The Great Tapestry of Scotland
Anchor Mill in Paisley, near Glasgow, has long been in the background of my life. I remember it from the pre-motorway days of the 1960s when our family drove past it every summer on our way from NE England to visit my grandparents in Greenock. Now that my parents live in Paisley I drive past it every week on my way to visit them, but until recently I have never been inside it. Most of the buildings have been demolished, but the former thread mill now contains businesses and flats. At the moment it is also home to Threading West, the only West of Scotland exhibition of the Great Tapestry of Scotland. It’s hosted there by the Paisley Thread Mill Museum until 8th June, then it moves to the Scottish Parliament in July. If at all possible, I urge you to see it.
The 143 metre-long tapestry, strictly speaking an embroidery, was created from a design by artist, Andrew Crummy, by 1000 stitchers working in groups all over Scotland. It tells the story of the country from the Ice Age to modern times, but rather than give a chronological account I’ve grouped some of my favourite panels into themes. We took loads of photographs, so it’s really hard to decide what to leave out! Generally speaking, I enjoyed the 19th and 20th century panels best.
Towns and cities
Glasgow, of course, Paisley with its famous pattern, and the tenements which are ubiquitous to Scotland’s older towns and cities. Scotland’s post-war new towns are represented by East Kilbride (where I used to work) and Cumbernauld with its references to the film, Gregory’s girl which was filmed there.
I had a huge list here, but I’ve restricted myself to the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 and the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 (maybe an extra panel will be needed after the Independence referendum in September?) and some scenes from Trade Union history.
There were many panels about named men, but I can only remember one about a named woman. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) Elsie Inglis was one of Scotland’s first female doctors and is remembered for her work setting up field hospitals in the First World War. There were several more panels about women’s lives – and I was pleased to notice the detail from the Glasgow City of Culture panel (bottom right) acknowledging Glasgow Women’s Library which grew out of that event.
Education and culture
By the sixteenth century Scotland had four universities (St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh), when the much-bigger England still only had two, and John Knox was dreaming of a school in every parish. By the 19th century this had more or less been realised, and a look at the detail on some of these panels will show us punching over our weight ever since. (Not that I’m biased, oh no.)
Science, technology and industry
Marvel once again at the invention and innovation coming out of this small nation of ours!
And finally (sighs of relief all round) – the last panel, both on the blog and in the exhibition itself, is one on which I actually know one of the stitchers. Margaret Harrison, friend and erstwhile boss, contributed to this representation by Strathendrick Embroiderers’ Guild of the resurgence of Gaelic culture. She did the fish and Gaelic text which took 24 hours of stitching in all – this gives some idea of the amount of labour which went into the whole project. (Note also the wee joke with three ducks joining the flight of geese.)
If you haven’t fallen off your perch with boredom yet, I can recommend another couple of blogs I’ve come across about the tapestry – Karie at Fourth Edition and Ailish Sinclair – but my biggest recommendation is: just go!