The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

This week I managed to see the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry on its brief visit to Edinburgh. This is a fine complement to the Great Tapestry of Scotland and was initiated by the same team. The panels were designed by the same artist, Andrew Crummy, so there is a clear underlying unity to both tapestries. The fabric, linen, and the threads, Appleton wool are the same. This one has more panels, just over 300, but each is smaller – a 50cm square.

The Diaspora Tapestry started in 2012 and has involved stitchers from 34 countries, all with a living Scottish connection. The project is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture, the people and places which connect Scotland to its global diaspora.

With the opportunities that the British Empire opened up to Scots to leave their homeland and settle elsewhere, it is not surprising that the majority of panels come from  countries that were once part of that empire. However long before then, while Scotland was still an independent country, Scots had ventured far and wide in Europe. The tapestry provides a fine visual record of this part of our history.

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Scotland in the middle ages had developed alliances and trading links with most of Europe. Scots have played an important role in the cultural, economic and military development of many countries, including the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Russia. The first panel shows one of the most celebrated of these alliances – the auld alliance with France.

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I was aware of some of the important contributions of Scots to other European countries, but was pleasantly surprised by some of them. For example I did not know that two Scots were among the select band who founded the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

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However with the Union of the Crowns with England and later with the Treaties of Union, Scots began to venture much further afield. First to the American colonies, and not always as free men, as this panel shows. Defeated soldiers could be taken as prisoners and sent to New England to be sold for between £20 and £30 each.

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Thankfully most Scots who went to America were not taken as slaves, though not all went willingly. A happier recollection of this movement of people is the town of Alexandria in Virginia, founded by Scots. Alexandria, along with Nablus, Wurzburg and Orleans, is one of Dundee’s twin cities.

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Scots were also to be found in other parts of the Americas, though in much lesser numbers. However they were often just as successful and important. The first panel above illustrates one of the large estates founded by Scots in Argentina, while the following shows how Scots succeeded in many different sectors in Chile, including football.

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Scots have also played an important role in many Asian countries and not always for the good, alas. This is the case with trade with China. Many Scots worked for the East India Company which led this development in the 18th century. Not just silk, tea and porcelain were in demand, but also opium. A trade that was very profitable and that Britain was desperate to continue. A determination that would directly lead to the infamous Opium Wars of the 19th century.

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Scots were also active in maintaining British military rule over India. My paternal grandfather was a regular soldier in the British army and was stationed for many years in Kanpore in northern India. My father and his elder brother were both born there. So I have always felt a kind of affinity for India. Luckily not all of the Scottish involvement was of a military nature. The following panel shows the beginnings of tea planting in Darjeeling, which owed a lot to Scots. We can all drink to that!

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In addition to the USA, most Scots who emigrated to settle, did so in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Many ended up in Adelaide in South Australia, taken there by the City of Adelaide clipper. Between 1864 and 1887 the ship made 23 voyages to Adelaide. In 2014 this fine ship was was restored and transported from Irvine in Ayrshire to Australia to become a museum ship.

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New Zealand was another popular destination for many Scots and many ended up in Otago, on the southern of the two large islands. Dunedin from Dùn Èideann (Gaelic for Edinburgh), the Edinburgh of the South, was founded in 1848. It is the capital of Otago and Scots shaped the city’s spiritual life, education, and architecture.

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Canada is probably the country with the greatest Scottish connection. The first Scottish settlers in Canada came after Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, was granted land there by King James VI in 1621. This was to become New Scotland or Nova Scotia to give it its official name. Many of the settlers were gaelic speakers and the language remains alive and well in parts of Nova Scotia.

Ontario was another province with a strong Scottish presence. The second panel above is a lovely illustration of the move from rural Scotland to rural Canada.

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This short selection of panels from the Diaspora Tapestry began with Scotland’s links with Europe. It is only fitting that it should end with another illustration of this continuing link. Though many Scots have left to settle elsewhere, Scotland has always been at the same time a destination for others. People from all over the world have come and made Scotland their home, and have enriched the lives of all of us in the process. The panel above illustrates the arrival of Italians from Barga in the 19th century. Let us hope that all who want to come to live in Scotland can do so.

 

 

More Traditional Palestinian Embroidery

For my latest project I returned to traditional Palestinian embroidery.  The design or motif as they are normally called is Disc and comes from Gaza. Here it is.IMG_4740

This motif is one of the many in Margarita Skinner’s book, Palestinian Embroidery Motifs: A treasury of stitches 1850-1950. The Disc is clearly made up of various motifs. Unfortunately the book does not identify them. The centre square seems to be a variation of one of the star motifs, though I am not certain. The vertical and horizontal sections are  examples of the Kohl Holder motif. I cannot make out what the other sections are meant to be.

The piece is almost certainly not in the traditional Palestinian style! The fabric is an 18ct Aida in pale yellow. Not normally a colour for fabric. The motifs themselves would I suspect, have been stitched in a number of bright, vivid colours. Instead I went for another of my colour experiments. To contrast the yellow of the fabric I chose just two colours – dark delft blue and dark blue violet. Both from the DMC cotton range and I used two strands for the cross stitches. With luck this piece should fit into one of IKEA’s neat little square frames. Crossing my fingers!  Happy stitching.

Bargello à Six (No 3)

Another Bargello project completed. This is now the third piece I have stitched with six different bargello patterns. The previous two were stitched in greens and pinks. You can see them here. For this latest version I chose a colour scheme based on lavender and violet. Here it is.IMG_4733

The fabric is my usual 18ct Aida in green. For this piece I used three strands of cotton, mostly Anchor. Each square is approximately 10cmx10cm.  Some of the patterns are repeats from the previous compositions, while some are new.  As usual with almost all of my work, the finished piece is not quite squared off. Still, adds to the charm, at least that is my story, and I am sticking to it!

The dimensions of the piece were chosen to fit into an IKEA frame. The photo above shows the embroidery in the mount. Now that I have complete three versions of this composition I may try a slight variation. Instead of six different patterns all stitched in the same colour scheme, I will go for the same pattern, but stitched in different colours. Happy stitching!

Flower Pots and Rosebuds

My first project for 2017 is now complete. At least the stitching part is. It is another composition using traditional Palestinian embroidery motifs. I am calling it Flower Pots and Rosebuds as these two motifs feature in the piece.img_4596

There are two other motifs as well. The central section in gold and yellow is the Olive Branch. The Flower Pots are in greens with a bright red for the flower itself. On either side of the Flower Pots are Rosebuds in pink and purple. To complete the composition I used the Crowns motif in two shades of blue.

All the threads are Anchor pearl cotton No 5. The fabric is a 14ct Aida in grey. The composition is my own design and while the motifs are traditional Palestinian, the colours used are not traditional at all. A Scottish-Palestinian original!

I will iron on a backing and then propose to turn the piece into a simple wall hanging. I am going to try this approach to finishing my work off with some other pieces.

My next project will be another foray into Blackwork. Though not in black! The subject is the Scottish crossbill. I already have the outline shape on the fabric and stitching will commence soon.

Happy stitching everyone!

Merlin in flight

Another Blackwork piece now finished. At least the stitching part is finished I think. Not in black of course, but in blue. Not quite sure why I chose blue. Perhaps as it was a bird in the sky, blue just seemed right? Anyway here it is, hot of the frame.img_4500

The fabric is also in blue, a 32 count murano in light blue. This is a cotton/modal mix, which I use a lot for blackwork. A bit cheaper than linen! Good colour to represent the sky I think. The thread is a dark royal blue silk from the au ver à soie range. I used one, two and three strands in the work. Altogether there are six different blackwork patterns in the piece. These patterns do not of course represent the actual pattern of feathers on a merlin. I just chose those I liked and aimed for a bit of contrast between open and closed patterns. Artistic licence?

I don’t think it shows in the photo, but the beak and the eye are in different threads. The beak is a dark navy blue cotton thread – two strands over the silk. While the eye is a brighter royal blue from the Rajmahal silk/rayon collection.

At the moment I intend to leave the work without an outline. The feathers on a bird never make a single line. So a broken line seems to go with the subject matter.

The inspiration for this piece came from a work we saw during our recent trip to Mull in October. There I came across this simple, but lovely painting on wood.

Version 2On seeing this piece I immediately thought I could try something similar using blackwork patterns.  The outline for the merlin comes from an old, 1972, copy of Book of British Birds. From the same source I have an outline of a crossbill, which may well be my next foray into blackwork!

Is it embroidery?

This post was in part inspired by a leaflet for next year’s knitting and stitching show in Edinburgh. There I found out that the workshops on offer included ones on cross stitch and ones on embroidery. I was more than a little surprised by this as I had always assumed that cross stitch was just another embroidery stitch and not an art or craft form on its own. Anyway this chance discovery got me thinking about what I call or should call what I do.

Naming things is an intriguing and at times controversial activity. One which has led to many a querulous dispute! When I first got started I was very reluctant to use the term embroidery and simply referred to my work as stitching. I was a simple stitcher! This of course did not convey anything to anyone. Stitching covers a multitude of activities and no doubt a few sins.  Think of medicine, fishing, taxidermy and so on.

So out went stitching, but what could take its place? There is a wide range to choose from, but none feels really satisfactory. As I work with a needle and thread, needle work seems an obvious choice. But, as with stitching, all kinds of people work with a needle. So needlework was not much use either.

But what I hear someone say, is wrong with the term embroidery? My reluctance to use this stems from my particular conception of what embroidery is. For me embroidery conjures up a twofold image. It is art of embellishing or ornamenting a fabric. At the same time this fabric has a practical use. This can be an item of clothing, a chair cover, a cushion et. Now when I started working with a needle and thread I never made anything practical at all. Even now I only rarely make something useful. Since for me to embroider is to embellish and I don’t or very rarely embellish anything, the term embroidery has never seemed right for me.

Embroidery does of course cover many types of work. Needlepoint for example, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a particular set of stitching techniques worked upon stiff openwork canvas. However, because it is stitched on a fabric that is an open grid, needlepoint is not embellishing a fabric, as is the case with most other types of embroidery, but literally the making of a new fabric.”  Much of my work falls into this category, Bargello work for example. Which is why this blog is called The Bargellist. Though I do not limit this work to stiff canvas. On the contrary most of my Bargello pieces are stitched on soft Aida cloth.

However I would never call myself a Needlepointer, as not all my work falls into this category. Blackwork, crewel work and traditional Palestinian embroidery have over the years been added to my repertoire of work. These do embellish the fabric, but as mentioned above, very rarely to any practical purpose.

Apart from crewel work, all my other work falls into the counted-thread category of embroidery. Not that I would want to be described as a counted-thread worker!

What’s left? I have toyed occasionally with the term Textile Artist, but have never felt this was me. Firstly while I obviously start with a piece of textile, I don’t work with other fabrics at the same time. Secondly most textile work seems to involve some degree of machine work, and I don’t have a machine. Thirdly I don’t really think of myself as an artist.

When I have to write something about a piece I usually write that it has been hand embroidered. As all my work is done by hand. A Hand Embroiderer then? A bit of a mouthful and still leaves me a bit suspicious of the term embroiderer. This is just my problem though. However the work itself is quite clearly based on the use of stitches used in embroidery. So I use embroidery stitches to fill or part fill fabrics for no other purpose than to amuse myself. However hard I try I cannot get away from the term embroidery. Guess I will just have to get used to it.

Cymbidium

I have now finished my latest embroidery project. This started life with the thread – a lovely Louisa Harding yarn from the Amitola range. This is a variegated wool/silk mix.img_4170 The colours go from brown through orange, purple on to pink. Though in this case only the first three colour ranges came into play. The photo above shows the brown and orange shades that make up the bulk of the piece. I had bought this yarn a year ago at a sale in a fabric shop in Pittenweem and it has lain around in a  box as I figured out how to use it. The yarn is of course meant for knitting, but I liked the colours so much that I went ahead and bought it, with no idea of how I could use it in embroidery.

Finally a few weeks back I decided that enough was enough and I had better start using the yarn or just give it away to a knitter and put it out of its misery. I felt that some kind of crewel design would be the most appropriate way to use the thread. Though funnily enough the design I did end up with is based on a pattern from a Bargello book. This consists of four pomegranate motifs which combine to form a cymbidium orchid.  img_4200

The fabric is a plain linen. The pomegranates are each stitched in block shading on the outer edges and for the inner edge I used a padded satin stitch. I reserved the darkest brown for the outline of the cymbidium, which I stitched with stem stitch. The outer circle is a heavy chain stitch. I have swithered as to leaving the piece as it is or whether to add some more stitches inside the circle. At the moment I like the simplicity of the composition as it stands. It also has a slight Celtic look about it which I like.

Currently I am working my way slowly on another Bargello medley. Though this time I have restricted myself to just two main colours. Not usual for Bargello patterns. I will need to wait for completion to see if it works or not.  Happy stitching!