Tapestry is one of the oldest forms of woven textile. As a technique, tapestry has been used to create everything from tunics and purses to table covers and chair backs.
Tapestries were owned by the elite and used to decorate both private and public spaces. Henry VIII is recorded as having 2,000 tapestries hanging in his various palaces.
Tapestry weaving is an extremely labor-intensive process. Weaving just one square meter of coarse tapestry could be a month's work for one person. High-quality tapestries are produced with finer warp and weft threads and take longer to make.
Large tapestries added vibrant color to a room. They kept out draughts and provided both entertainment and food for thought through their dramatic depiction of stories from the Bible, mythology, and the classics, or their revealing portrayal of fashionable life.
They were extremely costly to produce and so served to demonstrate their owner's wealth. Unlike today, tapestries were not simply static objects but were often rolled up and moved between residences.
The Materials And Technique
Wool is the material that has been most widely used for tapestry weaving, traditionally used for both the warp and weft threads. As well as being readily available and easy to dye, its natural strength and flexibility lend themselves well to tapestry weaving.
Silk threads are sometimes used in the weft, in addition to wool, to help create intricate details and add depth to the design. Metal threads can also be used to add detail although due to their high cost they are more commonly found in small examples of tapestry, such as bible covers and purses rather than in large hangings.
A tapestry is created by weaving colored weft threads through plain warp threads.
Tapestries are woven on a loom. At its simplest, a loom is formed of two rollers, between which the warp threads are strung.
Weavers traditionally work from a design known as a cartoon. This is painted on cloth or paper at full scale and either attached to the loom or hung behind it.
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