Scotland’s Tapestry

Sometime last spring I happened to hear a radio programme about Scotland’s Tapestry, a nationwide project to embroider one of the world’s largest tapestries, recounting Scotland’s history in some 150 panels or more.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the brainchild of one of Scotland’s best- known writers, Alexander McCall Smith. The 44 Scotland Street author, together with historian Alistair Moffat, and with the artistic talents of Andrew Crummy, (not to mention stitchers from all over Scotland!) form a team set to produce one of the world’s longest tapestries through one of the biggest community arts projects ever to take place in Scotland.

I’d seen the Prestonpans Tapestry (see previous blog post here) and was inspired!  The idea of a collaborative work which would be around for years to come and which  would tell of Scotland’s history over the centuries, all sounded too good an opportunity to miss.   I emailed to express interest and was thrilled (and more than a little daunted) to receive a large packet containing OUR panel and the wools.  The drawing below shows the overall design.Panel 100 x 100cm

Panel No 85. 1914-1918 AD First World War.

I have to say I was very slow in getting organised. The 1 metre x 1 metre panel looked impossibly large and this was obviously going to involve a lot of work, i.e. time, which I – and I’m sure many of the other stitchers, too – don’t have.  It doesn’t help that the website states that the whole tapestry will require 50,000 sewing hours (equal to sewing 24 hours a day for 6 years) – although each panel will take an average of 400 hours! However, urged on by others, a group of about 5 or 6 stitchers eventually started to form and by Christmas we’d met a couple of times and the first stitches had been sewn, thanks to Andrea!


I was third in line to do a bit of work over the holidays and I have to say it’s been wonderful.  I’d forgotten how absorbing this type of work is: I can happily stitch away for an hour at a time and it’s brilliant displacement activity. I’ve plenty of other work that I should be getting on with, but in the end it’s so tempting to sit down – preferably with iplayer and a cup of tea – and stem stitch away. The outlines are a prominent part of each panel, so we are doing ours in charcoal grey (968 for any other stitchers in the same game), although the sea will be dark blue (749) and the spirits possibly different again.


Having finished off the outlines of the “sad lady waving her handkerchief” (is she his mum, his sister or wife?) and also made a start on the right leg and boot of the kilted soldier, I think our next task will be to think up names for them.  They may be standing in for the many thousands of men and women who left Scotland to fight in the Great War, but we need to give them names in order to animate them in our stitching. Plenty of possibilities spring to mind, so we’ll probably have to vote on it: Flora, perhaps, or Eliza or Jessie; and could he be a Hamish, or Grant or Dougie?

20130101_145141(We were asked to knot the ends of threads in this way to make the back of the panel tidier! Once we’ve filled in the various sections, the knotted ends can be snipped off.)


The next meeting of the group will be in mid January or thereabouts and by then I hope someone else will be able to start work on filling in some of the clothing: textured stitching is really important, but there are so many stitch options that it’s difficult to choose.  The (nameless) woman’s tweedy jacket and plaid skirt might even call for two different coloured wools.  I was looking at this other panel for inspiration: it’s beautifully done and sets a high standard.  Watch this space for progress reports and more photos as we go along.

2 Replies to “Scotland’s Tapestry”

  1. It’s lovely to see someone else’s panel in progress – and what an interesting subject matter yours is. It’s really unusual to see a representation of the 1914-18 war that depicts the emotion of separation rather than the horror of the trenches.
    The lady I’m stitching is definitely a Jessie!!
    I’ll keep checking back to see how it’s progressing! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kate. I love your panel too – and the fact that you’ve got a Jessie! I think the consensus maybe that ours is a Flora…. but until we all meet up again next week, I won’t know for certain.
      In the meantime, the tapestry is out of my hands and doing the rounds of the group, so I can’t wait to see it next time it orbits in this direction!

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