Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Tapestry - Woolwork - Needlepoint

These terms have become synonymous with one another in modern usage but they are very different techniques for producing a textile.

Tapestry can be defined as ' a textile art traditionally woven on a loom', and as a 'picture woven in cloth'.  Used for centuries in the West to decorate and insulate draughty castles and chateaux, tapestries were expensive to produce and thus afforded only by the wealthy.  Handwoven on a vertical or horizontal loom the design is gradually built up using coloured wools and silks - some of the most sumptuous also employed gold and silver thread.

The great centres of weaving in the Europe were mainly in the Netherlands and France.  However, due to the religious persecution of the 16th century in the Spanish Netherlands many Flemish weavers, persecuted because of their Protestantism, dispersed throughout Europe - to Germany, Italy, France, England and elsewhere.  The skills of these masters of their craft were highly sought after. Charles I in England brought in Flemish weavers to start up a new tapestry workshop at Mortlake in the early 17th century - and other important centres of production sprang up in Germany, Italy etc.

The production of a tapestry took many months of work by several weavers working on a loom.

The Hunt of the Unicorn  - one in a series of tapestries produced between 1495 and 1505 probably in Brussels and incorporating silver and gold threads - now in the The Cloisters in New York

Also see blogpost at:  http://treasuresfromafrenchattic.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=hardwick  for a wonderful display of tapestries

In contrast 'woolwork' and 'needlepoint' are not woven but embroidered.  The Bayeaux Tapestry is not, of course, a tapestry but an embroidery.

This latter skill is mostly of a domestic nature.  Certainly in the 19th century 'Berlin Woolwork' rose to prominence for the home embroiderer when an enterprising manufacturer produced printed canvasses with pictures to be worked in wools and silks.  A practice which, of course, is common today with 'tapestry' kits readily available.

a fine 19th century French needlepoint picture

Tapestries themselves can now mainly been seen in stately homes and chateaux and in museums and art galleries the world over as well as appearing at auctions and in private sales.

Due to their age and somewhat rough handling in some places over the years (tapestries were often cut by their owners to make a doorway accessible when hung on a wall - or to frame a window)  as well as general wear and tear it is possible to find fragments - from long tapestry borders to panels - which are more affordable than the large wall coverings.

These are the pieces I seek out to make into cushions.  Thus these wonderful textiles go on into the future in people's homes.

A group of cushions made with 17th - 18th century Flemish & French tapestry


holly said...

Thank you for the clarification -- I am often disappointed at the misuse of the term tapestry when searching for fragments. Though I suppose it keeps the search interesting! I didn't know there was a tapestry workshop in Mortlake. I wonder if any trace remains?

Your cushions are so beautifully made, I hope to own at least one someday. Thanks again for the post and the fascinating blog!

angebleu said...

Hello Holly,

Thank you - I do get a tad irritated with everything being labelled 'tapestry'.

I don't think there is any trace left of the Mortlake works - nor that of the Soho tapestry works. Both were relatively short lived. There are some wonderful tapestries from Mortlake and Soho in places like Hardwick Hall and other stately homes plus international museums.

Thanks for your kind remark about my cushions!