Woven Words

A blog by Regal Fabrics

Tapestry Talk: From Castle Walls to Contemporary Decor

June 13, 2024

Did you know fabric can talk? If not, you haven’t heard the tales tapestry fabric can tell! A unique and ancient form of textile art, tapestry combines functionality with exquisite craftsmanship. These intricate woven artworks have been used for centuries to tell stories, decorate interiors, and provide warmth. From medieval castles to modern homes, tapestries continue to be admired for their artistic and historical significance. From the rich history to the complex creation process to how to use tapestries in modern homes, there’s a lot to learn about this fascinating fabric!

What’s the history of tapestry fabric? 

Tapestry weaving has a long and storied history, with its origins dating back to ancient civilizations. The etymology of the word is fairly fascinating: the earliest written form, 𐀲𐀟𐀊, meaning “rug” or “carpet” was found in Mycenaean Greek, later Latinized to tapes, then tapis in Old French which meant “heavy cloth”, then tapisser meaning “to cover with a heavy fabric, to carpet”. Early examples of tapestry showcasing a variety of styles and technique have been found in Egypt, Greece, and Peru, but tapestry weaving truly flourished during during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe.

In medieval Europe, tapestries weren’t just decorative items; they were symbols of wealth and power. Nobles and royalty commissioned large, detailed tapestries to adorn the walls of their castles and homes that often depicted historical events, religious scenes, and mythological stories, serving as both art and narrative.

medieval tapestry example

Tapestry series The Hunt of the Unicorn: The Unicorn is Found, c. 1495-1505

How are tapestry fabrics made?

Creating a tapestry is a labor-intensive process that requires skill and patience. For example, it was estimated a weaver (typically male due to the strenuous physical work) could produce one square yard of medium quality tapestry per month, but only half a yard of the best quality, quality being defined as the tightness of the weave.

Here’s a step-by-step look at how these woven masterpieces are crafted:

  1. Design Creation: The process begins with a detailed design, or cartoon, which is a full-scale drawing of the tapestry to serve as a blueprint for the weaver.
  2. Warp Setting: On a loom, the vertical warp threads form the backbone of the tapestry, and a tapestry warp differs from a typical solid colored warp in that it is multicolored. “True” tapestries have at least six different colors in the warp, but tapestry-type looks can be achieved with four-color warps. Because of the beautiful multi-colored detail effects, tapestry constructions are popular in a range of styles from scenic novelties to intricate florals.
  3. Weaving: The weft threads, which run horizontally, are woven through the warp threads which are hidden in the completed work. The weaver meticulously follows the cartoon, using different colors of thread to create the intricate design by interlacing each colored horizontal weft thread back and forth over the warp in its own small pattern area to create designs. In the past, this was done by hand, with each thread carefully placed to achieve the desired pattern and texture. 
  4. Blending and Shading: To create depth and detail, weavers often blend colors and use shading techniques to add a 3-D effect to the tapestry, making the images more lifelike.
  5. Finishing: Once the weaving is complete, the tapestry is cut from the loom, the edges are then finished, and any loose threads are trimmed. The tapestry is also cleaned and pressed to enhance its appearance.

While traditional tapestry weaving remains highly valued, modern innovations have expanded the possibilities for this ancient art form. Contemporary artists often experiment with new materials, techniques, and designs, creating tapestries that blend traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics.

Digital technology has also influenced tapestry creation: digital looms and computerized designs allow for greater precision and efficiency, making it possible to produce highly detailed tapestries more quickly. Additionally, artists can use digital tools to experiment with colors and patterns before beginning the actual weaving process.

What are the best uses for tapestry fabric?

Tapestry fabrics have been used in the past as insulation, religious decoration and wall hangings, and today tapesty is quite popular on upholstery, throw pillows, and cushions in home decor for a traditional, timeless look.

Fun fact: Did you know Regal Fabrics was originally known as “The Tapestry Source”? Our best sellers were patterns woven in Italy depicting assorted wine bottles, leaves, or the ever-popular Children of the World. Though we’ve long since outgrown that moniker and offer a wide variety of fabric styles and constructions, Regal still has a broad selection of tapestries available – see below!

Sources: 1 

Some Regal Tapestry Fabric Selections:

Stay in the Know

Subscribe for monthly updates on all things Regal

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.