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VIRTUE AND OTHER BURNING QUESTIONS, or,

how to make a real Medieval-style tapestry in the 21st Century.



Study the Apocalypse tapestries (below) to see what the medium and process is capable of in its finest hour. For most people this will probably mean working with some form or other of reproduction of images - the web, catalogues, libraries, and slides. (Although these seldom show the exciting nuances to be found in the details). Spend some months doing this, and even try to plan a journey that will include a visit to a major museum if there is not one in your neighbourhood. Other figurative 12th and 13th century European tapestries can be stubstituted or included for the study.

Note that, fantastic as they are, the virtuosa Gothic tapestries in Europe from the 16th, and 17th centuries, started to become increasingly refined and, as such, require a much greater level of training, precision, and facilities than are available in contemporary art schools today. Thus, a 21st century autodidact is likely to find these enormous works to be overwhelming and frustrating as a source of study. When the 18th and 19th century tapestries increasingly emulated heroic paintings the medium no longer retained the innocence and immediacy of the middle ages. So stay away from these trophy tapestries unless you can find a suitable apprenticeship in a place such as Aubusson in France where Ruth Jones of Vancouver studied. Definitely take a good look at the work of William Morris who, in the late 19th century, taught himself to make tapestry, limited the number of colours, and sought to regain the early energy and integrity of pre- and early Gothic tapestries.

If you come from one of the rare cultural traditions that include figurative tapestry-making, as opposed to functional weaving, you may feel more ambitious. If you are not comfortable with drawing (the hand/eye technology on which tapestry is based) you may not want to continue at all, or, you might consider undertaking some intensive drawing instruction or exploration. In the 21st century the auto-didact can find a multitude of technical and "how-to" resources. Each artist must, of necessity, chart an individual course of study that answers their reasons for wanting to make a real tapestry, and responds to what is available, and what is possible, in all the many different circumstances in which we work.


Click here to see enlarged images.