The Tapestry Kit Collection

The Tapestry Kit Collection


A Brief History of Tapestry



In its traditional sense, the definition of tapestry is taken to be "a material that is hand woven on a loom with bobbins or needles".  The design of the tapestry is formed by the various coloured woof threads (running cross-wise) as they are carried over and under the warp threads which run the length of the work. In contrast to needlework and embroidery, in which the design is worked into an already formed textile base, in a tapestry the design and body of the fabric are created simultaneously. In modern usage however, the term "tapestry" has also come to be used for the hand stitching of designs onto an open weave canvas although this should more properly be called canvaswork (or needlepoint in the US).


Few wall tapestries were made before the 12th or 13th centuries, although tapestry weaving is one of the oldest arts, examples being found in Hellenistic Egypt and in 8th century China.   The art of tapestry weaving came to Europe from the Middle East, having its European beginnings in Paris, where in 1277 a company of Tapissiers sarrizinois was formed. By the beginning of the 14th century, both vertical and horizontal looms were in use in Paris which became the centre of tapestry weaving. Broadly speaking, types of tapestries can be classified according to their period:  Gothic (before 1515), Renaissance (1515-1625), Baroque (1625-1740), Rococco (1740-65) and Classic Revival (1765-90).

Modern Tapestry

In the 19th century many tapestries were made on Jacquard power looms, the designs being coded as holes in a series of punched cards which then controlled the operation of the loom.  The Victorian designer William Morris, leader of the Arts & Crafts movement, had a major influence on 19th century design and many of his designs have become popular over recent years as needlepoint and cross stitch designs

Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux tapestry

Bayeux Tapestry

Perhaps the most famous tapestry in the world is the Bayeux tapestry which represents the invasion and conquest of England in 1066 by William I. It is made of woolen thread of various colours worked on a web of white linen cloth 231 feet long by 20 inches deep. Interestingly, the Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry at all based on the technical definition - it is an embroidery!

Traditionally considered to be the work of Mathilda (died 1083) the wife of William, it was actually stitched during the 11th century for ODO, Bishop of Bayeux (1036-97) who was William's half-brother. It was used in the the cathedral of Bayeux as a decorative hanging. The tapestry contains 1512 figures in 72 scenes depicting various events during the conquest.  

The tapestry is particularly valuable for its representation of the costume, arms and actions of the Normans before and during the conquest as it gives more details of the events represented than is contained in contemporary literature. The tapestry is preserved in a specially constructed museum in Bayeux.

French Renaissance Tapestries

The 'golden age' of tapestry was probably to be found in the 15th and 16th centuries - particularly in France where many large tapestries were woven for the great houses of the day. Popular scenes were hunting, music and scenes of life depicting both commoners and, in particular, court life. Many of these tapestries have survived and can be seen in the great French museums such as the Louvre and Musee de Cluny.

Of the medieval tapestries that have survived the Cluny Tapestries, based on the five senses, are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful and well known. Various theories surround the symbolism of the work with one such theory being that the different necklaces worn by the "lady" in each panel represents a different temptation. In the sixth, and final hanging the lady is depicted taking off her necklace and placing it in a casket and thereby forsaking all worldly temptations

Cluny Tapestry

Cluny Tapestry


The modern style of needlepoint tapestry worked on a canvas background developed in the early nineteenth century in Berlin. Early 'Berlin work' patterns were printed on paper and hand coloured and were designed to be traced on to the canvas by the stitcher herself. It soon became usual to publish counting patterns similar to modern cross stitch patterns. Patterns were published as single sheets making them very affordable. The fashion soon spread from Germany to Britain and the USA and Berlin work was extremely popular throughout the mid-nineteenth century.

Trammed needlepoint developed from Berlin work towards the end of the nineteenth century and provided a method of accurately marking the pattern on the canvas to obviate the need for counting from a chart. It became the dominant form of needlepoint during the first half of the twentieth century. Only in the second half of the twentieth century did the fabric printing advance to the stage where it was technologically possible to accurately print the design directly on to the canvas, leading to a second burst of popularity for needlepoint tapestry which persist to this day.


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Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 8QL
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