The art of tapestry weaving is as old as time and so culturally diverse that it is prevalent in all corners of the globe. Medieval tapestries, generally hung in churches and castles, provided not only warmth and insulation, but visual representations of biblical concepts and histories of families and kingdoms. As a testament to the beauty of tapestry weaving, techniques weavers employed have changed very little over hundreds of years, and can be incorporated into modern pieces very easily.
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The two most important terms to know when weaving tapestries are "warp" and "weft." Warp threads are those that are attached to a loom in a stationary position, running either vertically (high warp) or horizontally (low warp). These threads act as the skeleton of the tapestry and are generally thicker than weft threads. The weft threads lay perpendicular to the warp, forming the design with a series of passes woven over and under warp threads.
Design and the Cartoon
The design of a tapestry refers to the subject matter. Generally the person who commissioned the tapestry dictated the subject. Many early designs are religious and hung in churches, especially in those made in Europe. Tapestries served as a kind of hanging picture book for parishioners that were mostly illiterate. The cartoon was the drawn or painted pattern that was hung behind the loom as a visual guide for the weavers. The Renaissance painter Raphael painted a cartoon for a religious tapestry that was hung in the Sistine Chapel.
Joins are the techniques for joining different coloured thread, most notably, the slit, dovetail, and interlocking techniques. Slit joins, or kilim, occurred when two colours were woven to adjacent warps, leaving a telltale slit in the tapestry. Dovetail joins, also known as warp interlock, were two colours that were woven around a common warp while still being independent of one another. Interlock joins, or weft interlock, occurred when two colours were interlocked. Single interlock occurred on every other row, while double interlock occurred on every row.
Colour Techniques: Hachure and Hatching
Two technique used most often for giving a tapestry colourful detail are hachure and hatching. Although very similar, the two techniques differ in their orientation. Hachure uses uniform triangular shapes to create depth of detail and half tones, while hatching simply alternates colours. The use of both of these techniques allows for colour gradation and shading as vivid as any painting.
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