Weaving, the process of crossing threads to form a fabric, can be said to be man's first invention.
A form of basic weaving - tapestry - transcending the immediate function of fabric, is the medium for one of mankind's earliest and most fascinating expressions.
During all ages and across the continents, tapestries have mirrored the development of man's artistic and cultural achievements. The earliest known example is a linen tapestry from the tomb of Tuthmosis IV bearing the cartouche of his ancestor, which dates it to about 1500 BC.
In Europe during the Medieval and Gothic periods, tapestries reached a peak of excellence. Impressively large sets of tapestries were woven which were prized by kings and nobles. These richly coloured fabrics, which often used fine silver and gold threads as well as wools and silks enhanced
their castle strongholds.
Tapestries of biblical stories and lives of the saints were commissioned for the cathedrals and churches. Famous examples from this period are the 'Apocalypse' tapestries of Angers and the 'Lady of the Unicorn' tapestries, now in Paris.
Early in the sixteenth century, Raphael was commissioned by Pope
Leo X to design a set of tapestries featuring the Acts of the Apostles, for the Sistine Chapel.
The weavers were required to reproduce this cartoon, which was actually a painting, exactly and from then on tapestries deteriorated to become mere copies of paintings.
In the late nineteenth century, William Morris revived medieval practices, greatly reducing the number of colours and using coarser setts. He also restored the integrity of the process by giving weavers freedom to interpret imagery in their own way.
He designed and wove small tapestries that were consistent with personal expression and demonstrated that tapestry was an accessible and legitimate art form in its own right.
In the twentieth century this process continued through the efforts of Jean Lurcat in France and later, Archie Brennan in Scotland.
Today there are many artist/weavers designing and weaving tapestries and making significant contributions to the development of tapestry.
Workshops like the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Australia and the Christchurch Tapestry Workshop in New Zealand, collaborate with mixed media artists and endeavour through this process to recapture the essential essence of successful tapestry in innovative and exciting new ways.