Embroidery tutor Susie Finlayson shares her experience of working on the Great Tapestry of Scotland welcome panel. You can see the welcome panel at the brand new visitor centre in Galashiels.
In June 2018 I visited the headquarters of the Scottish Borders Council to join Tapestry artist Andrew Crummy and historian Alastair Moffat to judge the designs created by local schools for a new panel for the Great Tapestry of Scotland. This new panel was to be displayed in the reception of the purpose-built Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels. It was a fabulous afternoon. The kids were enthusiastic and engaging, their designs were bright, bold, and well thought out. When Alastair and Andrew asked me to be involved in stitching these panels, I couldn’t refuse.
This is how I ended up with the challenge of co-ordinating the stitching of the new centre’s five panels! Each panel is 1.5m x 0.5 and has a main figure representing a different aspect of borders life; a shepherd, a mill lass, a monk, a reiver and a fisher lass. The borders’ rivers also meander through the panels. This was not going to be a small under-taking!
How it started
2019 got off to a great start. Andrew Crummy transferred the designs onto the linens. I persuaded several groups of stitchers to take a panel and make a start. Some were veterans of The Great Tapestry of Scotland. Some were very accomplished embroiderers who had been disappointed not to be a part of the original project. Others were complete beginners. This is part of the beauty of the Tapestry. It’s one of the world’s largest community artworks, created by over a thousand people of differing ability coming together to create a unique work of art.
As well as getting the stitching underway, I committed to taking the panels to the schools who had entered the design competition and teaching some of the students how to embroider. This was a daunting prospect but I needn’t have feared. It was brilliant fun. I went to 6 schools over 4 days with around 30 students each producing a piece which they had designed and stitched themselves. We enjoyed it so much that we thought we could take the panels to other places and invite people to ‘add a stitch’ and they did in their droves. Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, the Boy’s and Girl’s Brigades, members of the SWI, friends and family, members of the public.
Our plans for 2020 were even bigger. We planned a Scotland-wide tour which included everything from an international tourism convention to local coffee mornings, stately homes to care homes. Over 1,000 people had stitched on the tapestry. Could we get over 1,000 people to add a stitch to the Welcome Panels?
And then COVID-19 hit.
How did we cope with Covid?
The country went into lockdown. Everything was cancelled. We didn’t know if it would even be safe to pass panels between stitchers. But our stitchers were nothing if not inventive! Panels were delivered with contactless drop-offs and 72-hour quarantines imposed before any more stitching could take place. We took to zoom to start swapping ideas and while a pandemic took over the world, we just kept stitching.
As well as the five main figures in the panel, there are 76 boxes around the edge containing images relating to a person, place or event connected with the Scottish Borders. Some are very obvious, some are a little more obscure but all of them tell a story.
Three years on from the schools design competition, we have five completed panels. They’re all joined together (with more than a few signs of relief when all of the relevant lines matched up!) and ready to hang in the new visitor centre. While the Great Tapestry of Scotland tells the story or Scotland her people, the Welcome Panel gives an insight into the Scottish Borders. When the centre opens later this year, you will be able to come along and see our stories for yourself.
For more information and the latest news from The Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre, visit their website.
Want to learn embroidery for yourself? Join us at Gartmore House for an embroidery holiday! For more information on Gartmore House’s course visit the course page or contact the team directly.