The craft of tapestry hanging

When hanging tapestries, a key challenge is the fabric’s stretch, which is often far from uniform in the innovative designs produced in the TextielLab. That doesn’t deter the experts at Oostendorp, who see the challenge as an opportunity to hone their craft.

After extensive renovation by KAAN Architects, Paleis het Loo re-opened to the public this year. In one of the restaurants, imposing tapestries on the walls create a cosy atmosphere and improve the acoustics. Commissioned by KAAN, the tapestries were made in the TextielLab. But Oostendorp, a company specialising in wallcoverings, furniture upholstery and curtains, also played an important role in the end result. The small family business in Montfoort, near Utrecht, has an impressive track record. Since being founded in 1968, it has furnished a long list of castles, palaces, town halls and museums. It has been working with the TextielLab for almost 15 years. The first collaboration was 2009’s Staples, a project by Merk X and studio INAMATT for the Council of State. It comprised a tapestry made from gold metallic yarn with no stretch: not an easy job, but Oostendorp enjoys a challenge. Since then, the company has been a loyal partner of the TextielLab when it comes to wallcoverings – both hanging directly on a wall and mounted on a frame.

Wall coverings by Oostendorp in the restaurant at Paleis het Loo.

No do’s and don’ts
To avoid major issues during hanging, Oostendorp is now involved much earlier in the production process. Even so, owners Dirk van Beek and Dick Oostendorp prefer not to give makers a list of do’s and don’ts. “We don’t want to limit the creativity of makers in the lab,” says Van Beek. If they had to choose the easiest option, they would recommend a stable fabric with a consistent amount of stretch – not too much and not too little. But makers would then have to avoid metallic yarn, filling yarn, shrinking yarn and thick embroidery in their design. Fortunately, Oostendorp is just as eager to push boundaries as the TextielLab. “It keeps things exciting,” says Oostendorp. “And we get to hone our craft. So I’d say to designers, just go ahead, do what you want, and we’ll come up with the solutions to hang it properly. Every design is different and every designer has his or her own signature. One wants a really taut look while another doesn’t, one is extremely precise while another goes crazy with 3D fabrics. We love that game.”

“We’ve never had to say that something can’t be done”

If the duo really had to give designers advice, it would be about fire safety. Fireproofing a wallcovering after it is finished is time-consuming, they explain: “We did that once for a tapestry made of cotton yarn. But it’s better and more attractive to use fire-retardant yarn from the beginning. That has been one of our first questions ever since: is the work intended for a public building and how fireproof does it have to be?”

Oostendorp usually comes on board when the designer and product developer have produced several tests and know which way the design is headed. “About halfway through the process, we come and see how we can hang the work in the best way possible. At that point we can make suggestions, so that everyone is happy with the end result.”

Tied-and-tested methods
One of the main challenges when hanging the tapestries for Paleis het Loo, besides the metallic yarn, was the thickness of the fabric and its alternating structures: three large panels are filled diagonally from corner to corner with a leaf motif made from various different yarns. The large leaf is composed of hundreds of small, raised leaves, providing a different view from every distance. The leaf’s structure is therefore completely different from the area around it. Try pulling that taut without the tips of the leaf disappearing under the panelling. The seams in the middle of the tapestries also required some thinking, say the two experts. They had to iron the seams flat to prevent the work from being pushed away from the wall. But ironing can also cause shrinkage and discolouration, and various tricks are usually needed to prevent this from happening.

In addition, what you see is often only a small part of the work that goes into hanging a tapestry, which is on the back. To prevent draughts and moisture from affecting the piece, the wall behind the tapestry in old buildings is carefully prepared using a tried-and-tested method dating back 200 years. “If you don’t create a layer that can keep draughts out as well as let vapour through, the fabric behind the tapestry will be sucked inwards when the door is opened, eventually creating black spots. To prevent this, we cover the wall with a fine-meshed linen, onto which we brush acid-free paper. When this dries, it becomes as tight as a bowstring. The final step is a molton covering, creating the ideal hanging surface that will last a century.”

Kustaa Saksi’s 26-metre-long tapestry in the Europe building in Brussels. Photo: Yen An Chen.

Tapestries can also be mounted on frames for various reasons. Oostendorp has developed a special kind of lightweight frame that is easy to move and can be fitted with acoustic panels. In 2019, Kustaa Saksi’s 26-metre-long tapestry was mounted on 18 separate frames and then pieced back together in the Europa building in Brussels. Anyone who has hung wallpaper knows how difficult it is to align a pattern between sections. And paper has fairly little give, while textile can stretch horizontally and vertically. Saksi had also incorporated shrinking yarn, filling yarn and centimetre-thick structures in his design. It takes immense patience and skill to hang a fabric like this evenly and seamlessly without flattening the structure. If the end result is not quite right, the tapestry hangers sometimes ask one of the company’s other departments for advice: “For example, our curtain department came up with the idea of using a light trim to make the joins between Aleksandra Gaca’s panels in the Lakenhal in Groningen less visible. We’re very inventive. We’ve never had to tell a designer that something can’t be done.”