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The BTG website carries a very clear definition of what woven tapestry is - and what it is not. The reason for putting this definition in place was to help the public differentiate between those textiles which embellished a woven fabric (embroidery and needlepoint) and those where the image is hand woven into the structure of the fabric (woven tapestry) using techniques developed during the Middle Ages which remain largely unchanged today.

However, calls for submissions for BTG's exhibitions, whilst emphasising the need for entrants to conform to that definition, encourage innovation and exploration under the guise of what is called 'contemporary' tapestry. The results, which can be seen online in artists' Showcases as well as exhibition catalogues, are not only a rich diversity of weaving styles developed within the boundary of 'traditional techniques' but also, in some cases, such a  flexible interpretation of tapestry weaving as to step away from the definition altogether into the realms of what might best be described as 'constructed textiles'.

This is not new. In the last century the works of textile artists such as Tadek Beutlich and Theo Moorman, whilst originating in traditional tapestry weaving techniques, leave them far behind.

Which raises a number of questions: should organisations promoting tapestry weaving through exhibitions be more attuned to their definitions of the craft when selecting, if diversity and innovation are sought should they be honest about the nature of those exhibits which go beyond the definition of woven tapestry by describing them as woven tapestry AND constructed textiles or should the definition of woven tapestry be re-examined in the light of contemporary practice over the past 100 years? 

Do share your thoughts by adding a comment. 


Karen Hiser, 10th Oct 2022
I am going to jump in and make the assumption that we pretty much all agree with Christine about what tapestry is not (needlepoint, embroidery, jacquard). Why are we so adamant that these things are not tapestry? If we can answer that question then perhaps we are a little closer to defining what tapestry actually is in this day and age. I also agree with Christine that keeping a strong definition of tapestry weaving prevents a weakening of identity and maintains the strong links to historical practice and pieces. I do agree that modern interpretations are to be embraced. Perhaps the way forward is to adopt a definition that keeps the essence of traditional tapestry weaving but can also apply to modern works. A definition that allows 'traditional' tapestry to be seen as such and therefore gives modern works a baseline definition to stretch away from (I hope that makes sense!). My sense is that it should be about constructing fabric by weaving back and forth by hand, such that non regulated images and patterns can be produced.

Katie Russell, 7th Oct 2022
There will always be weavers who want to keep to the traditions of the Medieval weaver. But I can't but help feel that with exhibitions we should show traditional alongside work that is gradually evolving away from Medieval techniques to show the public and other artists. In exhibitions the public should be made aware that tapestry weaving is constantly evolving. The course I went on was called Constructed Textiles alongside my degree in the 90s and it was strictly traditional tapestry weaving. Very strict do's and don'ts....many of which i have subsequently broken! But through doing that that is how I have learnt and also learnt that other tapestry weavers also have bent or created alternative rules have produced outstanding work. I agree with Sally that it is up to exhibition co-ordinators to make clear what is and isn't allowed. But also to give some flexibility to weavers whilst making sure they adhere to the rules. The weaver must be able to describe if they are using traditional techniques. However I feel that if things are too strict this may put people off putting work forward for exhibitions? I could be wrong. Just my thoughts. Very interesting thread.

Christine Eborall, 6th Oct 2022
While I agree that we shouldn’t be bound by tradition, I think we should respect the thousands of years of history of fine tapestry weaving. Over the centuries tapestry weaving has produced an enormous array of powerful images reflecting the customs and concerns of the day. Major artists like Raphael, Picasso and Miró designed for tapestries. This tradition has continued right up to recent times with weavers like Archie Brennan and Hannah Ryggen. The creating and making of images is, in my view, the most important aspect of tapestry weaving and one that distinguishes it from other forms of hand weaving – of which there is a large range, as anyone who (like me) is a member of a Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers knows. Many of these other weaving techniques can produce intricate designs for hanging on a wall – such as, for example, the work of Peter Collingwood and Anni Albers, neither of whom claimed to make tapestries. Because desirable hand-woven tapestries are slow to weave, there has for centuries been a healthy trade in look-alikes and knock-offs such as needlepoint, other types of embroidery and jacquard weaving. This has created massive confusion about what tapestry is, which persists to this day in the form of “tapestry kits”, the Bayeux “Tapestry”, community “tapestries” and commercial computer-controlled jacquard loom weaving which can produce a complex image in a matter of hours. Just try looking at “tapestry” on Amazon, or at Grayson Perry’s so-called “tapestries”, and you’ll see what I mean. We, the tapestry weavers of today are, I think, in a privileged position. We live in an age when images have huge power, and, as Sally Reckert says, we have access to an enormous range of fibres, colours and materials. We can use our artistic creativity to take advantage of all the possibilities that tapestry weaving has always offered and continues to offer. So, in my view, tapestry should not see itself as a “Big Tent”, embracing any type of weaving that hangs on a wall. It does tapestry weaving no good at all, and just creates yet more confusion and loss of respect for an ancient art form. If BTG wants to include other forms of weaving in its exhibition criteria, fine, but it should make it clear. Likewise tapestry weavers who want to explore other types of weaving should be clear that they are doing so, and not claim these weavings as tapestries.

Sarah McLean , 1st Oct 2022
A really interesting blog. Definition made sense when BTG set up but is inflexible for changing world of woven tapestries? My suggestion for a new definition. Art works composed from separate threads woven together using traditional and non traditional techniques.

Sally Reckert, 15th Sep 2022
A good question; we should not allow ourselves to be bound by tradition. Weavers today have never before had such a wide-range of fibres, colours and materials through which to explore their ideas. Freed from the dictates of manufactories weavers are free to use any aspect of tapestry, including its hardware, through which to convey their ideas. It’s up to the exhibition co-ordinators to set the definitions and artists to read the instructions and abide by them. Another excellent blog.

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