The Great Tapestry of Scotland

I recently attended the Scottish Interiors event at The Hydro in Dunblane where suppliers of fabrics, tracks, poles and furniture were showing their latest ranges for 2015 to the trade. While I was in Scotland I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition of The Great Tapestry of Scotland at Stirling Castle. This exhibition is traveling around Scotland until a permanent home can be found.

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The Tapestry tells the entire history of Scotland from pre-history right up to modern day. It consists of 160 linen union panels and tells the story of key moments throughout the Nation’s history. All of the panels were expertly stitched by over 1000 stitchers from all over Scotland.

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Over 60,000 hours were required to complete this work of art, which is over 375 hours or 46 days per panel. Over 300 miles of woollen yarn was used which is enough to lay the length of the land and lots more. It is the world’s longest embroidered tapestry and tells the story of Scotland from the formation of the land right up to today. The beauty of this tapestry is that it is a lasting legacy that can also be added to in the future.

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The idea of the Tapestry was born in 2010 after author Alexander McCall Smith visited the Prestonpans Tapestry in Edinburgh. On the same day he has a conversation with Artist Andrew Crummy and historian Alistair Moffatt and the Tapestry concept was conceived.

During 2011 Andrew and Alistair worked on the sequence of the panels, researching events and people for each design. Andrew started off with small panels but eventually they worked up to the full size panels that I saw last week.

A stitch co-ordinator, Dorie Wilkie, was eventually appointed in 2011 and it was her job to translate Andrew’s designs into something that could be stitched.  During 2012 and 2013 she led a team of volunteers and over 1000 stitchers from all over Scotland who worked tirelessly to complete the panels.  The Tapestry was first shown in September 2013 at The Scottish Parliament.

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This picture shows some of the sample pieces the stitchers made before embarking on stitching the actual panels themselves.

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This was one my favourite panels depicting King Robert the Bruce , whom I am actually related to! The panel tells the story of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. This famous battle changed history. Against all odds, Robert the Bruce’s army defeated the much larger army of Edward II of England. On the panel you can see Robert on his small pony taking a backward swing with his axe. It is said that an English Knight Henry de Bohan rode out on his warhorse and challenged Robert to single combat between the lines. Robert cut down de Bohan and the rest is history.

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Another panel that also has a special meaning to me is this the one of the Herring Girls. In the period between the two world wars herring gutting was an important seasonal source of employment for women from certain small Scottish villages. Thousands of Hebridean Herring Girls travelled every summer and winter from the 1840’s onward to the main Scottish herring ports of Lerwick, Wick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Although the work was long, hard and dirty, with no alternative forms of income, the low wage was very welcome.

The main European markets for Salted herring were the Baltic States, Russia and Germany but they were damaged by the First World War. The fish curing companies of Stornoway and elsewhere were paid less and less as these countries developed fishing fleets of their own. By the 1930’s the Scottish herring catch of Scotland had fallen to a fraction of what it was at the beginning of that century.

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Despite this the industry survived. My grandmother worked in the fish gutting factory in Fraserburgh until her mid 60’s. I remember her white overalls, headscarf and wellington boots and the awful smell of her clothes when she came home from work.

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I also liked this panel which represents the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 after having been adjourned on the 25th March 1707.

The whole exhibition is an amazing project that tells the history of Scotland from the day the land was created till present day. Although I did not get to see all of the panels in this visit I found it fascinating and learned so much about the country that my father grew up in. It’s a history book in yarn. If you get the chance to visit it you will not be disappointed you can dip in and out of each century as it takes your fancy.

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