Unique tapestries from the Australian Tapestry Workshop

I remember seeing two very large tapestries hanging in the very large foyer of the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne’s CBD, back in the early 1980s.

So when I was in the city recently, I had to go and see if these iconic works are still there – and they are! These two huge works of art are two of Melbourne's most significant public art works. Commissioned in 1979, the Wattle and the Pink Heath are still two of the largest works to come out of Melbourne's acclaimed Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW), located in South Melbourne. 1

One is the State of Victoria’s floral emblem, the common Pink Heath (Epacris impressa) and the other is Australia’s National flower, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha). They are both roughly the same size at 3.56 x 6.09 metres (or 12 ft x 19.9 ft).

In 1979, Robert Lym, one of the senior Interior designers of the Sofitel Hotel’s architects, I.M Pei of New York, became excited at the prospect of commissioning two tapestries 1 for the foyer of the newly finished hotel at “The Paris end” of Collins Street Melbourne. He had the idea after reading about the Tapestry Workshop in an in-flight magazine while flying to Australia!1

Pink Heath was woven first, in 1979. Owing to the limited size of loom available the tapestry had to be woven on its side, which limited the numbers of weavers who could work on it at any time. A new eight-metre loom was later purchased by ATW and so, in 1980, Wattle was able to be woven horizontally and could accommodate more weavers to speed up the job.1

The tapestries are woven with the finest of Merino wool thread made at the ATW, and even now, more than forty years later, the tapestries still look brand new, and in their original condition. The quality of the thread means they respond well to cleaning and maintenance, despite being in storage for a number of years.

The Australian Tapestry Workshop (www.austapestry.com.au) enjoys an international reputation as a leader in contemporary tapestry production. Established as the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in 1976, it is the only workshop of its kind in Australia and one of only a handful remaining in the world for the production of hand-woven tapestries. They carry on the traditions of their sister workshop, the Manufacture des Gobelins located in Paris, which is best for supplying the court of the French monarchs since Louis XIV. Using time-honoured techniques employed in Europe for centuries, the Workshop's skilled weavers work with artists to produce tapestries that are known universally for their vibrancy, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation.1

Anyone can visit the Australian Tapestry Workshop and see the weavers in action at their looms, and the dyers in the colour laboratory, dying the wool to make the 368 tapestry colours of thread they have available for their use - and also for sale to other hobby weavers.

If you would like to learn more about the process of creating a tapestry, please click here.

People can attend lectures, demonstrations and even weaving classes at the Australian Tapestry Workshop. It is certainly my intention to go there in the near future! I am sure it will be a fascinating and informative visit!


  1. Information provided by The Sofitel Hotels and Resorts, Melbourne on Collins.