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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is tapestry?
  2. What does the word "tapestry" refer to?
  3. What about the Bayeux Tapestry?
  4. Where in the world are tapestries still woven?
  5. What does ATA do for tapestry?
  6. Where can I see tapestries?
  7. Where can I find tapestries to buy?
  8. How do I learn to weave tapestry and where can I study?
  9. How long does it take to weave a tapestry?
  10. What equipment do I need to weave tapestry?
  11. What other resources give information about tapestry in my area?

ATA Answers

1. What is tapestry? For many artists, tapestry is a weaving technique that produces a patterned or pictorial cloth in which discontinuous wefts are used in a weft-faced weave. Usually working at a tapestry loom, the weaver manipulates the colored wefts to create images in wool, silk, linen, cotton, or other materials.

2. What does the word "tapestry" refer to? For non-weavers, the word 'tapestry' can mean any richly complex pictorial cloth, even if the technique itself might not be known. Today, "tapestry" can refer to handwoven original works of art or machine woven replicas. ATA thinks that tapestry replicas fulfill a function and produce a sense of history, but they are produced by machines as copies and cannot earn our respect as can an original handwoven work.

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3. What about the Bayeux Tapestry? Over thousands of years, the technique of tapestry has evolved from a simple fiber structure such as was used to make baskets or reed mats, to a sophisticated system that allows many weavers to work together to produce highly complex images at a monumental scale. At certain times in history, looms were not used and image makers turned to using needlework techniques on cloth to produce the stories that they wanted to tell, as in the Bayeux Tapestry which dates from the late 11th century. Most medieval tapestries were woven later, in the 14th and 15th centuries, although early tapestries have survived and are well documented (8th and 9th century).

4. Where in the world are tapestries still woven? Tapestry weavers have developed their art in all the different parts of the world and many traditions are still practiced today. In North America, you can find tapestries woven in the Southwest based on the saltillo serape and Navajo traditions, and in Canada, the US and Mexico based on European, Scandinavian and South American traditions. You will actually discover that contemporary tapestry is woven all around the world, from Argentina to Italy, from Japan to Russia, from the southern tip of Australia to northern arctic areas of Canada and Iceland.

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5. What does ATA do for tapestry? ATA supports and networks a community of artists, weavers, afficianados, and scholars interested in the continued artistic developments in tapestry techniques. ATA publishes a newsletter, organizes an international biennial juried exhibition, sponsors regional groups and exhibitions, and runs several programs to spread information about contemporary tapestry. ATA also wishes to encourage and support the activities of collectors, curators, educators and members of the general public who find tapestry weaving of extreme interest. For more information about our programs check here.

6. Where can I see tapestries? Museums often have tapestries in their collections even if they are not always up on display. A few contemporary galleries carry tapestry occasionally. If you ask the gallery personnel, or the museum personnel (docents, in particular) in your area, they can provide you with up-to-date information. However, if you get vague responses, don't hesitate to look at the calendar listings in the Resources section of our website under exhibitions here.

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7. Where can I find tapestries to buy? Today, it is a rare gallery that carries contemporary handwoven tapestry – you never know until you happen across one. Some areas of the US are more likely to have these rare galleries, as in the Southwest, Northeast and Southeast. In addition, certain cities have more active tapestry communities which you will find out about by visiting yarn or weaving shops and asking about tapestry. Checking with tapestry artists and weavers will lead you to their studios, another place where you can buy contemporary tapestry.

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8. How do I learn to weave tapestry and where can I study? Books and videos are good sources of beginning instruction. Conferences, arts festivals, and yarn shops all occasionally offer supplies and classes. Some universities and colleges have fiber programs. Individual artists offer instruction which can be the best source of information, whom you can contact through your local weaving guild or through mentoring programs. For information about ATA's distance learning program click here.

To find someone to study with, check our Calendar section, or our Links, and also check Jeanne Bates's website which has a few classes listed: Meanderings: Tapestry links. Some teachers travel and teach workshops on a periodic basis. You can contact a teacher through mail or email to see where their next workshop will be: Meanderings: Teachers of Workshops. You can also check with your local fiber arts guild.

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9. How long does it take to weave a tapestry? Tapestry weaving is labor intensive. This means that an image 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. The rate of weaving varies considerably and depends upon how much detail is woven and the number of warps and wefts per centimeter.

10. What equipment do I need to weave tapestry? A wide variety of equipment is used, from a basic frame loom that leans against a wall or table edge to a large massive wooden or metal loom with different shed-making devices. Basically, one needs a strong rectangular frame that can hold warp threads under good tension and good lighting conditions to see one's work clearly. A diverse selection of weft materials, particularly in a range of colors available in gradations, is also preferable depending on the imagery in the piece. Hand-held bobbins allow ease of manipulation and keep the yarns from tangling.

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11. What other resources give information about tapestry in my area? For help finding the nearest fiber art guild in North America, contact Handweavers Guild of America, Inc. In other countries contact your own national guild.

You can also check your local library. There are a lot of books on tapestry, most of them full of historical information. Some books also include chapters on technique, and others are specifically designed for the beginning student. As a starting point, you can check a biblography of tapestry books on Christine Laffer's website: Tapestry books by author.