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A Brief History of Tapestry

Tapestry weaving is an ancient art dating back to the Ancient Greeks in the West and even earlier in Egypt, the Middle East and the Americas. The Greeks and Romans are recorded as having used tapestries for the decoration of public buildings and this custom continues to the present day.

It was not until the Middle Ages that Western Europe's tapestry weaving centres developed. This was in response to a growing population and the increasing wealth and sophistication of the ruling classes. The centres of tapestry weaving moved first from Spain and then to France and ultimately to Flanders where tapestry weaving flourished until the late 19th century and, albeit on a much smaller scale, continues to this day.

The technical ability of weavers developed steadily from the Middle Ages with the refinement of tapestry looms and the use of a wider variety of colours. By the late 16th century a greater depth of perspective and dimension was evident in Western tapestry design, aided by a more complex use of colour and yarns. The ultimate refinement came in 1804 when French silk weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard developed an earlier loom design invented in 1745 by Jacques de Vaucanson.

The Jacquard loom differed from traditional high or low warp looms in that the weft threads travelled across the whole width of the design. The action of the loom was controlled by a system of cards with punch holes - which in turn determined the design that was woven. The Jacquard loom was an immense time-saver and, inspite of initial resistance by traditional tapestry weavers, by 1812 there were some 11,000 jacquard looms in use in France alone.

With the automation of production, tapestry in the form of wall hangings and furnishing fabrics became readily available to all. No longer was this art form solely the domain of the very wealthy. Although there are still several specialized tapestry workshops producing beautiful hand woven tapestry the vast majority of tapestries available today are machine woven.

Modern weaving techniques may not allow for the quirks or whims of individual hand weavers, but there is still considerable skill employed in designing and weaving a modern-day tapestry. The finer quality machine-made tapestry of today is in itself an affordable and appreciating work of art.

Flemish Tapestries

These traditional tapestries are woven on mechanical jacquard looms in Flanders, the home of tapestry since medieval times. The manufacturing process used to produce these tapestries has remained largely unchanged for the last 200 years, although most of our designs are now woven on computerised looms that ensure a consistently high quality product.

The composition of our woven range varies, but tapestries are predominantly cotton - supplemented with wool, viscose and other yarns, depending on the design. (Please ask if you require details for specific pieces). All tapestries are supplied with a cotton lining and an integral sleeve for the hanging pole.

Please note: Tapestries supplied by Flemish Tapestries Ltd are sourced from the traditional centres of Euorpean weaving and not from the Far East.