Curious Trends


Weaving and tapestry: the woven thread in art and design

According to the New York Times, this year’s Venice Biennale highlighted “the return of the loom.” From being amongst the “most princely of arts” during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, tapestry, embroidery and carpet weaving were sidelined, as painting and sculpture became more esteemed. However, in recent years, contemporary artists have been rediscovering the artisan craft of weaving:

European tapestry has traditionally chronicled contemporary events so is of interest from an historical point of view as well as for its aesthetic appeal. The finest tapestry, by the likes of Goya, is considered to be woven art. But modern tapestries do not yet command the same prices in the art market as paintings – for instance a late Picasso signed Aubusson tapestry like the one below, Le Penture et son modele c.1970, at Jane Kahan Gallery (184 x 234.5 cm, one of a limited edition of five) will command a much lower price than a much smaller painted canvas.

Tapestry has been the focus of more exhibitions over the past few years, with relatively unknown artists, like Swedish-Norwegian Hannah Ryggen, being brought to international attention. At the same time, celebrities of the contemporary modern art scene, like Grayson Perry, have also turned their hands to tapestry. “From the blood of birth to the pallor of death, the Walthamstow Tapestry is a humorous yet utterly sincere depiction of the ideological structure of contemporary society,” said Henry Little writing for contemporary art magazine, This is Tomorrow, of Perry’s famous 2009 work.

This year at the Frieze art fair, Lehmann Maupin Gallery will be showing a tapestry by Tracey Emin. Other tapestries, all woven by the West Dean Tapestry Studio, are on show at the White Cube Gallery’s Vanishing Lake exhibition in Fitzroy Square. The commission follows on from the success of Emin and West Dean’s first tapestry of her 2008 painting, Black Cat, which was unveiled at the launch of the Collect craft fair in May (and can be seen above, top).

Also at Collect, was Audrey Walker’s Meditation on a Small Painting by Rembrandt, which is stitched by hand and machine over layers of various fabrics to give the effect of tapestry.

Young designers, like Edward Taylor, have also been inspired by the tradition of tapestry.

Trend-setter, Paul Smith, is selling pop-art inspired tapestries too:

Carpets and kilims are also gaining popularity. In the UK, The Rug Company has embarked upon collaborations with leading fashion designers to craft limited edition pieces, including a wool Aubusson Union Jack flag by Vivienne Westwood, and wool and silk rugs designed by Giles Deacon. Peakchan’s woven home accessories, like this foot massage carpet are particularly unique.

Elsewhere, the processes of spinning and weaving, and the subject of threads, have inspired artworks and home furnishing designs:

Laura Thomas’s hand-spun threads set in resin are sculptural artworks featuring unusual yarns and handcrafted woven structures.

Japanese artist Takahiro Yede is known for introducing an entirely new method of metal weaving, using alloys of differing qualities. It appears that separate strands of metal are woven together, when in fact each strip is actually hammered into place.

Threads and woven fibres are also being used more in lighting. Furniture Magpies thread lampshades and Naomipaul’s hand crocheted seamless mercerized cotton cord lanterns were both exhibited at London Tent this year.

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