The Looms and the Art of Ulrika Leander

Mid-Shore Arts: The Looms and Art of Ulrika Leander

The art world has just a few very special heros who take it upon themselves to work in mediums requiring intense intricacy, precision, and endless patience to complete their work. And nowhere else can one find that special breed stand out more than those who chose the art of tapestry for their artistic expression.

And one can officially include the Mid-Shore’s Ulrika Leander in that select group.

Starting at the age of thirteen in her native Sweden, Ulrika has become one of the great masters of the loom with her intentionally beautiful and large tapestries created in her generous studio a short walk from the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.

Like clockwork, Ulrika works every day in front of one of her three custom-built looms to produce art that is proudly hung in museums and private homes throughout the world. With a typical project taking well over six months to complete, Leander has found a particular zone to operate in as she plots along a single line of fiber during a day’s work.

In her Spy interview a few weeks ago, she talks about this unique, centuries-old practice, and how she enjoys the special challenges that come with the making one-of-a-kind tapestries.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information on Ulrika Leander work and studio, please go here.

Butterfly tapestry

In the middle of the winter it’s quite lovely to weave a tapestry reminding you about summertime. This tapestry is woven from the side using a very complex technique. The 4th image shows the design in the correct direction. Finished, the tapestry will measure about 48 ins high and 72 ins wide. I started the tapestry in November 2016 and I estimate that the weaving process will take me through late spring. The tapestry will be available for sale when completed.

Contemporary Tapestry Weaving –


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.

Tapestries, the history of European tapestries

The History of European Tapestries

Many historians have researched through the study of – the history of tapestries & artwork.

A tapestry wall-hanging in your home brings not just interior beauty but also a sense of history. European weavers have produced these textiles for centuries, including medieval, renaissance and Arts and Crafts periods.

Tapestries have been woven for hundreds of years in diverse cultures. Both ancient Egyptians and the Incas buried their dead in tapestry woven clothing. Important civic buildings of the Greek Empire, including the Parthenon, had walls covered by them. However it was the French medieval weavers who brought the craft to fruition.

In the 13th and 14th centuries the Church recognized the value of tapestries in illustrating Bible stories to its illiterate congregations. Few of these have survived. The oldest existing set is the Apocalypse of St John, six hangings 18 foot high, totalling 471 foot in length which were woven from 1375 to 1379 in Paris. This was the centre of production until the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453) caused the weavers to flee north via Arras to Flanders (now Belgium and northern France).

Tapestries became status symbols amongst the aristocracy in the Middle Ages. They also had much practical use, providing insulation for castle walls, covering openings and giving privacy around beds. Kings and nobles took them on their travels from castle to castle for reasons of comfort and prestige. Tapestries often changed hands after battle, and since the victor’s door and window openings might be a different size the acquired hangings might be cut up or even joined to other tapestries.

Many of the best known works such as the ‘Lady with the Unicorn’ series were woven at the turn of the 15th century in the Loire valley. It has been estimated that 15,000 people were employed in the craft at this time. Many were itinerant and passed their skills from father to son. Their charming ‘mille fleurs’ scenes had backgrounds of small local flowers, perhaps inspired by the practice of strewing roadways with flowers on local fete days. At this time it would take a skilled father/son team two months to weave just one square foot of tapestry.

Medieval weavers extracted their dyes from plants and insects in a range of less than twenty colors. For example, red came from madder, poppies or pomegranates and woad produced blue (a process that was so profitable in 16th century France that importing woad from the East was punishable by death).

The most popular medieval images were Biblical stories, myths, allegories (the ever-popular unicorn represented purity), and contemporary scenes of peasants working or nobles hunting. Battles were commissioned by victorious monarchs after the early 1500’s. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was even accompanied into battle by his court painter who made sketches at the site for later weaving. Hunting scenes led to ‘verdure’ tapestries of lush landscapes which later became romanticized with increasing Italian influences.

Medieval weavers used working sketches which they freely adapted with imagination and sometimes humour. By the Renaissance these had become full-sized working drawings (‘cartoons’) which were rigidly copied by the weavers. Thus tapestries became mere copies of paintings rather than independent works of art. In 1515 Raphael was commissioned by the Pope to paint cartoons for the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ tapestries for the Sistine Chapel. His introduction of perspective and composition together with the use of finer yarns dyed with up to 300 colour shades led to the subservience of tapestry to painting for over 300 years.

In 1663, during the lavish reign of Louis XIV, Les Gobelins factory was founded in Paris employing over 800 artisans in the production of tapestries for the royal court. Other European countries followed, opening factories on behalf of their rulers. They employed Flemish weavers who by now had to complete a twelve year apprenticeship. Louis XIV’s estate inventory at his death listed 2,155 Gobelins tapestries. Henry VIII’s collection totalled over 2,000 in seventeen royal residences.

Rococco landscapes were popular in the 18th century typified by the designs of Francois Boucher (1703-70), director of the royal workshops at Beauvais for 30 years. His cartoons produced over 400 tapestries.

During the French Revolution the social changes of the times so decimated the tapestry market that the French Directory ordered 190 be burnt in 1797 rather than retain them for their value complete. They considered the gold and silver threads to have greater value. A positive development of this period however was the invention of the Jacquard mechanical loom in Flanders in 1804. It processed perforated cards, like pianolas or like early IBM computers, which fed the coloured yarns to the shuttle. It enabled tapestries to become accessible to a wider market and it still forms the basis of the techniques used today.

By the late 1800’s the Gobelins dyeworks produced a colour range of 14,000 tones. Producing tapestries with such detailing had not surprisingly become very expensive. Furthermore little creativity existed with most pieces being based on earlier designs.

Modern tapestry weaving owes much to the vigour and freedom bought by the Arts and Crafts Movement headed by William Morris in England. He revived many old crafts; tapestry weaving being one of the beneficiaries of his fresh vision and creative energy. He visited French weavers in 1878 and described the workshops at Aubusson as ‘a decaying commercial industry of ..rubbish’. A year later he had a high-warp loom built in his bedroom where he taught himself to weave from an 18th century French craft manual. With colleagues and friends he designed tapestries, like the Woodpecker, based on medieval styles and techniques. The weavers at Morris and Co. achieved commercial success and , more importantly revived the ailing craft.

Today few tapestries are hand-woven. Most are reproductions of originals in museums. Modern yarns and techniques allow us to enjoy superlative copies of works of art at affordable prices (often cheaper than a framed print). Nonetheless, much work is still required to produce these, especially in the design processes. The selected design and its colouring has to be transposed onto the cartoon with one square representing each single stitch. A series of up to 36,000 Jacquard perforated cards are prepared for each tapestry: these determine the movement of each warp yarn intertwining with the weft yarns. Fortunately some use can be made of computers to reduce the time involved but much skill and experience is still required. The weavers match the yarn colours from a selection of about 1,000 shades. The loom is threaded with about 12,000 horizontal warp threads which are placed in the correct order on the loom and passed through the eye of each of the corresponding 12,000 vertical loom heddles. Smaller tapestries utilize cotton (with rayon) for its fine detailing whilst larger ones introduce wool for greater fullness and richness. Once an acceptable trial result has been achieved the weaving can commence, supervised by a fully apprenticed weaver.

We offer hundreds of such designs, often in several sizes, from many European weavers. Some tapestries have matching cushion covers too. These art heirlooms of the future are a wonderful feature in any home. Catalogs are available and we are always glad to discuss your particular requirements.