What is Tapestry

Tapestry is one of the oldest forms of woven textiles. The techniques used have remained the same for centuries. Remnants of tapestries woven in ancient Egypt have been dated as far back as 3000BC.

In the Middle Ages master weavers’ studios designed and wove great, colorful tapestries for wealthy clients. In the Renaissance artists such as Raphael were commissioned to produce cartoons for studios to copy, giving weavers less freedom of interpretation. Surviving tapestries from these times can still be seen, though they sometimes look rather dull and predominantly beige, blue and red. That’s because vibrant yellows, greens, purples and browns have disappeared as the dyes used have faded away.

Today, tapestry weaving is dominated by individual weavers producing their own designs, though a few studios where large tapestries are woven from artists’ cartoons still survive. Traditional fibers (wool, silk and linen) continue to be used, together with cotton and other more modern materials.

What defines a tapestry?

 The following define a tapestry

 1 cm tick Tapestries are hand woven on a loom. Tapestry looms are either vertical (high warp) or horizontal (low warp). 
 1 cm tick The design is formed by the weft (horizontal) threads, which are tightly packed to cover the warp (vertical) threads. The warp threads are normally completely covered so play no part in the design. This is known as ‘weft facing’. 
 1 cm tick Each color of weft is worked only in its own section of the design, so there are many different wefts on the go at any one time. Unlike other types of weaving, it is rare for the weft to run across the entire width of the piece. This is known as ‘discontinuous weft’ as shown in the diagram.
woven_tapestry
 1 cm tick Tapestries are usually made to hang on a wall (though rugs, cushion covers and three-dimensional installations can also be made). 

 

What’s not tapestry?

Fine tapestries take a long time to weave, so have long been rare and expensive. Perhaps because of this, the term ‘tapestry’ has been purloined by other techniques to produce textiles and wall hangings, often resembling tapestry but at a much lower cost. Common culprits are:

    • ‘Tapestry’ chair-backs, screens, cushions etc., including those sold in kit form.
      Needlepoint, canvas-work, wool-work (a design is inked onto canvas or a similar fabric, then stitched with a needle to create the patterns and pictures)

 

    • The 11th Century Bayeux ‘Tapestry’, The Quaker ‘Tapestry’ (completed 1989) and The Great ‘Tapestry’ of Scotland (completed in 2013).
      These are embroidered wall-hangings.

 

    • Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow ‘Tapestry’ and the “The Vanity of Small Differences” series of six ‘tapestries’ – These are computer-controlled jacquard weaving (the design is formed by intricately-colored warp AND weft threads)

 

  • Large-scale ‘tapestry’ wall hangings and installations produced by various fibre-artistsThese can be a mix of any/all of (non-tapestry) weaving, threading, knotting, felting and embroidery

How to recognize a tapestry

On any tapestry you’ll see characteristic lines of ridges where the weft threads go over the warp threads. This tells you it’s a genuine woven tapestry. During weaving, and sometimes when completed and hung, these lines of ridges run vertically from the top to the bottom of the tapestry.

But the lines of ridges may run horizontally. This is because tapestries, especially large ones, are often woven so that the warps will be horizontal when hung. This distributes the weight of the tapestry better and prevents the wefts sliding down the warps with time (as happened with the Christ in Glory tapestry at Coventry Cathedral). When hung like this, the design has to be woven sideways on.

 

 

 

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Wall tapestries

Wall tapestries: A popular choice for home décor

Home décor made beautiful!

For millennia people have used wall tapestries and textiles to decorate their homes, from castles to condos. Tapestry wall hangings are one of the most accomplished textile-based art forms and come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds giving them a great diversity of styles.

Some wall tapestries originate from museums and others from artists are licensing their artwork to be made into tapestries. Any subject matter from nature and landscapes to impressionist and modern art can be used to create a tapestry. These add an entirely unique dimension to this traditional form of art.

Traditional materials with a modern twist

Traditional tapestries, particularly Medieval era tapestries, were made from wool. This provided a strong basis for adding dyes and pigments and had the added benefit of being hardwearing and easily available. Over time other yarns have been added to the mix, but the basic principle of natural materials has remained with tapestry weaving, using traditional materials and weaving techniques. Wool tapestries when mixed with synthetic polymers have the distinct advantage of preserving the traditional warmth of wool tapestries, but add a long-lasting robustness that would have made them the envy of medieval weavers.

The very best quality modern wall tapestries make the most of this blend of old and new, using new improved fibers to reproduce classical art and famous tapestry art from the past. With the improvements made to pigments and dyes in the last century we can now easily buy faithful reproductions of centuries-old tapestry designs; unseen in such vibrant colors since the time they were originally designed.

Solve decorating challenges

Like any form of high quality art tapestries can open a window to the past, expand living space both emotionally and visually, create the basis for a theme, add color and give your living space individuality, personality and charm. Decorating with tapestries adds beauty, warmth and character.

Choosing a horizontal tapestry will help add length to a room or try opening a space by choosing a tapestry with doorways and windows. These types of tapestries give an illusion of added space by leading the eye of the viewer outward. If your room is large and cold, scale it down by hanging a series of smaller tapestries together. This creates the illusion of a smaller space and can bring a large, blank wall down in size. Hanging small tapestries together will also add warmth to your room.

Wall tapestries – rich in history

Wall tapestries, often rich in history, can transport us to another time and place. They encourage reflective and tranquil moments, enlighten the human spirit and are great subjects of conversation. They also add charm and coziness to our homes and are balm for the soul. All of these qualities have made wall tapestries a popular choice amongst art lovers for centuries. Today with modern textiles and fabrics and centuries of tradition, art and design behind them many are finding wall tapestries as charming, versatile and beautiful as ever.

Swift Silvertails Passing

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