Fiber Art

Katz is a crafts designer and writer. By RUTH J. KATZ

”IN 1951, when we started weaving, nobody even knew what a tapestry was” – Marianne Yoors, a weaver and the widow of Jan Yoors, a designer of contemporary tapestries. Mrs. Yoors has spent 30 years weaving her husband’s abstract designs.

” ‘A tapestry?’ That’s what people said to me nine years ago when I began weaving. Today, I no longer have to ‘sell the concept.’ ” – Bruce Bierman, a designer and tapestry weaver who employs traditional methods in often unconventional forms.

”I have a gallery in Denver practically screaming at me for work. These days I cannot produce it fast enough.” – Michelle Lester, an artist who has been weaving for 20 years and whose work includes 300 tapestries for the bulkheads of Pan American World Airways planes.

”The problem isn’t selling the tapestries, it’s getting them.” – Bill Weber, director of Modern Master Tapestries, a gallery that sells designs by well-known artists, translated into either pile or flat tapestry, for prices up to $20,000.

These comments underscore the changes in the decorative textile market, a field that includes contemporary fiber arts, ethnic fabrics, display garments and traditional tapestry.

Strictly speaking, a tapestry is a fabric in which the warp, or support, yarns are totally covered by the filling yarns to create the design. Traditional tapestries have a plain, flat weave and are marked by an even surface, achieved by flowing, rhythmic, skilled weaving.

The most legendary of the French tapestry studios were the Aubusson and Gobelin workshops, which produced the type of fabric most people associate with the word tapestry – pictorial works like the famous seven-piece series ”The Hunt of the Unicorn” in the Cloisters collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. European tapestries of this genre span the period from the late 14th century to the mid-16th century.

Today, there are tapestry ateliers throughout the world that work in this traditional fashion. But contemporary weavers/artists do not necessarily adhere to the ”weaving rules” established by those workshops. Craftsmen have developed their own styles and methods and the results may more readily be classified in the broader category of textile art. This term embraces almost all forms of decorative fabrics: carpets, lace cloths, folk art samplers, Indonesian batiks, Oriental robes, needlepoint, American Indian blankets, Kashmir shawls and contemporary crocheted wall hangings.

Sotheby Parke Bernet reports an increase in the sale of diverse fabric pieces as well in the number of private clients – not dealers – buying them. ”We have many more private clients today than when we opened,” said John Gregg of the 18-month-old John C. Edelmann Galleries, an auction house specializing in rare rugs, tapestries and textiles. ”The public has become aware of and sensitive to textiles and fabrics. We’re constantly expanding our offerings. Now we include shawls, garments, block prints, kimonos and such at our auctions.”

Sales figures at the prestigious Northeast Craft Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y., sponsored by the American Craft Council, underline this trend. In 1979, fiber sales were up 30 percent over the previous year and in 1980 they were 50 percent higher than in 1979. Kay Eddy, director of The Elements gallery, a Madison Avenue showcase of contemporary American crafts, said the gallery had started a program to coordinate sales of fiber art for what is already an established market – special commission work for architects, designers, decorators and space planners.

The new interest in textile design is due, in part, to architects and designers, who have made us more at ease with fabric on walls. We have always been on familiar terms with fabrics -on our furniture, windows, tables and bodies – but in recent years we’ve become accustomed to it hanging in the large public spaces of skyscrapers. Just as cold stone castles and churches were once draped with warm fibers, so too are our modern office towers.

”Fiber humanizes modern architecture,” said Phyllis Linn, former curator of the art collection of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company and now an independent art consultant. ”It softens all the hard edges and makes an atmosphere cozy. Moreover, it provides mystery and magic.”

Fiber is often selected to adorn these vast walls because of sheer size; a fiber hanging is more easily moved and stored than a canvas. It is also easier to find large-size textile art. Cost is, however, one of the most significant factors. The fee for a commissioned, oversized tapestry hanging may start as low as $40 a square foot, although the average range is nearer $150 to $200 and modern Aubusson tapestries can go up to more than $350 a square foot. (Antiques, of course, bring much higher prices; it would not be unusual for a medieval piece to cost more than $100,000.)

These may seem like high prices, but they compare favorably with paintings of similar size by the artists on whose designs the tapestries are based.

Homeowners are motivated by many of the same reasons that cause architects to choose fiber for public spaces. ”The sterile environments of new apartments beg for the richness provided by fiber,” explained Paul Smith, director of the American Craft Museum. ”Hangings are used for both decorative and functional purposes -to divide rooms, to absorb sound. The turmoil of the 60’s has helped a new esthetic to blossom and the appreciation of fiber is part of that.”

Textiles of all types are more readily available, not only to the knowledgeable collector but also to the noncollector who just happens to fancy a fiber work in a gallery window. ”Decorative textiles are financially accessible to many people today – young working people who may never even have thought of collecting,” said Gail Martin, one of the owners of the Martin and Ullman Artweave Textile Gallery at 24 East 84th Street. ”Lovely pieces are out there for under $2,000.” Her gallery specializes in Pre-Columbian, Oriental, Central Asian and Coptic textiles.

If it is traditional pictorial tapestries that you love, but cannot afford, Old World Weavers, at 136 East 57th Street, has Europeaninspired, small-scale works for $500 to $2,000. These tapestries are machine-made, not hand-woven, but are processed so that all the colors of the yarn appear aged. For an overview of traditonal tapestry, E.P. Thomson’s new book, ”Tapestry, Mirror of History” (Crown, $14.95), is excellent.

If you are curious about all types of modern fiber art, the editors of Fiberarts Magazine have compiled ”The Fiberarts Designs Book” (Hastings House, $24.95), with 500 photographs of work by contemporary designers. The book will open doors for the many people who, as the editors say, ”associate fiber art with all those macrame plant hangers that the neighbor’s kid keeps making.”

“The Gallipoli Letter” tapestry

‘The Gallipoli Letter’ tapestry finished after 2,500 hours of weaving


A tapestry, which took 2,500 hours to complete and honours the sacrifice of the Anzacs, has been cut from a loom at a special ceremony in Melbourne ahead of the Anzac centenary.

The tapestry, measuring about three square metres, will be on display in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The artwork Avenue of Remembrance was based on a piece by Australian artist Imants Tillers.

It was inspired by The Gallipoli Letter written by the late Sir Keith Murdoch.

As a young newspaper journalist, Sir Keith visited Gallipoli in 1915, and filed an 8,000 word private report, describing conditions on the battlefront.

“This letter changed the course of the war and is now one of the most significant items in the National Library of Australia collection,” Australian Tapestry Workshop director Antonia Syme said.

“It really outlined to the Australian and British prime ministers the extraordinary loss of life that was occurring because of British incompetency, and that really started to change the outcome of the war.

“The tapestry is a very beautiful and salient reminder and the Australian Tapestry Workshop was honoured to create this public art commission of national significance.”

The tapestry will be unveiled at the Australian War Memorial during the centenary commemorations of World War I this month.

Professional weavers sat side-by-side at a loom in South Melbourne working on the piece for more than six months to complete it on time.

Chris Cochius was the head weaver.

“We started weaving in October and we finished Friday,” she said.

“We were basically having four on the loom at any one time.”

It was an emotional experience for Ms Cochius.

“The word bereft is repeated three times in the tapestry”, she said.

“I actually wove that word all three times and by the time I wove it for the third time it became incredibly emotive, we were able to be caught up in the text.”

AMJcreativity – OCA lerning log – textile

Ulrika Leander – weaver

My parents went to a craft fair in Easton, Maryland, USA recently.  Knowing I was strugling a bit with weaving, they took a picture of an amazing contemporary tapestry weaved by Ulrika Leander for my inspiration and moral support.  DSCN0446

What an inspiration, this picture is magical, especially after struggling with stage 3 of this project I just can’t believe the amount of hard work, dedication and artistic enthusiastic that went into making this beautiful piece.

On her webpage she describes her weaving process and shows pictures of her studio and art work through the years.  Truly inspirational and the use of colour is breathtaking.

Jean Lurcat








« J’ai vu là-bas des formes gigantesques, presque inhumaines… Aussi bien dans les feuillages, les orchidées, les fleurs que dans les insectes, les papillons… Ce qui m’intéresse, par exemple, dans le papillon, ça n’est pas la réalité de cet insecte, c’est l’invention extraordinaire que constituent l’entrelacs des formes, le pétillement des coloris, ce côté gratuit – si j’ose dire – de la coloration… »

“I have seen gigantic shapes there, almost inhuman… in the foliage as well as in the orchids, flowers insects or butterflies… What I am really interested in a butterfly for instance, is not the insect itself but the amazing creativity in the interlacing of the forms, the sparkling of the colors and the randomness of the coloring if I may say so”.


Jean Lurçat dedicated himself to the tapestry’s art and developed a very personal style. He let his lyriscism have free play on monumental scales.

Jean Lurçat is one of the main protagonists of the postwar movement “French Tapestry Renaissance”. Yet in the 1910-1920, he took an interest in murals and in tapestry by making produce his canvas with needle. Postwar, he introduced the use of numbered cardboards, as in painting, on which the artist draws the artwork. The artwork is then made into tapestries by manufacture weavers as at Aubusson or by self-employed craftsmen. Yet the artist was called a cardboard-artist. Lurçat wished the writing and the outline of the drawing to be simplified. After that the big stitch weaving allowed the weavers in charge of the tapestry to well “transcribe” the cardboard. That technique has revolutionized the art of tapestry as well as the range of the possibilities that the tapestry’s specific language offers.

In parallel, he took up medieval weaving techniques as in the tapestry The Apocalypse of Angers.


Yet in 1913, he founded the journal « Les feuilles de mai » (The May leaves) which Bourdelle, Elie Faure, Vildrac, Rilke among others collaborated to.

In 1917, he organized a show at the Tanner Gallery in Zurich; his mother carried out his first tapestries with canvas stitch. In 1922, Jean Lurçat exhibited his gouaches, his oil paintings and his fourth tapestry Le Cirque (The Circus) in Paris for the first time. In 1936, his first tapestry woven at the Gobelins National Factory called Les Illusions d’Icare (Icare’s illusions) was commissioned by the French State and offered to the Queen of Holland.

Jean Lurçat is part of the generation after the great cubists as Picasso or Braque, a generation which has suffered from the consequences of the First World War. As a surrealist, he has kept for a long time a taste for the unusual and a sense of the fabulous. In his tapestries, he has placed mirroring texts and poems: his or his poet friends’ poems. Paul Eluard’s for the tapestry Liberté (Freedom) is probably the most famous example. Jean Lurçat took part to that movement but he has kept and developed a particularly seducing and colorful palette which characteristics and qualities have been praised in the 1920-1930s by art critics.

The discovery of the Angers’ Apocalypse in 1937, the biggest tapestry in the world woven in the XVth century by Nicolas Bataille, has turned out to be a major one for Lurçat. Deeply moved by what he considered as one of the best masterpieces of Occidental Art, he then undertook the Chant du Monde (The World’s Song), a modern replica of the Apocalypse. The Chant du Monde is a set of ten monumental tapestries (347 m2) that makes up an epic, poetical and humanist view of the XXth century. It is permanently exhibited at the Angers Museum.

Sometimes anxious because of the threat looming over our world, sometimes thrilled by the confidence he bears in the human being, Jean Lurçat has used his own language of forms, rhythms and colors in order to convey his message throughout that set of tapestries. Jean Lurçat regarded the Chant du monde as the “the combination of existential components: gall and honey(fiel et miel)

In 1939, he directed the fabrication of his first monumental artwork Les Quatres saisons (The Four seasons) in Aubusson. In 1945, under the impulse of Denise Majorel, the Association of tapestry’s cardboard artists (APCT) was founded and he was elected the president. That was the beginning of great exhibitions: “The French tapestry from Middle Ages to nowadays” was organized in Paris in 1946 at the Modern Art National Museum and then in Amsterdam, Brussels and London in 1947. An exhibition of tapestries including the Chant du monde, of ceramics and jewels took place in the Decorative Arts Museum of Paris in 1964.

On the 13th February of 1964, the election of Jean Lurçat to the Fine Arts Academy inside the painting category as a cardboard-artist consecrated the work of an artist who had been an impassioned defender of the tapestry. This election was the crowning achievement of the revival of an art that had been ignored for a long time before being reinstated by Jean Lurçat. Jean Lurçat has done his best to give back the weaver’s art its dignity. He has succeeded in giving the contemporary tapestry renewed meaning and language and he has inspired a whole generation of artists.

His tapestry work is huge, the most important left by a XXth century’s artist.


A tapestry made of dreams

Pang weavers make art for the Olympics


Pangnirtung weavers Oolassie Akulukjuk, Kawtysie Kakee and Anna  Etuangat work on the huge tapestry commissioned from the Uqqurmiut weaving studio by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UQQURMIUT CENTRE FOR ARTS AND CRAFTS)
Pangnirtung weavers Oolassie Akulukjuk, Kawtysie Kakee and Anna Etuangat work on the huge tapestry commissioned from the Uqqurmiut weaving studio by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE UQQURMIUT CENTRE FOR ARTS AND CRAFTS)
This tapestry, called “Achieving a dream,” will greet visitors to the Richmond Oval, a venue for speed skating competitions at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. (See story posted below.) (PHOTO BY DAVID KILABUK)
This tapestry, called “Achieving a dream,” will greet visitors to the Richmond Oval, a venue for speed skating competitions at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. (See story posted below.) (PHOTO BY DAVID KILABUK)

Canada’s North will be in the spotlight when international athletes compete at speed skating events at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic winter games next February.

At the Richmond Oval speed skating venue, they’ll be greeted by a huge rainbow-coloured tapestry, called “Achieving a dream,” which features an igloo, a speed skater, a high-kicker, an inuksuk, a ski jumper and Inuit playing string games.

The six-by-10-foot tapestry is the work of weavers from the tapestry studio at the Uqqurmiut centre for arts crafts in Pangnirtung.

To design and weave the tapestry, the studio received a $100,000 commission from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games via Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The tapestry’s design, showing a fiord surrounded by snow-covered hills and animal tracks, owes much to the creative talent of Pangnirtung graphic and print artist Andrew Qappik.

Qappik also incorporated elements from artists Dinah Anderson of Labrador, Sammy J. Kudluk of Kuujjuaq, and Mabel Nigiyok and Louise Nigiyok of Uluhaktok into the final design.

Producing the large tapestry took more than two months—and before the weavers could even start their work, lengthwise threads of the warp had to be carefully put into place.

Then, tapestry’s design was placed behind the loom and transferred to the threads with indelible markers.

Only after this could the weavers start to fill in the design, weaving in threads horizontally through the warp.

To meet their deadline for the tapestry’s completion, weavers Olassie Akulukjuk, Kawtysie Kakee, Anna Etoangat and Kathy Battye logged 2,030 hours at the loom, working during the day and into the evening, all summer long.

Deborah Hickman from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, a weaver and artistic adviser to Uqqurmiut, and David Cochrane, a master weaver from Scotland, also assisted the weaving team, helping them learn new techniques, said Kyra Fisher, Uqqurmiut’s general manager.

These new techniques included ways of weaving figures to make them appear to leap out from the background as well as time-saving finishing techniques.

After the ”cutting off ceremony,” when the completed “Achieving a dream” came off the loom — and received some last-minute touches, the tapestry was shipped off at the beginning of August to Vancouver by Canadian North.

The tapestry will be featured in a special book about art and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Fisher said.

Weaving started in Pangnirtung as a federally-funded, program in 1970. The Uqqurmiut centre for arts and crafts is now an Inuit-registered firm, supported by the Nunavut Development Corporation.

Its weavers, who produce distinctive Pang scarves, blankets, shawls and traditional woven belts,  also create annual limited-edition tapestries with Inuit themes. Along with the Dovecot studio in Edinburgh, Scotland where Cochrane works, Pangnirtung’s tapestry studio is one of only a few places in the world where weavers interpret the work of contemporary artists.

The studio, which celebrates 40 years of weaving in 2010, is now looking for other tapestry commissions— perhaps one for Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, a possibility recently suggested to Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he visited the centre.