Millions of stitches into linen, painstakingly sewn by over a thousand stitchers, have created a fascinating series of panels that together have been named The Great Tapestry of Scotland. Charting key events in Scotland’s history from the creation of the land through to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, this is a breath-taking and quirky romp through millennia.
We went to see the tapestry at Cockenzie House, a 17th century house, now owned by a charitable trust run by local people. The coffee and cakes in the tea room lived up to the excellence of the exhibition, ensuring we’ll return for other events.
The Great Tapestry project was instigated by author Alexander McCall Smith with designs and artwork for the panels undertaken by artist Andrew Crummy. We attended the launch of the project at the Borders Book Festival in June 2011 Now the panels — over 160 of them — are hung in Cockenzie House in East Lothian for everyone to see. And judging by the number of people there the day my husband and I attended, commenting on the events covered, the design of panels, and peering at the stitches used whilst reminiscences bubbled in their minds, large numbers will flock to admire the work that has gone into the stitching.
Like others, I wanted to view the panels as a whole, then linger to enjoy many of the details. With vibrant colours, skilful stitches had captured shape, tone, feel, touch and smell of the subject matter, and I’m sure when standing in front of some I could smell the brine of the sea, the gunpowder of battle, the scent of flowers and pomanders, the fragrance of joy, the odour of grief, a whiff of duplicity and the reek of hypocrisy as well as a not insignificant perfume of pride at what many Scots had achieved both individually and collectively, and what each stitcher had achieved in bringing all this together in a wonderful illustrated story.
Over 1000 stitchers from Shetland in the far north to the Borders in the south worked together to create the world’s longest embroidered tapestry, taking over 60,000 hours of work and using over 300 miles of woollen yarn.
As Alexander McCall Smith commented —
‘Now we have it: a record of our history, designed by an artist whose eye has captured the essence of Scotland, and stitched with love by hundreds of people throughout the land. They invite you to look at this and celebrate our country.