absolute best bit!! Nature is full of materials that can be used for weaving. Your garden or local park is a good place, as is the beach. Please take care when gathering - don't damage the plants or remove any obvious habitats!

Here are my top tips for your longer threads:

  • Flaxes and large grasses are ideal - Harakeke is a staple for weaving back home! - you can use it as it is, or use the edge of your scissors to scrape off some of the flesh exposing the fibres beneath. When harvesting flax or grasses cut from the bottom:

    The (flax) plant is seen as a family. The central shoot or rito was the baby and the leaves on either side of it the awhi rito or mātua (its parents). Only the leaves on the outside – the tūpuna, or grandparents – were cut, to avoid weakening the plant.

  • Palm fronds are also good - again remove one of the green fronds from the bottom and either use as is, or scrape the flesh to use the fibres.
  • Bark! I found a brilliant piece of bark on the beach that had allready been kind of shredded - it formed the mainstay of my weaving in this piece.
  • Seaweed - needs to still be a bit damp tho, so can be a bit slimy and stinky. not a problem if you love that sea smell tho...

You also need points of interest or single line weaving items.

I used:

  • seaweed - I found little dried pieces in interesting colours
  • pampas grass or toitoi - I found these on the beach, but you should be able to find some around your local area - ask first if on private property.
  • small sticks and dried roots - can be some really interesting shapes! I found some awesome little squiggly bits on the beach.
  • Palm tree 'bark' The palm tree in our front yard has this fabulous woven fibre that grows out of the leave stem and wraps around the tree - how awesome is Mother Nature!
  • greenery - the colour won't last but the textures do. Evergreen shrubs and trees are best.

Also keep an eye out for a stick to hang your creation on - I found an interesing piece of dried kelp :)

Remember take only what you think you will use - and return what you don't. I don't recommend using shells - they are needed by wee folk for houses!

Step 5: Weaving: the Basics

Now for a disclaimer. Natural materials can be really awkward and difficult to work with! For this reason I started off my weaving with some wool. I didn't want to buy any so went with the most inoffensive colour I had....I figured it would be covered by the fringe I was planning and is a good way to show the basics of weaving!

Start by cutting yourself a longish piece of your chosen thread onto your needle (or popsicle stick in my case). This thread is your 'weft' - the threads that are pulled through the warp. There is a LOT of jargon associated with weaving!

Slide to dowel down to create a shed (the space between the warp threads).

Slide your needle through the shed from left to right - straight thru the gap. You may need more than one take to get through if you cannot reach all the way, but make sure you are staying inside the shed and not catching other threads!

Pull the thread through till you have a small tail on the left side. We will tuck this in later! Use a fork to press the thread down against the carboard so it is snug.

Raise the dowel back to the top of the loom to flatten the warp out and using your needle weave back from right to left picking up each alternate thread. You want to start so that your thread will wrap around the last warp thread when it is pulled tight You can see in the picture above that the first weft sits on top of the last warp thread, so I started my weaving by going underneath that warp thread. Continue until you get to the other side.

Pull the thread through. Once it is sitting against the right hand warp thread but not pulling it inwards (you may need to pull it back so it is sitting right - we dont want our warp warped!) hold the weft and the right hand warp thread and pull the loose end of the weft thread (on the left hand side) down to create an arc. Use the fork to press it down into the weave. Making an arc rather than pulling the weft straight through stops you from making it too tight and pulling your warp out of shape :)

Repeat until done!

Congratulations! You are a weaver!

Step 6: Making a Fringe or Tassel

I wanted to hid the wool that I started off with and the bark I found was perfect for a thick fringe at the bottom of this piece.

Cut a whole bunch of pieces of whatever you are using for your fringe. Make them twice as long as you want so you can fold them over.

Take 1/2/3 (depending on how thick they are and how thick you want your fringe) of the strands and find the middle.

Place the middle across the first two warp strings and wrap both ends in to the inside. Gently pull the ends down so the the fringe sits against the weave that you already have.

Repeat for the next two strings, and all the way across.

Trim if wanted and necessary.

You can add a fringe along the top as well following the same instructions. I made the fringe at the top thinner, and angled it down toward one corner. I found with the natural fibres it was better to break or tear the fibre if I could - it looked more natural than trimming it with scissors.

Step 7: Weaving Your Art

Now weaving with natural supplies is a bit different to weaving with a long piece of thread. Most things you find may not be long enough to weave back and forth using a long piece like you would with wood or thread. Here is how I dealt with each circumstance.

Single Length strands

Some of the materials I had only just reached from one side of the warp to the other. The sections of palm leaf I had I threaded through and left the ends poking out. This worked at the bottom of the piece because I was trying to make it look all wild and fluffy round the bottom! If you don't want pieces poking out you can either fold them back and try and tuck them into the warp at the back (can be difficult with the stiffer leaves) or trim them off once you are finished - not too close to the warp though!

More Than Single Length Strands

Some of the longer pieces of the bark fibre were about 2.5 times the width of the warp , so I could go across and back, but on the third pass it finished in the middle. If a piece does not stretch all the way across you can end it midway by making sure the end pokes out the back. You then thread a new piece onto your needle and start threading your new piece in so it overlaps a little with the old one. The ends can either be left, or tucked in with a needle later.

Not Quite Single Length Stands

These tended to be the bulkier items like the pampas grass fronds and the evergreen leaves. In both cases I made sure I was on a left to right weft so I didn't need to thread these pieces in manually. I found a couple of pieces that would stretch across nicely, and wouldn't make too much of a lump in the middle, then slipped them into the shed - sometimes one from each end.

Gaps and Beating

In every case you need to use your fork to beat the weft down so that you don't end up with gaps. I found the green palm fronds were very reluctant to be beaten down and then proceeded to shrink so I was left with a couple of spaces in the final product! Something to keep in mind when using green materials...

Warp Colour

You may notice that the warp changes colour part way though my weaving. I did this using a normal teabag with a bit of hot water on it - wait for it to steep a bit then dab or carefully rub the teabag on the warp threads where you want a darker shade.

Warp Spacing

The other issue I encountered with the natural fibres is that they don't naturally 'slide' into the warp. They grab a hold and drag that warp threads all over the place. I was constantly (with varying states of success) using the fork to drag the warp back into nice even spaces. The dowel at the top helps with this because it is always nice and even at the top!

As you weave make sure you are leaving yourself enough room at the top to tie off the warp.

Step 8: Finishing

There are a couple of things to do once you have finished weaving in order to complete your piece of art.

Tying off

This is to stop the weaving from falling apart.

Gently slide the cardboard out from the bottom of the loom and slip the warp threads off the nails. I had to cut the first and last because I tied the knot too tight!

Take that single first string and the loop next to it and knot it hard against the weave. Repeat this for the oposite end of the warp, then continue across for each loop.

Repeat at the top. I actually tied two loops together - wasn't as neat, but with the fringe at the top it didn't matter too much.

Once knotted you can snip off the loops - unless you want to use the ones at the top for hanging.

Tying in

All the loose ends need to be woven into the back of the weave. You can use a needle (a proper one - your popsicle stick may be to big for this!) to poke the threads thru the warp at the back, tucking the ends out of sight. As I mentioned previously the chunkier ends might have to just be trimmed as close as you dare.

Tucking in

I collected a bunch of little twigs and bits of seaweed that I tucked under the warp threads where I wanted them for added colour and texture.


You can use all or some of the top loops to hang your piece. I had a lovely piece of dried kelp that I wanted to use and I tried all the loops, but because it was not a straight rod it looked awful (see some of the photos!). I dropped all but the first and last loop and just used them :)

Weaving Challenge

Runner Up in the
Weaving Challenge