Aubusson weaves Tolkien

A ground-breaking adaptation

The starting point for this Tolkien wall hanging is a collection of original watercolours and drawings made by the famous author, kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and most of which do not measure more than 20 cm on any edge. It takes every bit of Aubusson expertise to successfully transpose these small formats into a woven work of several metres square, while honouring the original works. Our pledge: to create a wall-hanging in the spirit of the time when the illustrations were created.

The first stage consists of establishing the final formats of each tapestry, their technical blueprints and the range of wool colours used, with the aim of creating a harmonious wall-hanging while also honouring the original works.

The next stage is creating the ‘tapestry cartoons’ (painted plaster-board models) scaled to the real size of the future tapestries and that serve as a guide to the hand weavers during weaving. Bruno Ythier, curator if the Cité internationale de la tapisserie, gives an overview of this transposing technique: “It is Aubusson know-how that dates back to more than five hundred years ago. It is the work of the cartoon painter, who transposes the work. And it is not just a case of enlarging the work as the weavers point out with this anecdote: ‘You start with a tiny rose on the picture, and if you thoughtlessly enlarge it, you end up with a cabbage.’ The enlarged illustration needs to be reworked bit by bit to restore the spirit of the original. A whole range of technical parameters need to be taken into account, especially the properties of the wool itself. Wool absorbs light, which implies that colours must be as saturated as possible when the wool is dyed to obtain colours that are as vibrant in the woven fabric as in the original works.”

Once each illustration has been digitalised in high resolution, and with a view to creating enlarged versions, a weaving committee comprising cartoon painter Delphine Mangeret, who will be transposing all the works onto the cartoons, the curator of the Cité de la tapisserie and the head weaver, René Duché, was created in Spring 2017 to think about all the production constraints imposed on the weavers working on the project. The weaving workshops will be selected after submitting samples of work.

The first cartoon, which sets the tone for entire wall hanging, was prepared by cartoon painter Delphine Mangeret. This piece was chosen as the graphic standard for the wall hanging as a whole because of its very tapestry-like nature and its similarities with works created within the National School of Decorative Art in Aubusson in the 1930s. The weaving committee was inspired to opt for a return to past traditions promoted by the School at that time through bold colours and a very specific technical draft influenced by 15th and 16th century tapestry work, and rarely in use today.

The cartoon of the Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-Elves illustration will be guiding the first woven work in autumn 2017, after a call for tenders launched among the weaving workshops in the Aubusson-Felletin area. The workshop in charge of the weaving will be designated in mid-November 2017 and will be creating the tapestry work in the Cité’s workshop where an eight-metre-long loom is made available to weavers for large-scale orders. This workshop will be open to visitors four times a week.


Discover the weaving preparation: