Wednesday, 5 October 2011


After a lovely research trip to Paris, it's time for me to take stock of what I found on my tapestry trail. My first port of call was the Gobelins tapestry workshop, part of France's Mobilier National.

The tour of the workshop took our group to two weaving areas - the first of these was concerned with weaving tapestries on basse-lisse (low looms) on which the warps are almost horizontal. Unfortunately we could not take photos inside but I have managed to find a picture online:
Here is an image of the haute-lisse (high looms) at Dovecot:
David Cochrane weaving Easter Day, designed by William Crozier, 2009
One of the major differences is that the on the upright looms at Dovecot, the weavers work from the front. On a basse-lisse loom at the Gobelins, the weaver works form the back. Because of this they have to view the original design in a mirror: this is because the work as they see it from the back is a mirror image, but also because the only way they can view the front of the work is also through a mirror. In the photo of the basse-lisse loom you can see a white-framed mirror resting near the warps.

The tapestries being woven at Gobelins were very fine, with a high number of warps per inch. When I was there it seemed like a laborious process, with work progressing slowly. When I mentioned this to Jonathan Cleaver, one of the weavers at Dovecot, he said that in fact the low loom technique is supposed to be faster as it has a pedal system to bring the back warps to the front during weaving. Why did it seem so slow to me? I think the answer is to do with my perception than the French weavers' actual speed. Because of the use of mirrors the process seemed less fluid than the weaving I had witnessed previously - instead of glancing at the design, the weavers had to stop and place the mirror. It was an eye-opening experience and raised many more questions than I had thought it would.

The other area of the workshop was concerned with the weaving of Savonnerie rugs - you can see a picture on this blog. These are woven much like an upright tapestry, except the weft is looped around each warp, created a loop of yarn which is then trimmed with scissors to create the rug's surface.

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