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September 11, 2013

Scotland in Stitches

One of the most ambitious community arts projects ever undertaken has been unveiled. Over 1000 stitchers from all parts of Scotland have been working away in small groups for the best part of two years, using 300 miles of wool in the process, to create the Great Tapestry of Scotland and therein recount the entire history of Scotland. Twice the length of the world famous Bayeux Tapestry, Scotland’s stitchers have just embroidered their way into record books. It’s on show at the Scottish Parliament until 21st September.


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

_“The creation of this wonderful tapestry has been an experience of sheer joy. Not only has the team of artist and stitchers created a stunning record of Scotland’s history, but the project has brought together hundreds of people in all parts of Scotland in joint artistic endeavour. In the many hours that the stitchers have spent together they have experienced the pleasure of making something permanent and beautiful; they have felt what it is to create art with others; they have found friendship.”

“We have all learned a lot from this. Many of us have learned a bit of history; many of us have learned about the desire that people have to engage in joint creative activity with others. Everyone, I think, has learned that what might seem a ridiculously ambitious project can succeed if there is enough love and enthusiasm and courage about. And there is.”

“I salute the visionary artist, Andrew Crummy, and his team of hundreds, led by Dorie Wilkie. I salute their magnificent artistry. I salute their generosity. I salute their good humour. This tapestry is their creation, given to the people of Scotland and to those who will come to Scotland to see it.”_


The Great Tapestry of Scotland was the brainchild of one of the world’s best-loved writers, Alexander McCall Smith. The 44 Scotland Street author, together with historian Alistair Moffat, and with the artistic talents of Andrew Crummy, (not to mention more than 1000 stitchers from all areas of Scotland!) formed a team set to produce the world’s longest tapestries through one of the biggest community arts projects ever to take place in Scotland.

65,000 hours of stitching

The creation of the tapestry initiated a legacy project worth its length in gold. It offered a unique and outstanding opportunity to tell our nation’s history and to involve as many people as possible in the telling. The aim was to create a series of over one hundred and fifty panels that told the key stories in Scottish history – everything from Duns Scotus to the formation of Rangers. Each panel focuses on a specific historical chapter, and interwoven through each are tales of the time. These stories add new layers and reflect not only our shared history, but tell individual stories of place and family.

Over 300 miles of wool (enough to lay the entire length of Scotland)

This project used 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. More than 1000 stitchers took part, all of whom shared a passion for Scottish history and some pretty impressive sewing skills. These volunteers, led by Dorie, worked together in groups for over 400 hours per panel from locations around the country, islands and mainland, to help make Andrew Crummy’s artistic vision a reality.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland has beem created – like the Bayeux Tapestry – on embroidered cloth, rather than as a woven tapestry. It is annotated variously in English, Gaelic, Latin and Scots, with surface stitching in a variety of yarns, creating a wonderfully rich and tactile artwork.

420 million years of Scottish history

A defined range of stitches have been used including stem, split and chain, with filling stitches like long and short, satin and darning, and composite stitches where appropriate. The tapestry design consists of 160 panels, each measuring either 100 × 100 cm or 100 × 50 cm. Each of these panels has now been stretched and blocked, hemmed and backed by Dorie and her team and prepared for exhibition.

160 panels

Alistair Moffat discussed the project in detail in the early stages…

“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, involved a glorious process of ruthless editing. Pitfalls open on every side. One of the deepest was the military option, our history as a series of invasions, wars and battles, many of them grey defeats. Another was 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 insisted on inclusion, such as Bannockburn and Culloden, other episodes of our hidden history rightly claimed 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?”


The project took over two years to complete and the finished tapestry will be on display in the Scottish Parliament until 21st September 2013.