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Weaving Transparency on the Rigid-Heddle Loom

Did you know you can weave transparencies on a rigid-heddle loom? Learn more about transparencies and how they're woven and subscribers can get a bonus project to get them started!

Monica Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 - 7 min read

Weaving Transparency on the Rigid-Heddle Loom Primary Image

Two transparencies by Gorel Kinersly. Photos by Joe Coca

When asked to weave a transparency, I decided that the rigid-heddle loom would be perfect for my first project. The challenge was finding the right design for this first effort. Then I remembered a framed painting hanging in our guest bedroom. My youngest son painted it in kindergarten, almost twenty years ago, when his class was studying Monet. It was perfect!

As the subject of her first transparency piece, Monica chose a Monet-inspired painting that her son, Kevin, now twenty-six, made when he was in kindergarten. Photo by Monica Shanahan

After consulting with weaving friends at Ruthie’s Weaving Studio in Portland, Oregon, where I teach and was going to do the weaving, I was ready to explore this new weave structure. One of these friends is Gorel Kinersly, a member of our local weaving guild and a well-known weaver of transparencies, so I was in good hands. Gorel lent me some of her beautiful transparencies to study and told me how to handle the inlay. For the best look, she advised me to design the pattern so that the edges of the design don’t increase or decrease by more than one warp thread from one pick to the next.

Armed with lots of great advice, I forged ahead with my weaving. I found that transparencies are a wonderful way to use small amounts of wool yarn, and that butterflies or small shuttles work well for inlaying the beautiful colors. My transparency is complete. My son’s Monet-inspired tulip is floating in a web of fine linen.

Monica's transparency is complete, with her son’s Monet-inspired tulip floating in a web of fine linen. Photo Monica Shanahan

What is weaving transparency?

Transparency is a method of creating woven pictures by inlaying design threads into a very open, fine plain-weave ground cloth. According to Doramay Keasbey, who literally “wrote the book” on transparency, no one knows for sure where the technique originated, whether in Japan or in Scandinavia, but transparent textiles with inlaid designs have been popular in Scandinavia since the early twentieth century.

In her book Sheer Delight, Doramay says that the ground cloth for transparency is usually woven of linen because its stiffness yields a stable cloth, even at the open sett required for transparency. Wool or linen is traditional for the design weft, but you can choose to use silk or other yarns as well. For decorative hangings that are meant to hang straight, Doramay suggests not laundering after weaving, so that the weaving retains the natural stiffness of the linen.

What you’ll need to make a transparency:

  • Rigid-heddle loom or any other loom with two or more shafts, at least 10" weaving width

  • 12-dent reed that fits the loom

  • One boat or stick shuttle for the linen weft and small shuttles, tapestry needles, or butterflies for the design wefts

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