At one time or another you have probably seen a large decorative tapestry on display in a museum. If you’d like to know what’s behind the creation of these magnificent works of art, a visit to the Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory will answer a lot of your questions. Here, you will witness the craft of handmade carpets and tapestries, each of which typically takes between three to seven years to complete.
The Gobelins family started out in the 15h century as a wool dyeing business. By the middle of the 17th century, the factory was commissioned by King Louis XIV to make tapestries, upholstery fabrics, and furniture for his royal palaces. Today, Gobelins is a state-run institution governed by the ministry of culture, and once a week, visitors can take a guided tour of the historic factory.
The tour starts with a walk through courtyards of the complex of 17th-century buildings. Wool dyeing is still in process in some of the buildings, but the chemicals and high temperatures involved make it too dangerous for visitors. Apparently the dyers can achieve up to 80,000 different color variations. Exiting the old complex and crossing the road over the Bievre River brings the tour to a more modern building, where the weaving takes place. The first stop is a long hall with about four massive looms, easily 20 feet wide and 13 feet tall. Each loom is in the process of weaving a giant rug. Next to the looms you may see an original piece of modern art that is to be transcribed onto the textile.
In July of 2017, one rug measuring nearly 320 square feet was being worked on by four people simultaneously. Bobbins of various colors were manipulated by hand in order to copy every possible detail of the original artwork. The rug was started in 2014, and it was anticipated to be finished in about two more years. Workers are trained for four years before they are allowed to work on pieces of this magnitude; the patience and commitment required is awe-inspiring.
Know Before You Go
Tours are held Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and tickets must be purchased online at least one day in advance. The tour takes about 1.5 hours and is conducted entirely in French. But, there is enough to see for the non-French speaker to make this visit worthwhile.