Wednesday, September 15, 2010


an illustration of a Coptic loom from an Egyptian tomb painting, Middle Kingdom, circa 1680 BC

We started to explore the ancient art of weaving and making cloth today. We 'built' a loom, warped the loom, and started to build cloth by filling the warp with weft yarn to create cloth.

The technique we are using is tapestry weave, which can be used to produce textile structures from the simplest to the most complex. "Tapestry weave allows the artist substantial freedom over weaving techniques in the creation of complex imagery and design." (from Exploring Tapestry Weave, an educational brochure produced by The Textile Museum.) One of the most impressive examples of a tapestry weave is the famous Unicorn Tapestries, exhibited in the Cloisters, part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

"Little is known about their early history, though the seven hangings are thought to have been designed in Paris and woven in Brussels (then part of the Netherlands) between 1495–1505, and might have originally come from several sets. They are among the most beautiful and complex works of art to survive from the Middle Ages.

Traditionally known as The Hunt of the Unicorn, these tapestries were woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk, and include the depiction of 101 species of plants, of which over 85 have been identified. The vibrant colors still evident today were produced with three dye plants: weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue)." (from the Met Museum website.)

As we discussed in class, weaving is an art/craft developed by people all over the world. "Archaeologists believe that basket making and weaving were probably the first 'crafts' developed by humans...The exact date of the first handwoven works...remains a mystery, [though] there is evidence of cloth being made in Mesopotamia and in Turkey as far back as 7000 to 8000 BC" (Susan Wylly, "A Brief History of Weaving").

Ghanain weaver working on Kente cloth.
A Peruvian woman makes double weave belts on a body-tensioned loom.
A Chinese woman weaving with silk.

A Navajo woman making a tapestry weave blanket on an upright loom (left) and a drag loom used by Ghanaian weavers (right) in which the warps are tensioned with a heavy stone on a sledge.

A Peruvian weaver working on a backstrap loom.

In the 20th century, there have been some significant contributors to the art and craft of weaving, artists and designers too many to mention, though a few prominent figures follow:

Gunta Stolzl, 5 Choirs, Jaquard wall hanging, 1928. Gunta was a founding member of the Bauhaus. For more information and images of her spectacular design and textile work,visit the Gunta Stolzl foundation website.

Anni Albers, Red Meander, 1954. For more information about Anni Albers and her work with the Bauhaus, visit the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation or the exhibition pages of MOMA's Bauhaus show.

Magdalena Abkanowicz working on her Abakans above and sitting with one of her 'Abakans' below. (circa 1969).

Sheila Hicks, Toe Tab, 1973

It is also worthwhile to consider the tradition of an 'artist' designing a 'cartoon' or image for a tapestry, that is then translated and fabricated by a team of highly skilled artisans. This is discussed at length in the Arthur Danto reading posted on the Google Docs site, "Reflections on Fabric and Meaning: From the Tapestry to the Loincloth."

Above, a tapestry of a Romare Bearden design by the French weaving studio, Pinton. A variety of artist's works interpreted or produced by weaving studios and individual craftspeople can be found at the website of the Gloria F. Ross Tapestry Center.

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