Defining Traits Of Tapestry

March 11, 2019

Defining Traits Of Tapestry

Weaving tapestries is an ancient art dating all the way back to 4000 BC. Using natural thread such as linen, cotton or wool, generations of people would use a loom to create scenes that were full of work and detail.

Now, few artisans practice the art and not many pieces exist anymore. Most are hanging in homes or in museums across the globe making them a rare item to see.

Tapestries have a long past in our society. The versatile use of the tapestry ranged among different cultures from ancient civilizations, medieval ages and modern times.

They were used as ornaments for death, as decor and for practicality purposes. In our day and age, the use of the tapestry has been fading after being such an important item to society.

Origins in Impeccable Detail

We’ll start with the ancient Incas - experts in design. The detail, the precision, and style of the finished product were unparalleled to any other civilization in the region at the time.

They mainly used geometric figures, birds, and animals; the tapestry was woven from cotton taken from alpacas and the higher the status you were, they better the tapestry you were wrapped in.

The tapestry was so important that it was used to symbolize the taking over of a new region or used to wrap their dead in intricate yarn-woven materials.


Delivering Reverence to the Dead

In ancient Egypt, tapestries were made in linen from flax seeds as well as sheep’s wool, palm fiber, grass, and reeds.  Fragments of ornate tapestries have been found in tombs including hieroglyphics depicting scenes of animals, rivers, gods, and goddesses.

Only remnants are left in the tombs from where they were found. However, the craftsmanship still lives on in a small village in Egypt where children spend years mastering the skill.

To this day, weavers build patience, discipline, and spontaneity. Handmade tapestries take time to create, sometimes months. They are not pre-drawn with most of them designed on the go.


The Anatomy of Skill

The main structure consists of two main thread lines. There are vertical “warp” threads are the backbone of the piece and support the horizontal “weft” threads that create the image.

There is nothing painted on the tapestry and doing so was seen as a huge crime punishable by a large fine or worse.

The color was never definite. A painter knows they will get a new color when mixing two or more. The weaver has a multitude of colors that appear when the dye of the thread mixes with others.

The type of wrap made from tying the wool together tells the viewer when it was made. The thicker the wrap, the older the tapestry. The finer the thread, the easier it was to tell if the tapestry was made by the famous French Gobelin factory or the monarch Beauvais.


The Art of Ancient Storytelling

In ancient Greece, Weaving was a women’s job and women told the stories through the artwork. Tapestries were used as decorative wall hangings and depicted mortal women and goddesses including Athena, Aphrodite, and queen Penelope working with a loom.

The most famous story told was the fates -  or “moirai” as they are called. The moirai included three women or witches who used the spinner to measure and cut the thread of life between humans and the next world.

The tapestries hung all over temples and civic buildings such as the Parthenon.

Every detail of the tapestry works as a time capsule. It tells a story from history or myth.

By the middle ages, the thin wrap of the tapestry made the items as detailed as paintings. Some of the most famous pieces that have survived include:

  • The Apocalypse tapestries
  • The Devonshire hunting tapestries
  • The lady with the unicorn
  • The rape of Helen
  • The miraculous draught of fishes
  • The holy grail tapestries

As can be seen from viewing the images in chronological order, the details, precision, and finesse gradually grow as the art develops.

Tapestries served multiple purposes:

  • they demonstrated status
  • they told stories to a civilization where most were illiterate
  • they insulated homes
  • they demanded skill and patience.

Nowadays it is hard to find good craftsmanship that represents the tapestry to its original purpose. The art is slowly diminishing.

Advocates and those who still practice weaving face increasing costs to maintain the art and keep it alive.

The ancient tapestries have deteriorated, In France during the 14th century, tapestries were at their peak of production and admiration. Unfortunately, most were burnt and unraveled in order to save the gold thread that was woven into them and regarded as more important.

Most of the old tapestries were destroyed over time, by natural causes, age wear, and war, leaving only a few and the new for people to admire.


What's Woven into the Future?

In modern times, tapestries have been taking on a new spin with updated techniques and styles. 

Now images are printed onto fabric to hang on your wall or to wrap yourself up in like these items here

In an attempt to revive the technique, 15 famous artists were commissioned to use the unfamiliar canvas to design pieces that would be shown in the exhibition: “Demons, Yarns, and Tales” in London.

The pieces are inspired by previous tapestry works, yet the final product is a clear representation of contemporary art.

Want to learn more about Tapestries? We knew you would! Be sure to check out our other posts about tapestries on our Leafy Souls Blog.

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