Great Tapestry of Scotland 93-123

Panel 94: Hill and Adamson The silver herrings and striped petticoats of the Newhaven fisherwoman.

In the comments on yesterday’s post, Heather linked to an interesting take on the “when is a tapestry not a tapestry” question from a tapestry weaver who strongly objects to the misappropriation of the term in reference to non-woven textiles. I am often struck by how textiles, more than other disciplines, seems prone to practices of woeful mis-naming, and the piece raises many moot points, particularly in relation to the gender associations of the terms “tapestry” and “embroidery.” I suppose this is what I was hinting towards yesterday in suggesting that the term “tapestry” has, in the popular imagination, a public, narrative dimension, that the word “embroidery” does not. It is certainly very sad that this is so, and the linguistic perceptions and politics of these terms in contemporary discourse seem to me quite difficult to unravel. But whether or not the nomenclature of the “Great Tapestry” has a masculine ring, one could certainly never criticise this project for its masculine bias. Women formed the majority of the talented stitchers, and not only are women represented everywhere in the tapestry, but individual panels are used to proudly celebrate the ordinary work of Scottish women in a way that is all too rarely seen in public contexts. A few weeks ago I climbed the Wallace Monument with my dad (who is a Wallace on his mother’s side, and is known by everyone as “Wal”). Half way up the tower we discovered the “hall of heroes” – a sterile space filled with the equally sterile busts of dead white men. While this room commemorates the achievements of Scotland’s philosophical, scientific, military, and literary blokes, there is not a single woman in sight. I scoured the information panels, and finally found Jane Carlyle, who received the briefest of mentions in relation to her husband. Jane and I were the only women in the room, and I wonder if she would have felt as irritated as I did. A wee girl, with a burgeoning interest in Scottish history, might find little in that room with which to identify, while her brother might be reinforced in his tacit belief that only men do important things. One of the many functions of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, it seems to me, is as an educational resource and thank goodness that the project exuberantly and thoughtfully celebrates the important work of Scotland’s women authors, political activists, washerwomen, fisher-lassies, and knitters, and places that work in a public context, alongside more familiar “masculine” achievements.

On with some highlights.

Panel 96: A Caithness School I am alawys drawn to the neeps. By the 1850s, through pioneering rural education practices, Caithness (and Berwickshire) literacy rates were the highest in Great Britain.

Panel 99: James Clerk Maxwell One of many occasions where I was struck by the wit and inventiveness of Andrew Crummy’s wonderful designs. The colourful waves of Maxwell’s beard capture his work on magnetism and electricity.

Panel 103: Shinty and Curling I was bowled over by the beauty and precision of the stitching on this panel, created by Susie Finlayson and Linda Jobson. Look at the tartan! The knitted hose! The herringbone woven jacket! The way the wrong side of the fabric is represented!

Panel 104: Scots in North America I love the figure of John Muir here – the very embodiment of the ideal of the national park.

Panels 105 and 107: The Paisley pattern and Mill Working I found both of these panels incredibly beautiful and moving: the way the faces of the mill workers had been integrated into the famous Paisley pattern, the way the colours of the embroidery precisely echoed those of the Indian subcontinent in panel 92; the sense of energy and movement in the stitching and design . . . and, of course, the fact I was viewing these panels in a mill, in Paisley.

Panel 109: Workshop of the Empire I love the way that industry, labour, and the human figure are represented in this panel.

Panel 111: Kier Hardie who campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as worker’s rights.

Panel 113: The Discovery sails from Dundee One of the many things I loved about this panel was that the trades involved with the expedition were depicted and celebrated: flesher, tailor, cordiner, weaver, dyer, hammerman, bonnet maker, baker, glover.

Panel 115: The Isbister sisters Shetland knitters! Hurrah! One of my favourite panels.


Panel 123: Women get the vote. This panel was stitched by the Edinburgh members of Soroptimist International

30 thoughts on “Great Tapestry of Scotland 93-123

  1. Ethel Moorhead Suffragette mentioned in the later panels siezed the sword of Wallace (I made a film about her) her thinking if I remember rightly was exteme annoyance about the masculine nature of the memorial also have you ever seen The Work They Say is Mine? by Rose Gibson. She made it specifically after seeing a mural in the high school in Lerwick on the subject of work which literally painted out the economic contribution of women to the islands knitting, gutting fish and farming

  2. Wonderful work, the tapestry is absolutely breathtaking, and your depiction so thoughtful. I find this episode so meaningful. The hard work of women is so under rated even in our modern world, the vote an important step in the ladder but only one “tread” as it were. So well done by all and thank you. By the way, I too see the tapestry in the same tradition as the Bayeux Tapestry, embroidered but epic in subject, execution and scale.

  3. Did one person draw out all the sketches for the tapestries? I’ve noticed a distinct similarity in the eyes of a lot of the pieces

  4. Great post today! As Abigail Adams once said (on this side of the pond), “Remember the ladies.” This tapestry takes my breath away.

  5. Oh, Kate. I finally had time to look through these posts today. What an amazing project!!!! I love your comments and insight as you go along. I am dying to see this in person but sadly suspect a trip to Scotland is not $$$ possible for me this summer. ARGH.

  6. I just wanted to say thank you so much for all these beautiful pictures! The talent in the needlework is astounding and inspirational – it makes me want to go and find my embroidery stuff and PRACTISE…

  7. I was one of many stitchers of the Quaker Tapestry, on the panel “Swear not oaths.” I felt like I was falling into the scene and into the moment of history. The figures became as real and alive as my husband sitting next to me. I could say the stitchers of The Great Tapestry felt this way too. Thank you, Kate.

    1. What a profound experience. So easy to imagine this transpiring when one is so involved. Each day viewing Kate’s beautiful photos brings more insights and connection.

  8. Thank you for posting these pictures! I would love to see this magnificent work! I hope it comes on tour to Southern California. The talent of the stitchers is amazing and the concept is fabulous!

  9. Thank you, Kate. You continually open my eyes to new sights and experiences. Your description of this marvelous work and the outstanding photos bring me directly to Scotland and standing by your side as you view this masterpiece. Your blog a standout. Thank you.

  10. agg! INCREDIBLE. striped petticoat and paisley blouse (want to make and wear these), john muir <3, the shetland knitters. women get the vote seem truly modern with ink sleeves (looks like tattoos). and i want to climb wallace monument, perhaps i can find a bus to take me from edinburgh when i am there next month!!

  11. thank you so much for sharing kate, i followed your link to the slide show, and am thrilled to see that the tapestry will be at The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh next month! i am so looking forward to viewing it!!

  12. OMG the richness of the garments, takes my breath away! It is a true wonder to see such rich history captured in such a way, as to get people engaged in conversation.

  13. What a true labor of historical/cultural love and stitching mastery. I completely agree about the wrong side of the tartan fabric depiction – just astounding.

    Thanks so much for this blog series as well as your always insightful commentary.

  14. Thanks so much for putting up so many of these beautiful images and as always your scholarly yet accessible posts. The tapestry is something to admire and so is your blog :-)

  15. I am having a wonderful time with this series of photographs and comments.
    I can only imagine how much richer it is when seen in person.

  16. Thank you so much, Kate, for all these posts about this tapestry. I’m learning so much about Embroidery!
    I wish I could see all these posts before having the honor to be invited (by Margaret Ferguson Davis) to embroider a Portuguese panel for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, drawn by Andrew Crummy as well. The theme was George Sandman , port wine and Porto – town where I live.
    Embroidering this panel I’ve already learnt a lot about embroidering with wool and using some stitches of this kind of embroidery I’ve never made – Crewel?, Jacobean?
    Looking at your pictures I’m learning much more. Still I now can feel how amateur we were. There was another panel embroidered in Lisbon. We all have to embroiderer the panels in three weeks. Very short time to study the stitches to use. Nevertheless Lisbon group and Porto group are proud with the result and having them finished in time agreed. (sorry for such long comment)

    Looking forward your visit to Scottish Diaspora Tapestry! Thanks again.

  17. Well said. Have you ever read any Jill Ker Conway? She was the first woman President of Smith (1975-1985). She is such an eloquent writer, terrifyingly intelligent, and especially about women’s voices and narrative in history. A Woman’s Education, In Her Own Words, Written By Herself (vols I and II) and Utopian Dream or Dystopian Nightmare? are all very interesting reads, plus her many others.

  18. Reblogged this on Gippsland Granny and commented:
    The incredible Great Tapestry of Scotland. Kate Davies has blogged about all of the panels. I have reblogged 93-123 because it has Newhaven fisherfolk and a Caithness School. My mum’s family were fisherfolk and my dad went to a Caithness School.

  19. I was one of the stitches on the Caithness panel, no.96 and my group are delighted that our stitching has touched so many people and connected us in wee ways. The lady who stitched the neeps was in Paisley at the tapestry and standing at our panel got speaking to a random lady who turned out was the bridesmaid of another member of our group. We love the connections. It took us over 680 hours to complete the panel, we named each of our characters when they had their faces stitched and made up wee stories for each one. That was Jeannie who was the neep puller. We decided she was the mother of one if the children who had a knitted effect jumper on.
    It was very rewarding to be part of this project and it made all the late nights and chaos worth it. I will pass on the comments to our group who love to hear other peoples impressions and stories behind the tapestry.

  20. A thought about the “tapestry” debate and feminism: I think we are in an era where women are taking back, so to speak, that which has been diminished about them. Take the word, “craft.” All the brilliant craftswomen, especially in fiber, in the 20th century wanted to rename what they did, “art,” so that it would be taken seriously. Today I think the proud among us say we’re craftswomen. I weave and spin and knit and I take my craft seriously. It’s not that “embroidery” is “women’s work” and so, diminishing that is relevant. What is relevant is that we can take it back. Women do it. It is amazing.

  21. I wanted to tell you, I put this post on my FB page as I found it so interesting and had never heard of the Great Tapestry of Scotland before. Another lady and I were talking about how wonderful it sounds and we really want to go and see it! Thanks so much for the wonderful descriptions of the panels (and I agree, it is an embroidery! We should get people to see that embroidery is fab and interesting!)

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)