Upholstery – What we need to know!

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    During the Middle Ages in the wealthiest of homes, was the beginning of a textile revolution. Today we think of Upholstery as soft furnishings, comprising covering of chairs and sofas, fabric walling and padded cushions.However upholstery is an ancient art that dates back to antiquity specifically since ancient Egypt in 1450 BC. The archaeologists found fragments of tapestry in the tomb of Tutankhamen Pharaoh of the XV III dynasty. During antiquity, many texts referred to state the existence of tapestries in Greece and Rome. Images of the woven loom are to be seen on many Greek vases.

    During the Middle Ages, from the 10th century the tapestry enjoyed a period of great popularity. Kings, Princes, Dukes, Earls, Bishops and other clergy in Europe sought out the services of artists and weavers.

    And so the tradition of Western tapestry had begun with the hanging of the Apocalypse of St. John dating from 1373 (seen today at the Château d’Angers in the Maine-et-Loire).

    The use of Wool and of Silk, sometimes with gold thread or silver thread allowed the tapestry to function as a protection against cold and drafty castles, religious buildings or convent as well as decorating the living environment.

    Later on, the art of the tapestry extended to include fabric walling, furniture, hence the term and the mode of “tapestry room”. Highly prize luxuries, the tapestries were considered as works of art of high quality allowing the owner to show off his wealth and position to his rivals. The trade of the tapestry weavers in the Middle Ages was driven by the wealth of the patron.

    European monarchies became major sponsors of the art of tapestry, a tradition continued by their descendants. The tapestries became in part religious icons representing episodes from Christ’s life and passages from the Bible. A particularly French style developed as seen in a famous series of tapestries depicting the Lady and the Unicorn. They were found in Chateau Boussac in Maine-et-Loire. Through the intervention of the writer George Sand in Paris they were subsequently moved to the Cluny Museum, where a round room was constructed to display them. They were a true representation of the art of medieval tapestry – a series of 6 pieces, one “To my only desire” and a further five representing the five senses.

    With industrialisation and the invention in 1801 of the Jacquard loom by Jean Marie Jacquard, the production of complicated tapestry-like fabrics was much simplified and the resulting cloth became more affordable and accessible. Consequently such fabrics became more widely used for upholstery, a style which had begun as far back as Elizabethan times, but which until the early 19th century was a luxury only afforded by the very wealthy.

    From the early 1800s onwards, the craft of upholstery increased and became a huge market in the UK, reaching its peak probably in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era. By this time the standard of workmanship and versatility in England had excelled until such time as it was even acknowledged to have surpassed the standards set by the French and Italian craftsmen who had been considered the masters.

    Over the centuries, the styles of upholstery may have changed but we at Mille Couleurs keep to the premise that upholstery should be able to adapt to the modern world yet still retain its authenticity. We specialise in re-upholstery taking our inspiration from the purest traditions of France.

    Daniel Fountain / 01.06.2011

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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