One of our favourite experiences on our last tour was a visit to a 400 year old working tapestry workshop. It’s incredible how they have been making these giant pieces in the same location for all this time. It’s owned by the government of France and is also a school teaching people the weaving techniques they’ve honed over 4 centuries.
The workshop site also features a museum with both a permanent collection and a revolving exhibition space. The company also completes repairs on furnishings like chairs and lamps, and stores all of the pieces of the french government’s collections. Government officials are able to review this vast inventory and order these luxurious carpets, furnishings and accessories to be used in their offices or homes. It’s a never-ending circle of pieces coming in and going out. The tapestries are also occasionally given as a gift from France to other countries as it was when it was taken over by Louis XIV in the early 1600s.
There are two types of weaving practiced here, high warp and low warp. High warp looms are made to be vertical and are used for both tapestries and carpets. Low warp looms are more of a large table with levers and foot pedals to move the warp yarns up and down for the worker to add the weft yarns. Weaving is a complicated process here and students specialize in one type of weaving in their 4 years of education here before they are hired to actually begin as employees.
There are no photos allowed in the workshops as they want their employees to maintain their privacy and so as not to interrupt their work. It’s a remarkable tour especially if you are lucky enough to arrive when there is actually a carpet being finished. Each tapestry piece can take anywhere from 5 - 7 years to be completed so it is a rare experience to see one in it's completion. They throw a party for each one when it's finished. People work together on the same piece for years and we saw as many as 5 people working on a piece together.
Most of the pieces depict contemporary art work and are only able to get made with the support of ownership by the French Government. These pieces are not for sale to private citizens or companies as they are considered priceless and are financed by the government to keep this tradition and workmanship alive. The last time they made a commission was for the Queen of Denmark and after the 15 years it took to compete them they made enough to complete major renovations to the village like location. Each tapestry if it were being sold would be between €20000-€30000 per square metre.