The Lausanne Biennials: Birth of Contemporary Tapestry

BeWeave It

When I see the gorgeous woven wall hangings that are currently so popular, I immediately think of the 1970s. However, contemporary tapestry weaving really began to come into its own a little bit earlier, in the 50s and 60s. The Lausanne International Tapestry Biennial exhibitions, started in 1962 by French tapestry artist Jean Lurçat, brought together the very best tapestry work from around the world.

Most tapestry artists designed and drew their tapestry designs, then had them woven in professional workshops. Artists from war-ravished Poland, however, submitted works they had woven themselves. This was because many weaving workshops were destroyed during the war. Weaving survived and even flourished because universities taught applied arts like weaving right alongside traditional fine arts. Even basic art supplies were scarce in 1960s Poland. Weavers learned to make use of unconventional materials as well as unconventional methods. Artists frequently used coarsely spun wool, sisal, hemp, rope, and cotton, often colored with natural dyes.

Magdalena Abakanowicz was one of the most pioneering Polish artists to have her work exhibited at the Lausanne Biennial. The contemporary tapestry piece she submitted to the 1962 inaugural Lausanne Biennial was called “Composition with White Forms.” It was woven on the sole large loom available at the Experimental Weaving Workshop in Warsaw. By the late 60s, Abakanowicz and other Polish weavers were experimenting with huge three-dimensional textile sculptures. Audiences and critics were shocked by her work, and even critical of how far she departed from tradition. The reaction was so strong that the Lausanne Biennial created a new category for experimental textile projects. This showed that these unique pieces were part of a movement, rather than one-off experiments.

Rachel Denbow builds on the legacy of expressive, contemporary tapestry weaving with her diy wall hangings.
One of the 15 creative, expressive projects in Rachel Denbow’s DIY Woven Art.

The Lausanne Biennial was held in the city of Lausanne for over 30 years. It gave textile artists the opportunity to really explore and be creative, triggering 30 years of spectacular development and growth in tapestry artistry. Tapestry expanded out into three dimensions and broke the boundaries of traditional “tapestry” weaving. Contemporary tapestry and woven art became mediums for free creativity and self-expression, laying the groundwork for the wonderful, expressive woven art of the 1970s.

Rachel Denbow encourages that spirit of discovery and expression in DIY Woven Art. Although she lays out step-by-step instructions for 15 gorgeous woven art projects, some of the book’s greatest value lies in the introductory pages. She’ll give you the skills to unlock your own creativity. She teaches you how to build three different types of looms, how to choose your yarns and other materials, and how to find and design to your personal style. She even gives tips for keeping a design notebook to plan your own projects. Order a gorgeous paperback copy or download the eBook to join the tradition of creative, expressive DIY woven art!

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Weaving Today
Andrea Lotz

About Andrea Lotz

Andrea is a long-time knitter, but a new weaver. She's so excited to learn and grow as part of this community as her weaving skills expand. Come along on the journey with me!

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