THERE are several ways of orna-meriting a woven cloth : (i) real tapestry, (2) carpet-weaving, (3) mechanical weaving, (4) printing or painting, and (5) embroidery. There has been no improvement (indeed, as to the main processes, no change) in the manufacture of the wares in all these branches since the fourteenth century, as far as the wares themselves are concerned ; whatever improvements have been introduced have been purely commercial, and have had to do merely with reducing the cost of production ; nay, more, the commercial improvements have on the whole been decidedly injurious to the quality of the wares themselves.
The noblest of the weaving arts is Tapestry, in which there is nothing mechanical: it may be looked upon as a mosaic of pieces of colour made up of dyed threads, and is capable of producing wall ornament of any degree of elaboration within the proper limits of duly considered decorative work.
As in all wall-decoration, the first thing to be considered in the designing of Tapestry is the force, purity, and elegance of the silhouette of the objects represented, and nothing vague or indeterminate is admissible. But special excellences can be expected from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of tints are easily to be obtained in Tapestry; and it also demands that crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial characteristic of fully developed Mediaeval Art. The style of even the best period of the Renaissance is wholly unfit for Tapestry: accordingly we find that Tapestry retained its Gothic character longer than any other of the pictorial arts. A comparison of the wall-hangings in the Great Hall at Hampton Court with those in the Solar or Drawing-room, will make this superiority of the earlier design for its purpose clear to any one not lacking in artistic perception : and the comparison is all the fairer, as both the Gothic tapestries of the Solar and the post-Gothic hangings of the Hall are pre-eminently good of their kinds. Not to go into a description of the process of weaving tapestry, which would be futile without illustrations, I may say that in contradistinction to mechanical weaving, the warp is quite hidden, with the result that the colours are as solid as they can be made in painting.
Carpet-weaving is somewhat of the nature of Tapestry: it also is wholly unmechanical, but its use as a floorcloth somewhat degrades it, especially in our northern or western countries, where people come out of the muddy streets into rooms without taking off their shoes. Carpet-weaving undoubtedly arose among peoples living a tent life, and for such a dwelling as a tent, carpets are the best possible ornaments.
Carpets form a mosaic of small squares of worsted, or hair, or silk threads, tied into a coarse canvas, which is made as the work progresses. Owing to the comparative coarseness of the work, the designs should always be very elementary in form, and suggestive merely of forms of leafage, flowers, beasts and birds, etc. The soft gradations of tint to which Tapestry lends itself are unfit for Carpet-weaving; beauty and variety of colour must be attained by harmonious juxtaposition of tints, bounded by judiciously chosen outlines; and the pattern should lie absolutely flat upon the ground. On the whole, in designing carpets the method of contrast is the best one to employ, and blue and red, quite frankly used, with white or very light outlines on a dark ground, and black or some very dark colour on a light ground, are the main colours on which the designer should depend.
In making the above remarks I have been thinking only of the genuine or hand-made carpets. The mechanically-made carpets of to-day must be looked upon as makeshifts for cheapness' sake.
Of these, the velvet pile and Brussels are simply coarse worsted velvets woven over wires like other velvet, and cut, in the case of the velvet pile ; and Kidderminster carpets are stout cloths, in which abundance of warp (a warp to each weft) is used for the sake of wear and tear. The velvet carpets need the same kind of design as to colour and quality as the real carpets ; only, as the colours are necessarily limited in number, and the pattern must repeat at certain distances, the design should be simpler and smaller than in a real carpet. A Kidderminster carpet calls for a small design in which the different planes, or plies, as they are called, are well interlocked.
Mechanical weaving has to repeat the pattern on the cloth within comparatively narrow limits; the number of colours also is limited in most cases to four or five. In most cloths so woven, therefore, the best plan seems to be to choose a pleasant ground colour and to superimpose a pattern mainly composed of either a lighter shade of that colour, or a colour in no very strong contrast to the ground; and then, if you are using several colours, to light up this general arrangement either with a more forcible outline, or by spots of stronger colour carefully disposed. Often the lighter shade on the darker suffices, and hardly calls for anything else: some very beautiful cloths are merely damasks, in which the warp and weft are of the same colour, but a different tone is obtained by the figure and the ground being woven with a longer or shorter twill: the tabby being tied by the warp very often, the satin much more rarely. In any case, the patterned webs produced by mechanical weaving, if the ornament is to be effective and worth the doing, require that same Gothic crispness and clearness of detail which has been spoken of before: the geometrical structure of the pattern, which is a necessity in all recurring patterns, should be boldly insisted upon, so as to draw the eye from accidental figures, which the recurrence of the pattern is apt to produce.
The meaningless stripes and spots and other tormentings of the simple twill of the web, which are so common in the woven ornament of the eighteenth century and in our own times, should be carefully avoided : all these things are the last resource of a jaded invention and a contempt of the simple and fresh beauty that comes of a sympathetic suggestion of natural forms: if the pattern be vigorously and firmly drawn with a true feeling for the beauty of line and silhouette, the play of light and shade on the material of the simple twill will give all the necessary variety. I invite my readers to make another comparison : to go to the South Kensington Museum and study the invaluable fragments of the stuffs of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of Syrian and Sicilian manufacture, or the almost equally beautiful webs of Persian design, which are later in date, but instinct with the purest and best Eastern feeling; they may also note the splendid stuffs produced mostly in Italy in the later Middle Ages, which are unsurpassed for richness and effect of design, and when they have impressed their minds with the productions of this great historic school, let them contrast with them the work of the vile Pompadour period, passing by the early seventeenth century as a period of transition into corruption. They will then (if, once more, they have real artistic perception) see at once the difference between the results of irrepressible imagination and love of beauty, on the one hand, and, on the other, of restless and weary vacuity of mind, forced by the exigencies of fashion to do something or other to the innocent surface of the cloth in order to distinguish it in the market from other cloths ; between the handiwork of the free craftsman doing as he pleased with his work, and the drudgery of the " operative " set to his task by the tradesman competing for the custom of a frivolous public, which had forgotten that there was such a thing as art.