Tapestry Weaving – visit to West Dean

West Dean Tapestry Studio
On my return to UK, I tried to find some introductory weaving courses as I was approaching this part of the module and felt i needed some help.  I was really pleased to find that the timing was right to attend a course at West Dean College. I enrolled on ‘Experimental Tapestry Weaving’ with Philip Sanderson and will report back on the course in a later post.
Philip Sanderson is Creative Director of the West Dean Tapestry Studio and he offered to show us around the studio which was very interesting.  Although unfortunately the latest huge Tapestry (one of the four ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’ tapestries for Historic Scotland at Stirling Castle) had been packed ready for delivery, we were able to see a few ongoing smaller pieces and the looms on which they were woven.

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 Wow look at all these lovely colours!
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This is a lovely tapestry by Philip, though the photo doesn’t do it justice:
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This is a collaborative piece of Philip and Michael Brennand-Wood:
During the course, Philip told us a lot about past Tapestry commissions including a collaboration with Tracey Emin to produce four large tapestries.
It was interesting to hear about how the studio works.  This is how the studio works with clients:

After the initial enquiry into a tapestry commission, the prospective client is encouraged to visit the Tapestry Studio to see tapestries being made and to discuss their proposals. If this is not possible our Head of Studio or Creative Director can visit the prospective client’s premises to give a presentation.

The Studio uses one of three main approaches:

  • Working with established artists
  • Developing site specific designs
  • Recreating existing tapestries


When working with an artist, it is often the case that the client already has someone in mind and may have already contacted them. If this is not the case the Studio can undertake this on the client’s behalf.

If it is a site specific design that the client is interested in then the Studio would suggest that a design brief is formed by the client to allow the designer some guidelines. Both initial and final designs can then be made and at both stages the client will be presented with the work.

Once the artwork is approved a black and white line drawing called a cartoon is drawn. This becomes a guide from which the weavers translate the painting or design. The loom is then prepared to the appropriate warp setting, producing a fine or wider spacing as the design or painting dictates.

The Studio dyes all of its own yarn according to the colour palette. The weaving now begins. Depending on the size of the tapestry this can take months and sometimes years. The client can visit the Studio during the project; this is normally arranged in advance.

Once the weaving is complete, the client often attends the cutting off ceremony, and is invited to cut the tapestry from the loom. The work will be finished to a high standard to prepare it for hanging.


Amazing that one Tapestry can take years to complete!

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