When I was about six years old, as soon as my little feet could reach the treadles, my father, Jean Pierre Larochette, set out to teach me how to weave on a loom he had designed for students to be able to learn traditional French tapestry techniques.
Jean Pierre had learned to weave from his father, Armand Larochette, who was born in Aubusson, France. Armand himself was the son of a tapestry weaver, whose mother was a weaver… The line goes back at least five generations, if not more.
My father showed me how to tie the warp to the loom for high, even tension so that the weft would cover the warp fully and provide an even surface. He showed me how to build up the colors with the wool weft, and, from time to time, he would offer me precious silk or embroidery floss to weave shiny bits. I found the process magical: Unwieldy string and yarn transformed to such rich pictures with depth and texture! I knew these weavings were sturdy and could last for centuries, since my parents took me along to every museum and cathedral they could find during their world travels.
I would let my imagination go, and my mother, painter and tapestry designer Yael Lurie, helped me prepare the cartoons (designs weavers follow to create tapestries). I always liked the shape of fish, so one of my first tapestries was of a goldfish. I found it recently among other exercises, and it made me laugh. You see, I still like to weave fish, and I’ve started a series of fish in a tin can! I love the juxtaposition of mass production a can represents and the unique qualities offered by traditional French tapestry.
I would weave a small tapestry each summer on the student loom, and in my late teens I graduated to the large low warp, or horizontal, loom, and joined my father in weaving my mother’s designs at Lurie-Larochette Tapestries, a workshop they founded in the mid-1980s.
When I sit at the loom, I feel like I’ve come home. There is a certain comfort in holding the bobbin with yarn and passing it through the warps, watching the fabric form in front of me. There is a rhythm to the whole process, the back and forth, the changing of sheds (the temporary separations of warps through which the weft is woven). I fall into a zone that is timeless, a flow that can hold me for hours.
Time is a relative notion: One of the questions I’ve been asked most during the weaving demonstrations at the Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV exhibition is “How long did it take to weave a tapestry?” These works are enormous… Some can measure up to 16 feet in height to 30 feet in width. On average (all sorts of variables come into play: weave density, complexity of design, skill, etc.), it takes at least one month to weave one square yard, so a tapestry measuring 16 feet by 30 feet (53 square yards) could take between 4 1/2 to 5 years, if not more. That’s a long time. But “time” in the 17th century and before was not the “time” of today. Our concept of time is completely different. Our desire for immediate results was completely alien. Falling into the weaving zone, I’m relieved of that need, at least for a little while…
Explore the art of old master tapestries at the Getty Center in Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV, on view through May 1.
Text of this post © Yadin Larochette. All rights reserved.