Glossary of tapestry terms

FRAMES OF REFERENCE “Frames Of Reference” by Ulrika Leander

Beat, beat down 
to push the weft into place, using the bobbin, fork or other tool
Beater 
  a tool to push the weft into place
Bobbin
  a pointed tool with a shaft around which the weft can be wound, used to both carry the weft and beat it into place
Buckling 
  when the tapestry doesn’t lie flat, often caused by excess weft
Cartoon 
  the full-size drawing, design, outline, used as blueprint for the tapestry
Closed warp
  a warp covered by weft in the previous half pass. In tapestry, tabby or plain weave, every other warp along the fell is closed
Discontinuous weft
in tapestry, the weft does not go edge to edge each time and is therefore discontinuous
Fell 
the leading edge of the piece being woven, where the last weft has been placed
Loom
a device for maintaining the warp under tension
Open warp
a warp not covered by weft in the previous half pass.  In tapestry, tabby, or plain weave, every other warp is open
Pass 
taking the weft once back and forth over the warps, that is, two rows, so that every warp is covered
Pick
half- pass or one row of weft
Pick and Pick
a technique for weaving contrasting colours of weft into
the two opposite tapestry sheds, resulting in narrow vertical stripes
Shed
the space between the warps through which the weft passes
Slit 
in tapestry weaving that does not use the interlock
method, a slit is formed between adjacent areas of colour
Tabby 
plain weaving, such as tapestry weaving, in which the
weft goes alternately over and under the warp
Warp 
the yarn that is under tension on the loom which will be
interlaced at right angles by the weft
Warps per inch 
the number of warp yarns in a given inch of the width of
the tapestry.  A lower number of warps makes a heavier and chunkier panel, while a higher number allows more detail.  The more warps per inch, the slower the weaving.
Weft 
the yarn inserted at right angles to the warp
Weft-faced fabric a textile in which the warp is completely covered by the weft, such as a tapestry

Tapestry Art

It’s little wonder we often talk of ‘life’s rich tapestry’ to describe the vibrancy of life itself; tapestry is a unique medium that captures shape, form, color and texture – suspending vivid images in fabric for all time. Many ancient examples of the art form are as fresh and vital today as when they were first woven centuries ago.

Practiced for thousands of years, the art of tapestry making is woven into a diverse range of cultures around the world. In Europe, tapestry has a long history dating back to the middle-ages when tapestries combined practical, social and aesthetic functions; helping to keep out drafts in chilly medieval castles and baronial halls as well as communicating stories of myth, morality and religion in times when few people were able to read.

While the nature of design themes and the materials used vary across cultures and over time, the process of tapestry weaving has remained largely unchanged for millennia. By weaving interlocking threads, the artist is able to interpret designs with unique results and produce images with a textural dimension – very different from a painting or a photograph.

Downtown Downtown 1.5 MBAlongside painting, sculpture and architecture, tapestry remains one of the most important visual arts – still flourishing today as new generations of artists use the medium to create contemporary designs.

The Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters

Comprised of seven wall hangings, each at least 12 feet high by 8 feet wide, the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters were created 500 years ago by an unknown artist for unknown royalty in Western Europe.

In violent and disturbing detail, the series tells the story of hunters stalking through the woods with their canines, hunting the mythical beast. As the story progresses, the unicorn is found and surrounded, ambushed and eventually attacked from all sides. Despite getting away from the hunters, the unicorn is eventually calmed by a virgin maiden and killed while under her charm.

Most people who have studied the tapestries believe they come from 1495-1505, from somewhere in southern Holland. Although even those details are often debated. Despite a general geographic location, the identity of the author is completely unknown. The tapestries’ only connection to the past is a small cipher, showing the letters A and B intertwined by some rope, which may signify the artist or the owner of the work.

From this slight hint, some have devised that Anne of Brittany commissioned the works to celebrate her marriage to Louis XII, but there is no conclusive proof and the code of the Unicorn Tapestries remains unbroken. Despite the mystery, art historians have reveled in the chance to interpret the tapestries, often comparing the hunt of the unicorn to the Passion of Christ. The unicorn itself, once a pagan symbol, became a symbol for Christ.

All of the vibrant tapestries are available for personal interpretation and are held in the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan. The exhibit is accompanied by the 6-foot long horn of a narwhal, which many in 16th century Europe confused with the horn of a unicorn, inspiring stories and depictions of the magical beast.