Presumably every person who goes to a party and meets strangers knows the first question they will ask, once their job title has been established. For tapestry weavers, it may be, ‘Oh yes, my aunt does that,’ but more usually it is, ‘How long does it take to weave a tapestry?’ The temptation is to say, ‘As long as a piece of string’, but here is the proper answer.

First of all, we can’t count the research/design/drawing/agonising stage. It is impossible to say how long that takes. Sometimes it is relatively straightforward – idea in sketchbook to completed design goes smoothly. But usually possible ideas have to be shaken up, with versions which may include turning them upside down, trying them in different colours, adding and subtracting various bits, etc. Sometimes you even throw them out altogether, or at least put them aside, and try something else.

Weaving itself is simpler. Although an experienced weaver will win a race with a novice, in general weaving takes a specified time. With a coarse weave of four warp threads per inch, it is about five square feet a week; at six warps per inch, three square feet per week; at eight warps per inch, two square feet a week; and at the very fine weave of ten warps per inch, one square foot per week. This is all assuming that you spend an eight-hour day working day at the loom. Extra time needs to be allocated to any particularly intricate areas; to additional elements in the weaving such as extra wefts over the surface; if the tapestry is in layers; if there is tufting. On the other hand, if the design is particularly simple, you may be able to do it a bit more quickly.

A particularly distressing time for the weaver happens when we discover a mistake or some wrong element woven ages ago. Then that area will either need to be cut out and needle woven, embroidered over, or else the tapestry will have to be unwoven back to that stage and redone.

So for a large tapestry at a medium weave, the answer to the initial question is, ‘About two months’. A simple answer. For the person you are meeting at the party, it is usually the right one.