Frequently Asked Questions
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How is tapestry woven ?
There are two kinds of loom. On a high warp loom the warp threads, usually uncoloured, are stretched vertically between two rollers attached to vertical posts placed at the top and bottom of a frame. As if they were numbered, threads are separated into two groups, odd and even, by a rod or cross-bar near the upper roller. Through this gap the weaver passes the shuttle on which the dyed weft thread is wound, thus covering one set of warp threads. He then pulls the other group of warps to the front and returns the thread in the opposite direction, covering the other set. Later the weft threads will be pushed down firmly, thus creating a solid block of colour in the design. A weaver works from the reverse side, often with the cartoon (pattern) suspended behind him.
On a low warp loom the warp threads are strung horizontally and the pattern is often placed underneath.
What are Warp and Weft ?
In tapestry weaving the warp threads are those which are vertical during weaving. The weft threads are those woven between the warps. It is the weft threads which define the pattern and provide the colours. Unlike cloth fabrics, the weft threads do not run continuously across the tapestry, but form patches of colour.
How is tapestry displayed?
Tapestry is usually hung with the warp threads parallel to the floor. Where contrasting blocks of colour in the weft threads were not interwoven, a line of stitching can often been seen. It was intended to prevent the tapestry developing splits between the weft threads, weaker because they do not run continuously across the tapestry.
How long did the Barcheston venture function?
The 1920s date for the cessation of work is 1611. This was based on reading characters woven in a motto in the last of the Four Seasons tapestries now at Hatfield House as a date. This interpretation has recently been disputed and the characters read as letters forming the motto. None of the identifiable tapestry weavers in the area seems to have passed his trade on to sons. The last Worcestershire man noted as a tapestry weaver was in 1618.
Were the seventeenth century tapestry maps woven at Barcheston ?
The idea that the venture continued into the seventeenth century originated before any research had been undertaken. It was based on the belief that the later tapestry maps had also been woven at Barcheston. But by the 1660s or 1670s, the probable date for the later maps, tapestry weaving was concentrated at Mortlake and it is almost certain that the copies commissioned by Ralph the Great Sheldon were made there.
Were the wool and silk local products ?
There is no evidence for a local silk industry and very little for men employed in the preparation of wool.
Were there dyers at Barcheston or were materials purchased elsewhere ?
Again, there is no evidence for local dyers. Barcheston was a tiny settlement; the parish registers suggest there were ten or twelve families, mostly farmers. It would have been simple to purchase materials elsewhere, even if a special order for particular colours had to be placed.
Did the Sheldon family actually work as weavers ?
No. The family were substantial land owners, not likely to work as craftsmen. It is not even known whether they directly benefited from the enterprise.
What is a weaver's mark ?
On the continent a Master weaver could devise his own mark - usually his initials. It was registered with the Guild of his city and had to be woven into tapestries above certain dimensions. The system does not seem to have been imposed in Elizabethan England though it developed later. The most important continental tapestry weaving cities used a mark from 1544, woven into the right hand side of a tapestry after inspection. It guaranteed local quality standards; in most cases it is also a means to indicate a place of origin for the tapestry in which it survives. By extension, the stylistic characteristics of marked tapestries can be used to attribute origin to tapestries where there is no longer a mark. Only one tapestry called Sheldon carries a mark. A Bruges city mark used from 1600 onwards can be seen in two tapestries of the Four Seasons set at Hatfield House.
Was there a second manufactory at Bordesley as some of the older texts state?
None of the seventeenth or eighteenth century histories of either Worcester - or Warwickshire remark on any such workshop. It was first suggested in the 1920s research based on two phrases in Sheldon's will. There are three objections. Bordesley, near Redditch, was the site of a Cistercian abbey, not a village. The Sheldon family held none of the former abbey property, nor is there any surviving evidence of weavers there.