Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

I've been wanting to tell you all about this exciting project since I first became involved back in May, but there hasn't really been much to see until recently. 
I first heard about it on the radio one morning in Spring on the Today programme. James Naughtie was talking to Alexander McCall Smith about a project to make a tapestry of the whole history of Scotland which would be stitched by groups of volunteers. Here's what Alexander has to say about it on the official website:

“The recording of events, both great and small, on cloth is nothing new. The most famous example, of course, is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the world’s best-known works of art. More recently, the completion of the Prestonpans Tapestry in Scotland has reminded us of just how effective this method of narrating history can be. When I saw that tapestry for the first time, I was struck not only by its beauty but by the story behind its creation. That led me to raise with Andrew Crummy, the artist, the possibility of creating a tapestry that would illustrate the whole history of Scotland. To my delight, Andrew agreed to take on the task. Alistair Moffat, one of Scotland’s finest historical writers, was then approached to join the project and come up with a list of historical moments that the tapestry would cover. As we had all expected, Alistair’s list is both balanced and exciting – a series of snapshots of Scotland from its earliest days to the recent past. This is a collaborative project. The work will be done by volunteer stitchers working throughout Scotland. Although the overall artistic vision will be Andrew’s, and the telling of the story will be Alistair’s, the creating of the tapestry will be the task of many hundreds of people who will invest in it their feeling for the story that they will be illustrating. When the work is finished, we shall hand the tapestry over to the nation, to be displayed to the people of Scotland and visitors to Scotland. A great project is about to be launched. I believe that it will bring happiness and delight to many people.” ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
Straight away I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in and wrote an email to the organisers suggesting I could host a group in my craft studio. A few weeks later Gillian Hart got in touch to say could we arrange a meeting with other volunteers in my area (EH10) to start working on a panel. We arranged a date and time and I got the craft room ready with plenty of chairs.
My craft room doesn't really hold many more than 10, but the door just didn't stop opening that night and it was standing room only when 17 stitchers arrived! 
We were given panel number 5 (which you can see in the top photo), "The Wildwood and it's Fauna 8500BC", which had been drawn with the design by other volunteers. Dorie Wilkie and Gillian gave us very clear instructions about wool, stitches and how to look after the linen panel and left us to sort ourselves in to a working group.
What we didn't realise until later was that this was the very first panel to be handed to a group so I think we all felt quite honoured!
After much discussion that night and in subsequent group emails, we settled into a group of 13 and arranged our first meeting (the 2 photos above) to work out how to proceed. Here we are sorting the wool. It is Appleton's crewel wool and we have been given all the shades we should need, though we can, and have, asked for other specific colours. We are called the Edinburgh Tapestry Tenners (because of our postcode).
Seeing as the main inspiration for the whole project is the Prestonpans Tapestry we decided to have a group outing to St Mary's Cathedral where the tapestry was hanging for the summer. I think we were all bowled over by the beauty and artistry of the stitching in these panels.
I took some photos for future reference and to share. The tapestry depicts the battle of Prestonpans in 104 Metre wide panels. You can read more about it here.
We are very lucky to have a lady in our group who worked a whole panel of this tapestry herself. I'm not sure how well we would be getting on with our panel if not for Katherine's advice and experience.
After this trip and one to the museum to research the period when our panel is set, and a number of meetings in the craft room and each other's houses, we have started to really bond as a group.
We have a wonderfully diverse range of different ages and backgrounds in the group, but all the ladies are alike in having led fascinating lives!
Apart from embroidering the panel, we are also keeping a journal that each of us writes in when we take a turn at stitching. I had my turn quite early on and wrote a very brief biog. As the book got passed around the tales seemed to get longer and longer and more fascinating too. When I got the book back on my second turn and read about everybody's lives it was like reading a really good novel!
I had originally envisaged us all working on the panel as a group, however it soon became clear that this wasn't going to be possible as we needed to use a hoop. But Joy and Liz did manage to work on 2 different areas at once here in my craft room. They are working on the outlines here.
In August Andrew Crummy, the designer, came to one of our meetings to answer all the questions we had about different bits on the panel, what he had intended, and how we should interpret them.
Andrew was very patient while while we bombarded him with questions. You can see the panel in the photo, and around the edge of the design are empty 'boxes'. These are for each group to make their own contributions to the panel. This was one of the reasons for our museum visit, as we hoped to suggest other fauna and flora from the era to decorate this border. We had all thought that Andrew would need to draw these himself, and were delighted to find out that we could design these areas ourself! There is the right number of spaces for everybody in our group to have one each. I will tell you in a later post about my ideas for my bit.
The tapestry is back with me for the third time this weekend. Everything we need is in this plastic box, a large picture of the design, the journal, the wool, and a wonderful resource folder put together by Nikhat and added to by the whole group, full of ideas for stitches and reference material.
The tapestry is rolled on to a cardboard tube, covered with cloth and stored in this purpose built case, made by Joy.
We are just starting to stitch inside the outlines now. The spears were stitched by Katherine, and Joy has started the fox. We have till next June to finish it. Then all the panels have to be stretched and stitched together before everything is hung in the Scottish Parliament.
As you can imagine, with such important work for the nation at stake, we are all a little nervous about stitching on to the panel. We have each chosen an area or a few areas to concentrate on and we have been making sample pieces to try out our stitches.
These beautiful fauns were made by Joan H. Joan is working on her City and Guilds Embroidery at the moment, and is very proficient. But some of the group have not done much sewing before, and this was part of the intention of the project, to involve as many ordinary people in the work as possible. Working in a group means we can all support each other and share our skills. I have already learnt so much from the other ladies!
I had started to work on samples for the woman on the right hand side of the panel, and was intending to start stitching her hair this weekend. But at a meeting that I missed last week, it was decided that the auroch should be got on with first. The auroch is an extinct big cattle/bison type animal, and I had also volunteered to tackle this part of the panel. In fact I was very excited that there was an auroch in the panel. Most people won't have heard of them, however if anyone else has been reading the books I have been reading this year they may be more familiar with them! More about my current big, non-crafty, obsession in a later post, but leave me a comment if you know what I am talking about!
So earlier this week I did some very small samples for the auroch (they do look pretty pitiful after Joan's but I only had a couple of hours to spare!). I think I know which one I am going to go for but you will have to wait to see how my auroch takes shape to find out which.
Here are some other sample I did for the woman and her clothes. I was particularly pleased with that bit of 'furry' stitching I did (even if Jonathan was quite rude about what it resembled!!). Anyway fur and hair will have to wait for now so that I can concentrate on the auroch. He is the cow type animal with the big long horns on the right hand side.
Well I hope you have enjoyed this little story, and will tune in again when I have more to show you as the panel fills in.
I am still very pleased and excited to be involved with this project, even if it is taking up more of my time then I originally anticipated. But I just love the idea that one day I can take my grandchildren (as yet unborn!) up to the Scottish Parliament and show them the panel our group worked on and say, "look Granny stitched that auroch!".
If you'd like to read more about the tapestry here's the website.


  1. What a great thing to be involved in!

  2. Wow, how inspiring. I would love to be involved with something similar, ever since I gawped over the Bayeux teapestry for ages (with a 2 year old on my back in a back pack and a bored husband after the first hour) I would love to go and see the Overlord tapestry in Portsmouth too, I only recently realised that one existed. Enjoy and cherish the experience. Fionax

  3. What a great project to be a part of! I was taking a class from thread-painter, Pam Holland, who is dilligently re-creating the Bayeaux Tapestry herself. Being able to see the work up close was amazing. Now I get to see yet another interpretation through your group's work. How awesome is this????


  4. This is truly inspiring, what a wonderful thing to be involved in. I remember many years ago, adding some stitches to a beautiful tapestry which was being made for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge not far from here) this one was being taken around to garden centres, indoor shopping malls and the like to inviting people of all abilities and ages to add a few stitches.When completed it was hung at the WWT centre. It gives me great satisfaction knowing that a little piece of me is in there for all time as I'm sure it will for all of you. happy stitchin everyone, can't wait to see your panel completed.

  5. What a fabulous project to be involved in!!

  6. Sounds like a fascinating project to be involved with, looking forward to seeing the finished piece :o)

  7. How absolutely brilliant, Jo! I'm envious of your experience while being a little glad I haven't got that sort of pressure to worry about!

  8. Congratulations on your involvement in this amazing project. Your skill and talent will live on....

  9. What an absolute honor to be working on such an important project - this is really amazing!!!! This is going to be just brilliant. And now I like Alexander McCall Smith even more, lol! Love his books. I'm really looking forward to seeing this evolve, it's truly a grand work of art!

  10. A once in a lifetime opportunity for you and the other ladies.. thank you for posting your progress. I will read more about it in your blog and I hope to visit Scotland and will be looking for your auroch. Sue in mid Michigan, USA

  11. What an absolutely amazing project to be working on. Well done you for getting involved and being able to create a piece of history!

  12. WOW, what an incredible project to be working on, can't wait to see more, fascinating stuff and beautiful stitching there.

  13. Oh Wow Jo! What a fantastic oportunity - if a little scarey. I can't wait to see your progress x

  14. How wonderful. A local group is planning something for the 800 years anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, but I dontthink it will a patch on yours!

  15. PS I've got to stop spending so much time on blogs, so as you have [Goggle Plus] there will be times when I hit that rather than actually comment. The + will translate as " I came, I read, I had to dash, but I did enjoy the visit". I hope you're ok with this, and obviously understand when you do the same :-)

  16. I loved reading this blog post as I've read/ heard so much about this project. I volunteered as a stitcher some time ago but haven't heard anything for several months. I don't know if there's a group in my area or if there's any way for individuals to be involved. Good luck to your group - look forward to seeing it develop.

  17. A-ma-Zing! What a fantastic thing to do Jo, utterly fascinating and wonderful ...

  18. Wow! What a great project to be involved in. I hope you continue to be excited by it! And when I'm in Scotland in 2017 (I hope) you can take me to see it!

  19. Very interesting to read your story of how your group for the Great Tapestry of Scotland was formed. I'm especially pleased to see you have used part of my panel from the Prestonpans Tapestry (3rd picture) to illustrate the stitches. It is actually panel 20.
    I am part of a 6 lady group who are sewing panel 59 for The Great Tapestry of Scotland. We also meet as often as possible to discuss various stitches and ideas. Good luck, and look forward to reading your blog again.

  20. Wow, what a great story! This is a wonderful event that you all get to participate in, and I love the sense of community that grows from sharing like this. Can't wait to see how you ladies (and gentlemen??) progress!

  21. Impressive! I heard of aurochs in one of Edward Rutherford's books, but nowhere else!

  22. wow jo - very impressed with this fabulous idea - the panel looks awesome - i've fairly recently fallen in love with crewel work myself and will eagerly await your updates