Tapestries have been used since at least Hellenistic times. Samples of Greek tapestry have been found preserved in the desert of Tarim Basin dating from the 3rd century BC.
Tapestry reached a new stage in Europe in the early 14th century AD. The first wave of production originated in Germany and Switzerland. Over time, the craft expanded to France and the Netherlands. The basic tools have remained much the same since then.
A typical loom for hand weaving of smaller tapestries still in use in Scandinavia.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Arras, France was a thriving textile town. The industry specialised in fine wool tapestries which were sold to decorate palaces and castles all over Europe. Few of these tapestries survived the French Revolution as hundreds were burnt to recover the gold thread that was often woven into them. Arras is still used to refer to a rich tapestry no matter where it was woven.
By the 16th century, Flanders, the towns of Oudenaarde, Brussels, Geraardsbergen and Enghien had become the centres of European tapestry production. In the 17th century Flemish tapestries were arguably the most important productions, with many specimens of this era still extant, demonstrating the intricate detail of pattern and colour embodied in painterly compositions, often of monumental scale.
The Attainment, one of the Holy Grail tapestries, Morris & Co., 1890s
Detail from “Self Portrait/Color,” a 2007 Jacquard tapestry by Chuck Close.
In the 19th century, William Morris resurrected the art of tapestry-making in the medieval style at Merton Abbey. Morris & Co. made successful series of tapestries for home and ecclesiatical uses, with figures based on cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones.
Kilims and Navajo rugs are also types of tapestry work.
In the mid-twentieth century, new tapestry art forms were developed by children at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Harrania, Egypt and by modern French artists under Jean Lurcat in Aubusson, France. Traditional tapestries are still made at the factory of Gobelins and a few other old European workshops, which also repair and restore old tapestries. The craft is also currently practiced by hobbyist weavers.