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Issue 72 - A stitch in time

Scotland Magazine Issue 72
December 2013


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A stitch in time

The story behind Scotland's great tapestry

In yet another remarkable flash of his unstoppable inspiration, the Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith has come up with the idea of emulating the celebrated eleventh century Bayeux Tapestry with a contemporary Scottish version using Scottish embroiderers.

The original Bayeux Tapestry, considered to be one of the greatest historic art works of all time, can be seen at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux in France. A Victorian replica is housed at Reading Museum in England.

Similarly, a contemporary Scottish tapestry showing the journey of Prince Charles Edward Stuart from France to the Scottish Highlands, and onwards to victory at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 , had already been completed. Featuring a series of four metre wide embroidered panels, this was the brainchild of the Prestongrange Arts Festival, the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust and its former Chairman Dr. Gordon Prestoungrange MBE, and the Port Seton-born artist Andrew Crummy.

In the case of the Prestonpans Tapestry, currently on tour around Scotland, more than two hundred embroiderers were kept hard at work for over a two-year period, and it was after viewing the end result in 2010 that McColl Smith was inspired to set up a working party and commission The Great Tapestry of Scotland.

Scripted by historian and co-chairman Alistair Moffat, and again with illustrations from Andrew Crummy, The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the longest tapestry in the world to date. Great events, the Picts, Celts, Normans and Vikings, Scottish kings and queens, battles, sheep shearing, the Highland Clearances, scientific advances, Robert Burns, James Clerk Maxwell, and even the tennis star Andy Murray are featured in this ambitious masterpiece.

Co-ordinated by Dorie Wilkie, over 1000 stitchers from across Scotland were conscripted.. With more than 65,000 hours of stitching, and some 300 miles of wool employed, it is the largest community arts project ever to have taken place in Scotland to date. With an official unveiling at the Scottish Parliament in September, The Great Tapestry of Scotland remained on display there and attracted over 30,000 visitors before moving to Cockenzie House in East Lothian (See article page 10). It returns to the Scottish Parliament in July of next year for three months.

Plans are currently afoot to create The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry to illustrate the story of the Scottish Diaspora across twenty five countries, and this is scheduled to be the centrepiece of a major exhibition to be held in Scotland during the 2014 Year of Homecoming.