DeWit is headquartered in the former Tongerlo Abbey refuge which dates back to 1484 although the complex has been heavily restored. This is a unique and historic location in its own respect, so it is a natural fit for a company that emphasizes restoration to be based here. The Flemish style of the abbey features red brick and light stone, and it is complemented by the manicured green space of the courtyard.
The staircases are old and winding, so hold onto the handrail when you are climbing up or down. You will see some grand rooms with its walls literally covered by prized tapestries. These are old treasures that are quite sensitive to light and touch, so the rooms are kept in the dark when not in use. The tour guide will explain the difference between the shiny silk and duller wool threads which are used within a typical tapestry. You will see distinct markings that represent a regional school or style of tapestry art. Some tapestries have borders while some are borderless. Some were meant to be hung directly from walls, while some were designed to be fitted within a presentation frame as in a painting.
Witness an artisan pushing through a few threads upon a real tapestry loom. Everything here is done by hand, not by mass-production machinery. Numbered cartoons are patterns, similar to “paint by number” devices, are an aid for filling in the various colors within a tapestry. Massive wall tapestries can be worked upon by several artisans simultaneously on special large looms.
The workshop features walls stuffed with bundles of yarn, which are no longer used but create a colorful background. Photographs depict the most sophisticated preservation and restoration techniques. Depending on the condition and situation of a tapestry, the workshop will use techniques like aerosol suction, the integration-conservation method and the lining method with a specially constructed table.
The attic houses a collection of modern tapestries and reproductions. These will surprise you, as the threads can be more rugged and produce tapestries that have a lot of texture. There is a certain demand for contemporary works, but DeWit also weaves tapestries that are duplicates of old or damaged works. While traditional techniques are emphasized, they are not afraid to embrace modern tools like CAD (computer aided design). There have been many developments in this craft over the last five centuries, but there are plenty of time-honored traditions still followed to this day.
Individuals can visit the factory on Saturday mornings at 1030pm. Groups can book visits in advance on Mondays and Wednesdays.
April 22, 2004
From journal Bill in Belgium - MECHELEN (side trip from Antwerp)