I have a soft spot for Stirling Castle. It is about 40 minutes from our village, and I have visited many times, several of those as a Mummy Helper on school trips in the dear departed primary school days. The majesty of the castle was a bit lost on me on those occasions, as I spent most of the time anxiously counting and re-counting heads; the weight of responsibility of other peoples' children weighing heavily on my shoulders.
However it was with a light heart and sense of happy anticipation that I visited the castle a couple of weeks ago, specifically the Great Hall, to view The Great Tapestry Of Scotland.
The Tapestry is the brainchild of Alexander McCall Smith (of 'The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency' books fame), in consultation with Alistair Moffat (historian), Andrew Crummy (illustrator) and Dorie Wilkie (group co-ordinator and stitch supervisor), plus many others. It tells the story of Scotland via embroidered panels and is fully explained here.
Although referred to as a tapestry, the 160 panels are in fact embroidered. Each panel is suspended on a wooden baton, the panels are hung in a specific order, that tells the story of Scotland in 143 metres. (View slide show of all panels here)
The scale and proportions of the work are breath taking. Scotland is represented from the time the land masses of the world formed, through to the present day. Each panel has a central motif, with borders showing related objects, people or places. I am not an embroiderer, but even to my untrained eye, it is clear that the stitch work is expertly done; complex, exact, exquisite.
On a corner of each panel is stitched the initials of the (mainly, though not exclusively) women who worked it. Many of the panels were stitched where the historical event depicted on the panel took place.
The texture of the stitch work is rich and varied, from lace, delicate as a cobweb, adorning the neckline of a dress, to tight whorls representing sheep's wool, and dense chains and tufts bringing rock, sea and hill vividly to life.
Colours start from the browns, greys and blues of rock, sea, sky, land, in the early panels, and the plain clothing of the settlers, crofters, farmers and labourers, through to the richly decorated robes of the wealthy, and of course tartan plaids and skirts; from the original, belted plaids, to the formal, 'dress' kilt introduced by the Victorians.
It is hard to describe the impact of seeing the tapestry in its entirety. From inspiration, collaboration, consultation, design; then to recruitment, instruction, co-ordination and final presentation, it is a monumental achievement. That the energy, goodwill and skill was all out there, just waiting to be harnessed, and put to such good use, is immensely encouraging. The tapestry is currently on tour, but it is anticipated that it will eventually have its own, custom built gallery in the Scottish borders. If you get the chance, do go.