‘Tapestry’ and ‘needlepoint’ are different concepts, although needlepoint is often referred to as tapestry in Australia and United Kingdom. Here are the key differences explained.
Tapestry is a traditional craft that has been used for hundreds of years in a range of cultures, from Europe to the middle east. It is a practice of hand-producing wall hangings and rugs and decorating palaces, public buildings and private residences. In the 13th and 14th centuries, tapestries were used by the Church to illustrate Bible stories to congregations. Tapestries became status symbols amongst the aristocracy in the Middle Ages. Modern tapestry weaving stemmed predominantly from the freedom brought by the Arts and Crafts Movement, headed by William Morris in England. Morris revived many old crafts, including tapestry weaving.
The practice of tapestry making involves weaving yarn on a loom. It uses two sets of interwoven threads, those inning parallel to the length (called the warp), and those parallel to the width (called the weft). The warp threads are set up under tension on a loom, and the weft thread is passed back and forth across part or all of the warps. The Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne, established in 1976, is the only tapestry workshop of its kind in Australia and one of only a handful in the world for the production of hand-woven tapestries.
Unlike tapestry, needlepoint is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvas. Most needlepoint designs completely cover the canvas. Although needlepoint may be worked in a variety of stitches, many needlepoint designs use only a simply tent stitch and rely upon colour changes in the yarn to construct the pattern.
The roots of needlepoint go back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, who used small slanted stitches to sew up their canvas tents. Needlepoint then became a popular domestic craft in the 16th century throughout Europe.
The degree of detail in needlepoint depends on the thread count of the underlying mesh fabric. Needlepoint worked on fine canvas is known as petit point.
All of my works on this website are needlepoint creations. You can see my floral needlepoint artworks here.
Are the terms interchangeable?
Needlepoint has been called tapestry for a purely aesthetic reason- many of the delightful faux tapestries gracing the world’s great museums are actually made of needlepoint stitches, and are not woven tapestries at all. These pieces were worked on an even-weave ground cloth, using hundreds of stitches, rather than woven on a loom as a true tapestry. As a result, many of the commercially available needlepoint kits, including those distributed through worldwide needlepoint distribution company Ehrman tapestries are referred to as tapestries or needlepoint, often interchangeably.
For the purists, the art of needlepoint should not be referred to as tapestry. But you will find that needlepoint is commonly referred to as tapestry, as this has become a familiar term to describe the practice.