Tapestry weaving colorful textile –  Former the Cluny Museum currently, the National Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris. I want to spend at least a few hours here once. To sit enjoying it and occasionally go up to stare at the details of the tapestry. If I could feel how they were growing beneath the hands of Flemish weavers at the end of the 15th century, probably in a Brussels workshop.

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Exhibited from the left, are Tapestries Touch, Sight and Smell, The Lady, and the Unicorn. Style millefleurs, woven in Flanders of wool and silk, cartoons were from Paris around 1500. Cluny Museum, Paris

Tapestry weaving colorful textile – My long lasted interest in ancient tapestry weaving

Many questions simmered in my mind. How arose magnificent tapestries in the “dark” Middle Ages? Far back in 1976. in the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, when I first noticed the “upside down” texture of the tapestry. Lucky me, on that occasion saw up close the middle-aged tapestry. “Carcel de amor” in English “Jail of Love” tapestry based on a Spanish novel around 1500. Probably created at some Turnai workshop in Belgium. Other information is the tapestry name, wool, silk material, and weaving technique, 274×364 cm). The curator’s description is a detailed narrative.

Tapestry Carcel de amor (Engl. Prison of love) 15 Century, Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb

I clarified that observation only after a quote from a letter from William Morris to Thomas Wardle from 1878. W. Morris wrote: Here, I am attaching a piece of warp thread from the tapestry from the 16th Century, of combed wool with a density of 12 threads per inch. Of course, you do not need anything finer than that for a tapestry. It goes on saying: When you set up the warp for future weaving, keep in mind that the finished tapestry will be on the wall so that the base threads are horizontal, although, of course, you should weave on them vertically. By the way, W. Morris had extensively researched tapestry weaving technologies during its significant era, the 15th-18th Century, tending to encourage the renaissance of this art.

Case of restoration of the tapestry “Carcel de amor” in English “Jail of Love” in the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb

The museum restorers have described the procedure for treating the Carcel de amor tapestry. Regarding that wrote some details about the previous original weave process. About lines between two colors are straight vertical, where was necessary. This creates even long slits between adjacent colors. Also, the observation seamstress could sew those slits after removing the tapestry from the loom. Therefore, they conclude that, in Western European tapestry, the warp threads are in a horizontal position, so the installed tapestry hangs so that the load is on the weft.

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Detail of the “Carcel de amor” tapestry before restoration
Detail of the “Carcel de amor” tapestry after the completion of the restoration

Carpet and tapestry are two famous, most beautiful textile decorative woven forms. Until now, I have thoroughly studied carpets as traditional textile inventory and published the results. Until I had a real opportunity for tapestries. Museums in our area do not have old tapestries in their collection because it was rare goods from abroad. This area has not developed local tapestry craft production. I’m just thinking about trying some research on the subject.

An example of the tapestry cycle, The Lady and the Unicorn, end of the 15th century

The series of six masterpieces of the “mille fleur” (thousand flowers) background tapestry The Lady with the Unicorn, is the ultimate artistic handicraft. And at the same time, it provides an insight into satisfying the elitist appetites of the medieval French nobility. With few written sources, writer Tracy Chevalier, in her novel of the same name, offers us a representation of a Brussels weaving workshop. She fills it with her imagination of pain and dedication in the few years of their creation, near the end of the 15th century. I calculated that it is a total of 79 m2!!!

According to the Flemish fashion of the end of the 15th century, a mille fleurs harmoniously complements the background of each of these allegories. These are blue or red fields with grass and bushes, like living flowers (violets, marigolds, chamomiles, lily of the valley, memorial…). Where figures of animals in play or battle are woven. Remarkable weavers, passioned lovers of that style, create surfaces with “thousands of flowers”.

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Millefleurs harmoniously complement the background of each of these allegories. Grass and bushes, like living flowers (violets, marigolds, chamomiles, lily of the valley…)

I will not deal with guesses from the net about the senses of the featured ladies

(taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch, controversies, final or initial desires).

My idea about the birth of Lady with Unicorn, among traces in an imaginary Flemish Weaving workshop, Tracy Chevalier

I’m already going to try something creative. Maybe, I can research processes of weaving ancient tapestries consisting of three layers. First, the workshop painter makes a sketch of how the tapestry should look when the weavers have finished following the model of the portrait painter. Draftsman would draw the contours of the image along the threads of the warp. As well as the colored projection remains behind the warp. While working, the weaver sees only the ribbon, which, when unwound, he will wind on the other side and continue. For months, while weaving can see only the parts where he works. Those stripes are lateral to concerning the position of the composition. All the time, the painters are on pins and needles. So they breathe a sigh of relief, only with the end. That is why the unrolling and removal finished tapestry is a festive celebration in the tavern.

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Detail: In the Smell tapestry, the lady makes a wreath of flowers. Weaving depicts amazing subtlety of skin, fabrics, glamour in the outfit, pleats…
Detail, Touch, Lady and Unihorn, Cluny Museum, Paris

Although we spontaneously associate weaving with women, it is different in the weaving craft. Guild rules forbid a woman to weave. The master weaver workshop owner manages all processes in the workshop with a generational weaving tradition. And the city guild supervises production according to the contracted work.

Allowed jobs for women in tapestry work

Women prepare the yarn, distinguish colors, and help with everything around the loom. But their main contribution is the processing after cutting the warp from the loom. Only the headmaster could weave human figures and other most important parts. But many inevitable corrections remain responsibilities for women. For example, a woven picture is full of slits that distort it. The woman arranges it with skillful hands. She sews minute facial shapes, looks, waist gestures, subtle cleavage, and jewelry. As in detail above, in the Touch tapestry, the Lady`s tender tenderness at touching the horn of a glorious mythical creature.

Tapestry weaving colorful textile – Carpets and tapestries are the focus of museologists’ interest

The focus is on the occupations of ethnologists as well as art historians. Both observe in different contexts, even though their aesthetics and presented contents are in the foreground. In the case of carpets, for example, the imagination of anonymous creators from the people is fascinating as they create miraculous works of symbolic ornamentation. But tapestries are the high artwork of master weavers and creators of sublime artistic content.

Thus, the expert will describe and interpret the content of the work in an inspired manner concerning the viewer’s sight. The very structure of the textile fabric is rarely a subject of study. As I usually do. Observe the masterpiece from a distance open to the impression of the whole to better understand the work. Because that is his “strike” power. But, after that, you should look closely at the exposed matter, its texture, and its composition. Which we rarely see in exhibition halls but only in restoration workshops.

My knowledge and attitudes after a long-lasting experience

I remember carpets from childhood. Watching miraculous weaving, how flower wreaths, little hearts, and colorful shapes grow slowly. I was sneaking under carpet covers bed in the festive room. To look through the mesh slits of the checkered weave from its mysterious darkness. Amazing to me how the carpet is being a field of flowers on the outside and a lattice tent on the inside. Much later, in the Museum, for decades, I “immersed myself” in the past world of the weavers of these works. Searching for knowledge that “took away” and left behind beautiful but mysterious weavings. For centuries, since it reached us from the Ottoman “pot” the Carpet has grown into a dominant form of domestic decorative and ritual inventory.

Carpet Weaving Among Serbs in Vojvodina 1850-1950, exhibition in The Museum of Vojvodina, Novi Sad 2003.

If we look at the carpets from a certain distance, each stands out with its form and content as a decorative whole. Each of the patterns in the composition, apart from being an integral part of the whole, also functions with its special meanings. Positioned ornamental groups are meaningful wholes. The ornamentation is harmonious with all its shapes and colors.

Tapestry weaving colorful textile – A typical example from early ornamental development in Vojvodina

Carpet with a cross-like center, Belegiš, Srem late 19th century. Dimensions: 246 x 130 cms (Museum of Vojvodina, Ethnological department inv. no. 804)

The whole composition of the rug consists of quarters. Yet, all elements are subordinate to the vertical as well as the horizontal axis. And the derived ornamental unit is centrally symmetrical. That is why on her narrow loom, the weaver must skilfully fit the ornamentation of the longitudinal halves. He manages to weave the second half in the same way as in the mirror. And after finishing both sides, she will sew them together. Here, the shortening of the elements in the second half is visible, as well as a smaller overlap at the seam.

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Contrary to the intimate world of carpets, in far western countries, from the 15th to the 18th century, tapestry flourished as an art only for the elite. Monarchs, nobility, and magnificent temples are the only clientele. Now I understand that in carpet making, influences are interwoven and woven into forms according to the needs and tastes of the folk people. While the tapestry starting from the hands of the Flemish masters throughout the epochs, developed according to the highest standards.

Tapestry weaving colorful textile – appropriate to the taste of the Western European elite from the 15th to the 18th Century

Tapestry, by its narrowest definition, is a hand-woven textile used as a decorative wall covering. Today it is a type of applied art in textiles. Monumental woven paintings warm the space, but they also serve people to enjoy the beauty of the samples and interest in the contents. According to the French-Serbian dictionary, the term tapestry originates from the French language, from the word tapisserie. It implies several meanings: “tapestry, embroidery, binder, wall carpet, wallpaper. Tapestry means a colorfully decorated fabric where weft threads of different colors are connected and completely cover the warp threads they cross.

Classic wall tapestry always shows some painted content. The early stages known to us are based on mythological, religious, and historical context; with the rise, the tapestry is increasingly a means of glorifying patrons, rulers, and the highest nobility. In uncertain times, European courts attracted Flemish masters, eager to enjoy the works of their art. Thus, in 1662, near Paris, the Goblen family manufactory was founded for the needs of the court of Louis XIV. Over time,  the Goblen manufactory continued imitating Flemish traditions. In that way was developing its domestic production of tapestries.

17th Century antique wool and silk tapestry. An excellent example was created by the French tapestry weavers of that time

Here, this hunting scene on a French wool and silk tapestry gives a sense of the atmosphere of the 17th century. Based on the concept of the greenery of the Flemish verdure, it depicts details from everyday life in France at the time when created. In addition to the rich flora, the focus is on the landscape and people, with a perspective modeled on landscape painting. A large realistic visual plan in front of the viewer shows the details. For example, in the cassettes, the pictures of fruits are so real that you can easily recognize them. As well as the personification of abundance is realistic,  draped clothing fabrics.


Tapestry weaving colorful textile – a same technique for creating kilims and tapestries

The weft-faced woven structure of fabrics means an interweave in which only the weft is visible on the surface. That is a simple two-thread (warp and weft) system, where the weaver uses different variants of the tapestry weave. That`s a way for creating complex multi-colored weavings such as kilim and tapestry. The surface of the resulting fabric is smooth due to vertical compression but also slightly wavy due to the volume of the longitudinal warp threads. Their mass and shape are bulging between the warp and weft cross. In fact, in fabric, the densely packed weft completely covers the base, hence the name weft face weave.

The tapestry technique generally involves dense fabrics with weft breaks for connecting colors when making colorful weaves. We can see weft face weave technically determines the characteristics of the structure of the surface. Serbian reference literature commonly uses the word tapestry, to denote the weave execution of multi-colorful patterns (in archaic Serbian “kleča”) with an interrupted tapestry weave. So, the tapestry technique commonly uses variants in carpet making and tapestry too. Considering that it is an authentic way of colorful ornamentation, we think this practice originates from prehistoric weaving.

Typical tapestry weaving as technique variants in creating kilims

In carpet making called tapestry, there are different procedures for weaving patterns using the variants of tapestry weaving. So the texture of the surface of the carpet is ribbed. But, it is always the relief of the fabric that is longitudinal in the direction of the warp threads.

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Slits, a weft of one color returns around the last warp thread in the pattern, and the next color is around the adjacent warp thread vertically.
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Minimal slits, with changes of a few thread shifts per row, build fine slopes between colors.
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Slitting and wrapping two neighboring weft threads around a common warp thread, in a net-like woven structure.
Dovetail (shared-warp) when wrapping wefts of two adjacent colors from opposite directions around one warp. Gives the fabric a saw-tooth look.

Tapestry weaving colorful textile – About the character of the woolen image in the era of its rise in Western Europe

The Royal Goblen Manufactory, to bring the art of tapestry closer to painting, systematically searched for new shades of color. Skillest masters interwove the finest wool on a dense base. They had the freedom for closest express the artistry of the woven image. This manner gradually faded the authentic artistic strength and character of the tapestry. On the opposite, Flemish family workshops developed the art of tapestry over several generations.

Flemish tapestry gave birth to two supreme manners: Millefleur (thousand flowers) in the 15th century. Afterward, la Verdure (greenery) was popular until the end of the 18th century. Lush vegetation, flowers, and bushes regularly frame a genre scene with a castle or church, ending with a distant mountain vista. And usually, some little bird is standing in front in the foreground.

Up until the end of the 19th Century, the tapestry was, as a rule, the rib-woven weft face structure similar to kilims. But if you look closely, you can see a ribbed relief (opposite to the carpet) in a horizontal position. As William Morris explained, the multicolored weft is weaving directed along with the warp threads. When a weaving process is at work pattern lies sideways. But when setts up, a woven image will hang as staying upright. This principle proves a sample of weaving on a loom from the county of Torna in Sweden. Here is a small tapestry that began in 1830. but has remained unfinished (Nordic Museum, Stockholm, NM.0004785).


Tapestry weaving colorful textile –  Interweave variants in the Fine Art of Tapestry

Here you can see every detail of the tapestry fabric in the position that was when arising during weaving. Then noticing the texture enables a better understanding of the weaver`s stroking at the loom. As well as the interpretation of the structure. Here the position of the sample in the photo rotates by 90 degrees. It is also an understated fact that understanding how the threads are interlaced in a tapestry is subordinate to the content and aesthetics. Both are related to the approach to the creative act and the subsequent analysis of the work.

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Change color leaves simultaneously vertical slits; which are subsequently sewn by hand.
Nuances at the incarnate weft and coarse wool for waving cloth and background. Zoomed work messy and visibly stitched slits.
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“Verdure” detail: the weft is not compressed enough, the tapestry weave on the slants, and the tree branch is subsequently sewn.
Finely executing tapestry weave with shading in the blocks. Weft: wool, silk, silver, gold-plated thread.

Examples of structures in recent tapestry weaves

Defined types of the contemporary tapestry: textile woven image, then woven two-dimensional textile artwork, and finally, a space textile, or various artificial threads, installation. Now the tapestry is firmly established as a branch of fine art in textiles.

In the early phase of the New tapestry, there was a temporary trend in modeling classical patterns. A significant contribution of William Morris`s influences in England in the 1880s and the Bauhaus school in Germany in the 1920s. After that, some authors define tapestry as the art of structured colored threads. Since then under the new influences, tapestry becomes an almost absolutely free creation area. Here I will show a few examples of tapestry artwork`s different manners of building woven structures.

By presenting, I mean a small series of samples with ribbed structure positions. Here are the warp ribs of the fabric in the tapestry composition, as we see in an exhibited work.

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Horizontal ribbed texture (wool and silk on a cotton warp). Forest, W. Morris, 1887, woven by Morris & Co. (detail)
Vertical ribs by wrapping around a thread, with minimal slits. Vaszary János, weaver Kovalszky, Sarolta, 1899 (detail)
Horizontal ribbed relief, tapestry slant weave, short horizontal slits. Design by Jean Lourcat, Roosters, 1939 (detail)
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Unbalanced warp and weft, tapestry weave (discontinuous multi-colored weft) wool, cotton, sisal, PVC, Atelje 61 Novi Sad, Vera R. Marković, Deep Blue 2003 (detail)

Dear readers,

I am hoping that in less than two years, have aroused some interest. So, I dare to venture out into partially known terrain. But to a particular part where I think I have the potential to contribute. The weak effect of individual thinking and conclusions compels me to offer them to readers. Of course, hoping for your accession, understanding, and support.

Sincerely, Branka on Textile

One thought on “My view of the Ancient Tapestry as an “inverted” weave of the Monumental textiles

  1. Fico encantada com tanta expressividade que os tecelões e tecelãs , com as técnicas disponíveis da época conseguiam tecer.

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