Tapestry fashion is one of the most ancient and most luxury pieces of fashion fabric to use. It is most commonly used for wall hangings and painting but when it comes to fashion it is considered to be a contemporary art form. It is one of the most anachronistic textile art forms which has been practised all over the world for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians and the Incas used woven tapestries as shrouds in which to bury their dead.[i] In this day and age, tapestry art is extremely rare as it is labour intensive. This means that it will take many months to design and weave, at the least, and a large piece can take many years. A skilled, professional tapestry weaver who works 35-40 hours a week at the loom, can weave about 1 square meter a month. [ii] Currently at an exhibition in Liverpool in the ‘Walker Art Gallery’ holds ‘a large collection of Western European costume, numbering some 10,000 items and dating from about 1700 to the present day. These items include tapestries, embroideries, lace, household furnishings, dating from about 1600 to the present day.’ [iii] This means that Tapestry fashion has been around for decades and it is a very delicate piece of fashion to grab a hold of.
The difference between wearing mass produced fashion and wearing tapestry fashion is simply the fact that with a mass produced product, everyone has a copy or a different version of a top or dress. It is produced to a high volume of people who either can’t afford luxury fashion or they like their fashion to be a bit more simplified, which is fine. Tapestry fashion is unique in the way that not one product is the same as all the others, they are produced by hand with a variety of different colours, weaving techniques and styles. They are all different in their own kind which is why someone who would be wealthier would buy a one of a kind piece of tapestry. It should be a type of fashion that is preserved because it is the oldest fabric to work with and delicate to craft.
Tapestry making is a very physically demanding and intense practice, both for fashion and the usual wall hangings. Intestingly, in 1619, James I founded a tapestry factory at Mortlake on the Thames near London. Staffed by Flemish designers and weavers, and run by Philip de Maecht, the former master-weaver of the de La Planche-Comans factory in Paris. Another noteworthy English workshop was run in Soho, from about 1650 onwards, by Francis Poyntz (d.1685) and his brothers. It only truly flourished in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, at the hands of French and (later) Flemish weavers. By the mid-15th century as many as 15,000 weavers and other artisans were working in the tapestry centres of the French Loire Valley alone. Using either a vertical loom (high-warp) or a horizontal loom (low-warp), and a range of no more than 20 colours. [iv] Tapestry was fantastically vibrant and people were very interested in it from about 1970 until 2000. There were some fantastic tapestry weavers around at the time who did really bold, hard-edged, abstract designs, such as Jenny Ross.[v] However, European tapestry, light-coloured silks were used to create pictorial effects of tonal gradation and spatial recession. The sheen of silk thread was often used for highlights or to give a luminous effect when contrasted to the dull and darkly coloured heavier woollen threads.[vi]
Tapestry art is the most overlooked luxury fashion which is time consuming but a beautifully made product in the end. It is stylish in its complexity and often is used in fashion to make a statement of wealth. This fabric and style of fashion, although an ancient textile art piece should be celebrated and persevered as it is a delicate fashion item which dates back as far as the 1500-1600’s.
Article by Kelsey Mowat
Let me know what you think about Tapestry Fashion! Is it your style of fashion?
[i] Visual-arts-cork.com. (n.d.). Tapestry Art: History, Famous Tapestries. [online] Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/tapestry-art.htm [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
[ii] Americantapestryalliance.org. (n.d.). American Tapestry Alliance - ATA FAQ. [online] Available at: https://www.americantapestryalliance.org/AboutATA/FAQ.html [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
[iii] Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. (n.d.). Fashion - Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool museums. [online] Available at: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/fashion/ [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
[iv] Visual-arts-cork.com. (n.d.). Tapestry Art: History, Famous Tapestries. [online] Available at: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/tapestry-art.htm [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
[v] Jarry, M. (2017). Tapestry. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/tapestry [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
[vi] Jarry, M. (2017). Tapestry. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/tapestry [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].