Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

Hanging the Beast

Recently, I completed the largest tapestry I have ever attempted. By European standards, it is not all that big, but at 60” x 60” it seems downright huge to me. It is twice the size of anything I have ever woven before.  When it comes to hanging tapestries, I have not been very satisfied with the methods that are commonly used. So for this piece, I wanted to try something different. 

The standard way to hang a large tapestry is to velcro the tapestry to a wood batten that is mounted to the wall.  This involves sewing the smooth side of the velcro (or a rod pocket) to twill tape using a sewing machine, and then hand sewing the twill tape to the back of the tapestry.  (For information about mounting tapestries, see this useful article on the ATA website: https://americantapestryalliance.org/tapestry-education/educational-articles-on-tapestry-weaving/mounting-and-hanging-tapestries-a-variety-of-solutions/)  With this method there is often a visible crease line on the front of the tapestry where the velcro has been sewn to the back.  I’m not fond of this crease line.

There are solutions to this problem.  The most common solution is to sew the velcro or pocket to a lining fabric (usually linen) and then attach the lining to the back of the tapestry using loose stitches in a series of “V’s” across and down at least the top 1/3 of the tapestry.  This eliminates the crease and evenly distributes the weight of the tapestry.

It works, but this method involves a lot of hand sewing and if any of the stitches are too tight, it could create puckers so you have to be careful. I hate hand sewing and the thought of doing this over such a huge area…..no.

The brilliant Sarah Swett came up with her own brilliant solution. Last summer I had the privilege to see Sarah’s solo show “Marginalia” at the Museum of Quilts and Textiles in LaConnor, Washington.  Her tapestries are nothing short of mind blowing, but I was also fascinated by her hanging method.  Sarah velcros her tapestries the the BACK of the batten board leaving the front to hang perfectly smooth.  The board is then hung on the wall with picture wire, a feature galleries really like.  When you hang with wire, the tendency is for the board to lean forward. In order to keep the board from flipping over, the it needs to be much wider than a traditional batten.

So I thought about doing this, but in order to stabilize the tapestry the board would have to be a foot wide at least. On a piece 60” wide that is quite a chunk of lumber - Just think how heavy that would be and how it would complicate shipping……. no.

My solution was to velcro my tapestry to the back of a standard 1x4 batten board. Picture wire will not support the piece with a board of this size - it will flip over. D hooks and florets - same. The weight of the tapestry pulls the florets right out of the wall. So I went to Home Depot looking for U brackets to attach to the wall and then “sit” the board into the bracket. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find this 2x6 fence bracket.

The two inch wide channel was too wide for my 1” board, but I went forward with it.  I secured two brackets to the wall with screws.  They have to be level to each other, but other than that you don’t have to worry too much about the distance between them or if they are perfectly centered on the wall. I slipped the batten board into the bracket, and then to hold it tight and upright I slipped some wood behind it, like a shim.

Voila! No crease lines and no hand sewing! You can adjust the positioning by simply sliding the whole to the right or left as needed. 

I hope to refine this method in the future. I’ve found a smaller U bracket online that might hold a board upright without using shims.  And next time I will wrap my board with black fabric instead of muslin as I did here, because the board is more visible from the side than what I am accustomed to. Overall this experiment was a successful one.  If I encounter a situation where a gallery hangs from wires rather than nailing into walls, I’ve left slits in the top of the hem where the tapestry folds over the board where I can attach screw eyes. In that case I think additional hacks might be needed, like lengthening the board by attaching an aluminum plate to the batten board to avoid too much forward tilt, but hopefully I will not have to resort to this.  At least for now, this piece takes pride of place in my living room and isn’t going anywhere.

ADDENDUM!  Forget fence brackets.  I now get a 3” L bracket at Home Depot, secure it in a vise with the batten board, and whack it with a mallet to bend the bracket around the board into the perfect, custom shape.  No more skims.  The additional hole on the front means you can include an extra screw for security purposes when exhibiting publicly.

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