The British Tapestry Group state that tapestry is one of the oldest forms of woven textiles.
Archaeologists have dated remnants of tapestries found in Egypt to 3000BCE which suggests that
techniques have remained the same for centuries.
Master weavers of the Middle ages designed and wove great, colourful tapestries for wealthy clients.
The tapestry weaving industry today is dominated by individual weavers producing their own designs, though a few studios where large tapestries are woven from artists’ cartoons still survive.
Traditional fibres (wool, silk and linen) continue to be used, together with cotton and other more modern materials.
Needlework, not tapestry
The term tapestry is wrongly used to refer to needlepoint projects.
The British Tapestry Group suggest that this may be because;
“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, woolwork (a design is inked onto canvas or a similar fabric, then stitched with a needle to create the patterns and pictures)”
Some famous works, referred to as tapestries are indeed embroidered wall hangings;
*The 11th Century Bayeux ‘Tapestry’
*The Quaker ‘Tapestry’ (completed 1989)
*The Great ‘Tapestry’ of Scotland (completed in 2013).
True tapestries are hand woven on a a vertical (high warp) or horizontal (low warp) loom.
“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’.
Each colour 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’ ”
“Tapestries are usually made to hang on a wall (though rugs, cushion covers and three-dimensional installations can also be made). ”
To find out more about Tapestry and where to see tapestries in Britain, visit The British Tapestry Group website.