Aubusson tapestry is crafted using a traditional method practised for centuries and demonstrated here by Patrick Guillot using a horizontal loom known as a low-warp loom. Here, the hand weaver is using white cotton threads, known as warp threads, which function to support the tapestry.
Each of the threads are connected to a cotton heddle, located at right angles to the main loom.
The heddles are joined together in two categories: odd and even, and are connected to two wooden pedals known as the “footsteps”, via an extensive system of attachments and levers which are controlled by the feet of the weaver.
This system enables the separation of the even threads and the odd threads.
For the weft, the weaver works with skeins of wool or silk, which he arranges on bobbins, then distributes between wooden shuttles called flûtes.
In order to pass the thread, he exercises pressure on one of the pedals using his foot which separates the two layers of warp thread. With impressive speed, the weaver then moves them aside with one hand whilst operating the shuttle forwards and backwards using the other hand, and subsequently uses rapid motion of the finger to compress the thread.
To finish off the compression and confirm the density of weaving, the weaver uses two tools: a comb for the narrow sections and a scraper for the wider sections.
An Aubusson tapestry is produced on the underside.
The model of the pattern is painted on a support known as a cartoon which is attached to the underside of the loom using pins and is used to guide the weaver in the production of each detail.
Do you know how to recognise an Aubusson tapestry? All you have to do is turn it over. On the underside, you will see excess thread ends and breakages which the weaver has left on the tapestry.
The art of tapestry weaving
The artisan who performs the task of tapestry weaving is known as a “lissier” in French. The expertise of the town of Aubusson is now recognised by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. Observe the traditional process of weaving using a low-warp loom with this demonstration by Patrick Guillot.