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Tapestry, hand-woven fabric of plain weave  made without shuttle or drawboy,  the design of weft threads being threaded  into the warp with fingers or a bobbin.  The name has been extended to cover  a variety of heavy materials, such as  imitation tapestries woven on Jacquard looms,  tapestry carpets, and upholstery  and drapery stuffs. True tapestries include  various primitive textiles woven on the  rudest of early looms, as well as the  famous pictorial hangings of the Middle Ages.

The techniques for high- and low-warp  work (haute-lisse and basse-lisse) differ;  both were used in the 14th century In a  high-warp loom the threads are  stretched vertically in front of the weaver,  and the lisses or loops which raise the  alternate threads to make the shed are  lifted by hand; in low-warp work, the warp  threads are horizontal, and the lisses are  moved by means of a foot treadle.  The strong warp threads of wool or linen  may vary from 10 to 30 in an inch  (3 to 12 per cm), but are ordinarily fewer  than 20 (8 per cm). The soft, full weft  threads of wool, silk, or metal entirely cover  the warp, which remains apparent  in the form of ribs.

In true tapestry, the front and back  surfaces are alike, except that portions  of the design of the same color are 
connected by a loose thread that is  left hanging at the back. The different  colors of the design, being worked in  separately in blocks or patches, leave  little slits between, which are afterward  sewn up. All are woven with the back  to the weaver, who sees nothing of his  work until it is finished, unless he uses a  mirror to reflect it. A cartoon or painting  on linen or paper, often by a noted artist,  is provided for the weaver to copy.  Themes for medieval hangings were  drawn from ancient legends, mythology,  allegory, history, religion, 
chivalry, and sport.

Antique specimens of tapestry weaving  include a few surviving from  Egypt of 1500 B.C. and Coptic tapestries  made from the 4th to 8th century A.D.  The Incas of Peru produced beautiful  specimens, some of which date  back to the pre-Columbian era.  Ancient Chinese tapestries, k'o ssu,  were made of light, thin silks, often  interwoven with gold thread.  Allusions in early Greek poetry  and paintings on Greek vases show  that tapestry weaving was an  important household industry.
The history of tapestry weaving is  continuous. In the 5th century A.D. and  in the centuries immediately after,  monasteries and convents were  the centers of the craft. Woolen tapestries  appeared early in Europe. A few  fragments woven in this material  in the 10th or 11th century are still preserved.  (The so-called Bayeux tapestry was 
actually embroidered.) At Arras, early in  the 14th century, the first great French weaving  was done, in wool. Soon Brussels achieved  prominence and remained important 
through the 17th century, until the rise of the  Gobelins works at Paris.
By the 15th century, tapestry weaving had  reached a high degree of perfection, and  from this century date many great Gothic  sets rich with gold thread. A fine specimen  is the set of Burgundian Sacraments;  a late 15th-century example of a verdure  background is the Lady and the Unicorn set  (Musée de Cluny). An example of the  Renaissance period is the widely  acclaimed set, the Acts of the Apostles,  from the cartoons of Raphael. Fine  weaving was done at Beauvais in  the mid-17th century Weavers at  Aubusson, France, began in the 16th century  to make an inferior textile that was 
gradually improved. The baroque style  dominated the 17th century; the rococo and  classical styles appeared in the 18th century  Fine examples were woven from the  cartoons of François Boucher, who  worked both for the Beauvais  and the Gobelins looms.
In England much tapestry,  known as Arras, was used before 
any was manufactured there.  In the 16th century William Sheldon set up works in Warwickshire. An establishment in imitation of the  Gobelins was opened at Mortlake in 1619  and employed Flemish weavers.  In 1881, William Morris began weaving at  Merton; his friend Edward Burne-Jones  designed some of Morris's series.  In 1893 tapestry looms were set up in  New York City. Some interesting 20th-century  tapestries have been woven in  France fromcartoons by Rouault, Braque,  Lurçat, Picasso, and Calder.
Important public collections in the  United States that contain fine examples  of tapestry weaving are those in the  Metropolitan Museum  (including the magnificent  Hunt of the Unicorn series at the Cloisters)  and in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

See M. Jarry, World Tapestry (1969); 
A. Pearson, Complete Book of Tapestry Weaving (1984).



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