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October 10, 2012

A stitch in time makes history

One of the hazards of producing the world’s longest piece of embroidered artwork is that there aren’t many places big enough to display it. The creation of the stunning Prestonpans Tapestry (104m long), which tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s campaign in 1745, was a vast undertaking and involved an army of stitchers from communities across Scotland. Inspired by this success, the team behind the Prestonpans Tapestry have just embarked on an even more ambitious project –  The Great Tapestry of Scotland.


The Great Tapestry of Scotland: A unique project to stitch the entire story of Scotland from pre-history to modern times.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the brainchild of one of Scotland’s best-known writers, Alexander McCall Smith. The 44 Scotland Street author, together with historian Alistair Moffat, and the artistic talents of Andrew Crummy, not to mention hundreds of stitchers from all over Scotland, form a team set to produce the world’s longest tapestry through one of the biggest community arts projects ever to take place in Scotland.

The creation of the tapestry initiates a legacy project worth its length in gold. It is a unique and outstanding opportunity to tell our nation’s history and to involve as many people as possible in the telling. The aim is to create a series of over one hundred that tell the key stories in Scottish history- everything from Duns Scotus to Dolly the sheep. 

This exciting project will use a range of embroidery skills and over 30 miles of woolen yarn to translate Andrew Crummy’s descriptive artwork into a colourful, skilful and textural depiction of the history of Scotland. To date there are stitchers in practically every area of Scotland committed to taking part, all of whom share a passion for Scottish history and some pretty impressive sewing skills. These volunteers will work together for over 400 hours per panel from locations around the country, islands and mainland, to help make Andrew Crummy’s artistic vision a reality, and gift The Great Tapestry of Scotland to the nation. 

The Great Tapestry of Scotland will be created – like the Bayeux Tapestry – on embroidered cloth, rather than a woven tapestry. It will be annotated variously in English, Gaelic, Latin and Scots, with surface stitching in a variety of yarns, creating a wonderfully rich and tactile artwork. A defined range of stitches will be used including stem, split and chain, with filling stitches like long and short, satin and darning, and composite stitches where appropriate. 

Alexander McCall Smith talks about the project…

“The recording of events, both great and small, on cloth is nothing new. The most famous example, of course, is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the world’s best-known works of art. More recently, the completion of the Prestonpans Tapestry in Scotland has reminded us of just how effective this method of narrating history can be. When I saw that tapestry for the first time, I was struck not only by its beauty but by the story behind its creation.

That led me to raise with Andrew Crummy, the artist, the possibility of creating a tapestry that would illustrate the whole history of Scotland. To my delight, Andrew agreed to take on the task. Alistair Moffat, one of Scotland’s finest historical writers, was then approached to join the project and come up with a list of historical moments that the tapestry would cover. As we had all expected, Alistair’s list is both balanced and exciting – a series of snapshots of Scotland from its earliest days to the recent past. This is a collaborative project. The work will be done by volunteer stitchers working throughout Scotland. Although the overall artistic vision will be Andrew’s, and the telling of the story will be Alistair’s, the creating of the tapestry will be the task of many hundreds of people who will invest in it their feeling for the story that they will be illustrating. When the work is finished, we shall hand the tapestry over to the nation, to be displayed to the people of Scotland and visitors to Scotland. If you can support the project financially – even with a small donation – we shall receive that help with gratitude. This great project will bring happiness and delight to many people.” ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH

Alistair Moffat discusses the project in detail…

“As political statements like Bayeux or medieval draught excluders like most of them, tapestries have never gone out of style. These freeze-frames of history still fascinate. To make a tapestry for a nation, something attempted nowhere else, involves a glorious process of ruthless editing. Pitfalls open on every side. One of the deepest is the military option, our history as a series of invasions, wars and battles, many of them grey defeats. Another is to show Scotland and the generations of nameless people who made the landscape and built the towns and cities as a soft-focus background for colourful, stately aristocratic processions. While some pivotal set-pieces simply insist on inclusion, such as Bannockburn and Culloden, other episodes of our hidden history rightly claim a place; the great timber halls of prehistoric farmers at Balbridie, Claish and Kelso, James Small and his invention of the swingplough or John Watson Nicol’s composition of An Ataireachd Ard. Most important have been our efforts to make a tapestry that distils Scotland’s unique sense of herself, to tell a story only of this place, and without bombast, pomp or ceremony, to ask the heart-swelling rhetorical question; Wha’s like us?” ALISTAIR MOFFAT

The project will take over a year to complete and the finished tapestry will go on display from August 2013. Plans are underway to publish a book to accompany the finished tapestry. To keep up to date with the progress of the Great Tapestry of Scotland visit or follow us through Facebook and Twitter. For further information on donations or any practical aspect of the project please email

The numbers behind the Great Tapestry of Scotland:

50,000 sewing hours (equivalent to sewing 24 hours a day for 6 years!)

49,000 meters of yarns (enough to lay up and down Ben Nevis 37 times!)

12,012 years of Scottish history

Over 200 stitchers 

Over 120 panels

1 beautiful tapestry depicting the entire history of Scotland!