Wednesday, 25 September 2013
SCOTLAND IN STITCHES by Eleanor Updale
We all know about the Bayeux tapestry: a masterpiece embroidered to commemorate the Norman Conquest.
It has endured for nearly a thousand years.
For the past few months, I''ve been involved in the production of a modern narrative tapestry: The Great Tapestry of Scotland. At over 500 feet, it's more than twice the length of the Bayeux. It's the result of about fifty thousand hours of work by over a thousand volunteer stitchers all over Scotland. Small groups of women (and some men) each tackled a panel depicting an incident or theme from Scottish history. Miraculously, it's finished, and it went on display at the Scottish Parliament this month, before setting off on tour.
The project was the brainchild of the wonderful Alexander McCall Smith - a serious contender for the title of Nicest Man In the World. The herculean task of writing the narrative went to the historian Alastair Moffat, and the 160+ panels were designed by the artist, Andrew Crummy. You can see and hear more about how the tapestry was made at this website: http://scotlandstapestry.com/index.php
The tapestry tells the story of Scotland from the very earliest times to the present day. This panel is five episodes in:
Here's the panel depicting the Black Death in the fourteenth century:
The picture below shows part of the panel I worked on (with a group of authors and publishers, including fellow History Girl Elizabeth Laird). It commemorates the foundation of the ancient universities.
Although some of the stitchers were very accomplished, many of us had very little experience of embroidery, and had to learn as we went along. We stitched everywhere: at home, at book festivals, at work. I 'watched' all eight episodes of Broadchurch through one long night, without looking at the TV screen (and I guessed whodunnit in Episode One. Maybe that's the answer).
As the tapestry approaches the present day, it covers the birth of the Edinburgh Festival, the production of the Hilman Imp, and the establishment of the Parliament at Holyrood. People had to stitch TV cameras, computers, factories, scientific instruments, and bridges. Not all the episodes are set in Scotland itself. This is how one group interpreted the Scots' impact on India:
Do try to catch the tapestry if it comes your way. Seeing it assembled for the first time at the Parliament was a truly moving experience. As a bit of a dunce on the subject of Scottish History, I found it a very palatable educational tool, too. I am honoured to have been allowed to play a part in something that will, we hope, be enjoyed by people for centuries to come.
I've only been able to give you the tiniest taste of what the tapestry is like.
You can see a news reports on the exhibition here:
We are all hoping that eventually a permanent home can be found for the tapesty in a place where Scottish people and visitors to Scotland can get to it easily. So if you happen to know someone with a very big hall they want to fill, just get in touch, and I will pass the word on.