Q: I have an old wall hanging with an elaborate pictorial scene of an historical subject; the colors are not especially distinct from one another and appear somewhat muddy; some colors on the back appear quite different from those on the front and are more speckled; the edges have short fringe or are hemmed. What is it? How was it made? Is it a tapestry?
A: Your textile may not be technically a tapestry, i.e. it is not a handwoven fabric made in the tapestry technique. Instead it could be a Jacquard-woven wall hanging, made with a mechanized loom that was first invented in the 19th century but used through present times. Jacquard woven fabrics are generally less valuable than handwoven tapestries.
There are many classes of textiles that are sometimes called “tapestries,” but which are not, in fact, technically made using a tapestry weave as defined by textile experts. Sometimes the term “tapestry” is used to refer to any pictorial fabric that is used as a wall hanging or decorative panel. This is a casual use of the word and not a technical use of the term tapestry, as employed by the GFR Tapestry Program and many other scholars, weavers and museums. For a definition and examples of true handwoven “tapestry” as considered by most scholars, weavers, and museums, see our website www.tapestrycenter.org, and search under the menu heading “What Is Tapestry?”
The Jacquard loom was developed in France in 1804-1805 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (he also received an earlier drawloom patent in 1801). (See www.columbia.edu and www.en.wikipedia.org or search online under “Jacquard loom”). The Jacquard weave is one principal commercial means of creating a pictorial fabric without using tapestry weave. Jacquard-woven textiles are constructed by an elaborate mechanical process (the precursor of modern computers—see www.historyofcomputers.ppt
for instance). Jacquard textiles are not handwoven nor do they use true tapestry weave.
Very often, Jacquard-woven wall hangings reproduce designs from historic handwoven tapestries and other historical scenes and subjects. You can search the Internet under “Jacquard tapestry” for websites that discuss and advertise such commercial reproductions, some of which date to the nineteenth century and others made very recently.
The GFR Tapestry Program focuses specifically on handwoven tapestries, created worldwide from ancient and historic to modern times. We do not have sufficient references or resources to answer specific questions about commercial Jacquard-woven textiles.
Best wishes in learning more about your wall hanging!