Making the Tapestry
On a dark and windy evening in November 1993 there was a packed hall in Fishguard's Community Education Centre. Over 80 people had come to find out about the Last Invasion Tapestry Project. We described how the work would be done and the commitment which would be needed. The response was tremendous. By the end of the evening over sixty embroiderers and helpers had been recruited, ranging in age from around thirty to eighty two years old. During the next few weeks word spread and by February 1994 seventy embroiderers were eager to make a start.
It was decided that the stitchers should begin work on the first part of the Tapestry whilst the remaining two thirds of the cartoon was still being created. There were between 60 and 70 stitching volunteers ready to start work. It was not practical for them to undertake the embroidery on a continuous length of fabric. Instead it would be done on "manageable" sized panels which would eventually be joined together. Elizabeth, the designer, decided on thirty seven divisions of the cartoon varying in length from nineteen inches (48cms) to forty six inches (117cms). Each panel would have its own interests and challenges and when joined together the overlap embroidery would not be too complex. The embroiderers now organised themselves into small groups who would work together on their panels in their own homes.
A local builders' merchant donated suitable wood and two of the husbands of the embroiderers constructed the embroidery frames. 40 metres of an unbleached cotton fabric had been bought in a Greek market and brought home in holiday suitcases and this was backed with muslin and stretched tightly on the frames.
The tracings which Elizabeth had made from her painting could now be transferred to the fabric. This was a crucial process if the quality of the original drawing was to be retained and we were fortunate to have several volunteers who were prepared to do a large part of this meticulous tracing as their contribution to the project. Many of our embroiderers also turned their hands to this task. Carbon paper was used to transfer the tracing and this was then drawn over with a waterproof pigment pen. By now the original image had goone through five processes - drawn, painted, traced, carbon transferred and inked. Nevertheless the characteristics of Elizabeth's drawing were intact.
Youth and Maid Flee to Church
Meanwhile another huge task had been undertaken by Elizabeth with help from one of the embroidery co-ordinators, Rozanne Hawksley. The crewel wools which would be used for the embroidery had to be matched to every detail of the painting, and colour charts and instructions written for every panel. This work went on for many months until a bulk order for the wools could be placed.
The wools arrived in large hanks which seemed to fill one of the Community Education rooms where they were spread out. Altogether 178 colours were used in the embroidery and these all had to be separated into smaller skeins, numbered and stored in such a way as to make them readily accessible. Many volunteers helped with this part of the organisation but the main part of it was done by Margaret Bennett.
In December 1994 we had twelve panels ready, complete with their instruction charts and allocated wools and the day had arrived when the first stitches could be put in. Our groups started work in earnest.
It was at this stage that the interpretation of a water-colour painting into an embroidery, which would then have its own life, HAD to work. It was a subtle mixture of fidelity to the painting and to the nature of embroidery. Achieving line, form and colour mixing through painting or embroidery are very difficult processes and this was a real challenge for the stitchers. Small details had to be checked for accuracy against the original painting and to do this, Elizabeth was available on an almost daily basis. If the details weren't right they were patiently unpicked and redone.
Meetings were called from time to time so that the embroiderers could compare notes and share ideas and we could all see progress being made. As the first panels were finished new ones were started until all the Tapestry was in hand. The Welsh and English lettering in the borders was added last and the panels made ready for joining together.
Bringing the separate panels together proved to be one of the trickiest stages of the project and took longer than we had anticipated. Adjacent parts of the design had to be perfectly matched and the seams sewn with tiny hand stitches. Initially we had hoped to do this sewing as a whole group but this became impractical and one of our embroiderers, Joan Thomas, volunteered to join all the panels.
At last in the autumn of 1996 the Tapestry came together in one piece. The "overlap"embroidery was completed and eleven rows of stem stitch - a total of over eleven hundred feet (330 metres) were added along the borders to frame the work. In January 1997 a cotton lining (donated by a local firm) was hand sewn to the Tapestry. Continuous Velcro strips were attached to the lining at the top and bottom edges and at intervals vertically along its length, ready for display.
The Tapestry was installed in its purpose built display case in February 1997. It was unveiled and put on show to the public on February 22nd 1997 - the bicentenary of the date when the French forces landed at Carreg Wastad.
Audrey Walker (Project Co-ordinator)
Making the Tapestry Video*
(45 minutes long – may need to be edited down into smaller section) – may require permissions from tapestry group / copyright holders etc
Credits (Advisers and Stitchers)
The Tapestry was designed by a professional artist - Elizabeth Cramp RWS. Three other professional artists acted as advisors for the actual embroidery - Rozanne Hawksley, Eirian Short and Audrey Walker. All three had been lecturers in the Textiles Department at Goldsmiths College, University of London before coming to live in Pembrokeshire.
Seventy seven people helped to make the tapestry:
Joyce Ayres, Ann Barker, Ann Barnett, Pauline Barnett, Pam Balascheff, Margaret Bennett, Grizel Care, Cherry Campbell, Peggy Cateaux, Judy Chapman, Pauline Chesters, Frances Chivers, Philip Chivers, Mary Clark, Christine Conlon, Jenny Curry, Tricia Curtis, Beryl Davies, Pamela J. Davies, Marie Davies, June Dimmick, Jill Edge, Hetty Edwards, Hazel Evans, Olive Evans, Kathleen Foot, Betty George, Betty Griffiths, Noreen Haswell, Rozanne Hawksley, Roger Hill, Greta Homewood, Mona Howell, Margaret Hughes, Mona John, Eileen Johns, Vena Johns, Peggy Jones, Wendy Kinver, Elsie Lanham, Nora Lanham, Gill Lewins, Margaret Lewis, Lizzie Macrae, Liz Maxwell-Jones, Valerie Mcnab, Gwen Michael, Elizabeth Morris, Audrey Mowatt, Avril Norman, Alex Owen, Esther Owen, Betty Pearce, Heledd Phillips, Lesley Phillps, Rita Phillips, Pat Price, Jean Pugh, Ann Reive, Nest Roberts, Anne Robinson, Mary Robinson, Denys Short, Eirian Short, Rowena Sturdgess, Beth Symons, Ann Sympson, Elisabeth Mortimer Thomas, Joan Thomas, Olwen Thomas, Audrey Vaughan, Audrey Walker, Kitty Ward, Kay Williams, Marian Wixey, Hatty Woakes, Mary Yule.