New Lanark: Making the Great Tapestry of Scotland

How it looked in 2014...but the tapestry will be mounted in a new gallery, laid out in a way never seen before and include information about its creation. (Pic: Sarah Peters)
How it looked in 2014...but the tapestry will be mounted in a new gallery, laid out in a way never seen before and include information about its creation. (Pic: Sarah Peters)

If, like me, you visited the Great Tapestry of Scotland at New Lanark in 2014, you’ll know it merits at least a second visit, if not more.

Boasting some 160 panels that took 65,000 hours of stitching and used over 300 miles of wool, the scale of the tapestry is a lot to digest.

In the spotlight...New Lanark panel was redesigned by Andrew Crummy and that story will be among a number recounted in the making of exhibition at New Lanark. (Pic: Sarah Peters)

In the spotlight...New Lanark panel was redesigned by Andrew Crummy and that story will be among a number recounted in the making of exhibition at New Lanark. (Pic: Sarah Peters)

But there will be even more to see when this unique work of art returns to the World Heritage Site.

For as well as displaying the tapestry in full once again, this time round visitors will be able to find out about the making of the labour-intensive work.

Evelyn Whitelaw, New Lanark exhibitions officer, has spent the last five months finding out more about the tapestry’s history.

And what she discovered was a behind the scenes story which merited an exhibition in its own right.

That story will be told in a special introduction to the tapestry when it comes back to New Lanark from May 18 to July 1 this year.

It includes illustrator and designer Andrew Crummy’s original sketchbooks and inch square storyboards which helped Andrew and Alistair Moffat, the narrator, decide which stories from Scotland’s 420 million year history to include.

Alongside the panels will be insights and stories from Dorie Wilkie, the lead stitcher and her team of more than 1000 stitchers across Scotland.

Dorie is pleased that the making of exhibition at New Lanark will tell their story.

She said: “This exhibition will show the results of hours of dedicated and inspired stitching, generously given by stitchers across Scotland – not all of whom could embroider or had embroidered for many years.

“Once groups got involved in their panels, they did a lot of research about the topic or place and took ownership – to the point of reluctance returning them!

“The pride and emotion we all shared seeing the panels together while exhibited in our Parliament building for the first time was very moving.”

The brainchild of Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, he is delighted the Great Tapestry of Scotland is returning to New Lanark.

He said: “Since it was last at this venue, the tapestry has been seen by many thousands of people as it has continued its wonderful journey across Scotland.

“It is particularly appropriate that it should come back again to this setting, with all its rich historical associations.

“The tapestry embodies many of the ideals that gave New Lanark its important role in Scottish history.

“Education, art and concern for others are values which underpin both the Great Tapestry of Scotland and New Lanark.”

As for Evelyn, being able to shine a spotlight on some of the human stories behind the tapestry is something she is most looking forward to.

She explained: “We’ve chosen a number of spotlight panels to tell the personal stories behind them.

“We have objects on loan to depict each panel. For example, for the miners strike panel, we have items on loan from the National Mining Museum.

“That panel was created by a grandmother, mother and daughter.

“The grandfather was a miner and the miner in the panel came to depict him.

“Each panel has an area around its border where the stitchers were able to create their own designs.

“The miner’s panel included the grandfather’s personal ID number, piece tin and carbolic soap.

“He had recently passed away – the last flowers he saw in his garden before going into the hospice and the last flowers he gave his wife were daffodils, which are also depicted in the paneal.

“It’s a very personal story but there are many, just like that, all the way through the tapestry.”

Out of the nine spotlight panels that will form part of the introduction, New Lanark’s own panel was the easiest to curate.

But it too has a very interesting story to reveal.

Evelyn explained: “The panel Andrew originally created for New Lanark had the buildings coming out of Robert Owen’s head.

“But the stitchers – staff here at New Lanark – felt it did not truly represent what the village was all about.

“Andrew worked with the stitchers to redesign the panel. The stitchers then added their own details to the borders which included a silent monitor used by the mill manager at New Lanark.

“It was by far the easiest panel for me to spotlight!”

The original Rosslyn Chapel panel, stolen from an exhibition in Fife in 2015 and never recovered, will also be spotlighted, along with its replacement.

Evelyn added: “Even for those who have seen the tapestry before, this is a completely new exhibition, laid out as never seen before.”

For more information, visit www.newlanark.org.