So You Think Your Products Take too Long to Develop?

Yesterday while in Paris we visited the wonderful Manufacture des Gobelins, a centuries old site for making tapestries and doing wool dying (though the dying is no longer done there - too much pollution!). They have terrific guided tours that are very informative (though only in French, so I was only able to catch a fraction and my wife translated for me), and you get to see the modern-day artisans at work, as well as many of their completed and in-progress tapestries, the majority of which are in a modern art style. Never have I seen such a painstaking and prolonged production process.

The pictures here are of some of the people working on a very large recreation of a tapestry originally made for King Louis XVI (late 1700’s). The tapestry measures 5.62 x 7.26m (18.4’ x 23.8’), and is done in a tufted style of manufacture that is extremely labor-intensive. How intensive? They have been working on this since 16 April, 1994. As of the end of last year, it was 88.8% done!

As you can see from the pictures, several people can work on it simultaneously as the loom is very large. In fact, the creation has been going on for the equivalent of 5 full-time people for 7293 days.

You can see the original painting that was used as the reference for the original tapestry above the artisans. As they work on a new section, a new piece of the painting is put in place. Somehow they manage to keep track of where they are, and keep everything to scale. (Click on the images for large versions.)

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In this photo you can see one of the artisans doing what takes a lot of the time, trimming and arranging each individual tuft with a pair of scissors. It works like this: when then the wool is first woven in place it is left rough-cut, and then they come in and trim each tuft individually to height. This allows a thick tapestry that is soft looking, like a painting.  After this, they then go back and wiggle the individual tufts back into alignment with the very tip of the scissor blade. Here, she is working on smoothing the edges of the grapes so that they look nice and round.

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Lastly, a close up of the spools of wool. There are thousands of shades that have been optimized over the centuries. Essentially tapestry making is a digital process - a finite color palette and pixels, with colors often “dithered” to create blends.

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Perhaps you’ll give Microsoft a bit more flexibility with its Vista release Psychotic.