Travel and Leisure

Making a Wall Tapestry—How Did They Do That?


You’re going through a museum, immersed in thought (and your feet may be suffering a little), when you look up and notice an intriguing object. You start identifying the specimens in front of you right away: it’s a fabric… no, it’s embroidery… wait… it’s… the wall label says it’s a tapestry! Is that a tapestry?

If you’ve experienced this experience, you’re not alone. Tapestries — particularly European tapestries made before the twentieth century—are very rare, and thus not the forms of art typically seen on a daily basis; as a result, when we do see one, it can be difficult to identify and comprehend. The fact that tapestries can mimic other types of artwork, such as paintings, adds to the misunderstanding.

How can you tell what a tapestry is in the midst of all this tapestry confusion? 

We put together a little explanation for #tapestry tuesday to help you understand what makes a tapestry a tapestry! 

A tapestry, by definition, is a simple weave with discontinuous wefts that conceal all of the warps. You may make a tapestry by simply weaving the warp and weft threads together. It’s just that simple! Or maybe not. We understand if you’re scratching your head and mouthing the terms “weft” and “warp.” 

Let’s take a look at how it works: 

Tapestry weaving is, at its foundation, a simple maths problem. Consider a tapestry to be a grid of threads attached to a big frame (known as a loom). The vertical threads are the warps, and the horizontal threads are the wefts. The wefts are essentially a collection of many distinct coloured wool or silk threads that are sewn together. 

A tapestry is formed by weaving horizontal (weft) threads over and under vertical (warp) threads repeatedly, then squishing (or tamping) those horizontal threads down so they are very close together, obscuring the vertical threads completely.  The vertical warp threads are vital components of each piece, even though they are not visible in the finished tapestry. They are the backbone of every tapestry and provide support for the weft threads. 

Consider the warps to be a blank canvas, and the wefts to be paint strokes on that canvas. 

To put it another way, the weft threads are the colours that gradually build up to make the picture of a tapestry. Wefts aren’t woven in and out across all of the warps; they’re only used where the design calls for a patch of a specific hue. The loose ends are then clipped or tucked in, and a new colour is introduced with a separate weft thread; this is why they’re termed “discontinuous wefts.”

How do they Design it?

The figurative design they’ve created will be visible on the front and back of the tapestry since the coloured wefts completely cover the warps. The images below, for example, illustrate the front and back of a tapestry: The back, which is seen on top, is nearly as tidy as the front, which is shown on the bottom. The rear of the tapestry is more vibrant than the front; the back of a tapestry is usually less faded than the front because it is rarely exposed to sunlight. 

How do they make it ?

Tapestries are not painted, despite the fact that they appear to be made of brushstrokes. Using paint on a tapestry’s surface was long considered a crime punishable by a hefty fine or worse. Though the basic weave of a tapestry may be slightly adjusted in an attempt to emulate, but not duplicate, the look of other types of textiles such as silks, damasks, velvets, or embroidered fabrics, this is rare. 

How to Weave?

Weavers have traditionally worked with their backs to the back of the tapestry. They imitated the tapestry’s design with their colourful weft threads. The “cartoon” design was created in the form of a painting on fabric or paper that was the same size as the projected tapestry.

This cartoon was either hung on the wall behind the weavers, flush against the backs of the warp threads and visible in the gaps between the warps, or it was temporarily connected to the loom, flush against the backs of the warp threads and visible in the gaps between the warps. When the tapestry was finished, pulled from the loom, and turned about to display the front, weavers replicated the cartoon facing on the back of the tapestry.


Tapestries had been woven by hand for generations, but technological advancements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made machine-woven tapestries possible. Tapestries are still woven by hand and by machine in workshops and factories today. Some tapestry weavers still follow the traditional practices of replicating a painted cartoon, while others exercise complete creative control, even improvising ideas while weaving.

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