Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Embroidered Stories: The Prestonpans Tapestry


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Lately, I’ve been exploring embroidered tapestries and other needlework projects that tell stories.

And there are oh, so many of them out there!

Embroidery has been used to tell stories for a long, long time. We’re probably all familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot long embroidered cloth that relates the tale of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. (If you haven’t seen it, this video animating the Bayeux Tapestry is fun!)

But the Bayeux Tapestry, while certainly the most famous, is not the only embroidered tale worthy of attention.

In recent years, many fascinating tapestry projects that focus on retelling an important story have been undertaken and completed. For example, the Ros Tapestry, which I wrote about previously, retells a snippet of the history of Ireland.

Despite the fact that it’s St. Patrick’s Day and everyone’s thinking Irish, here’s a modern Scottish tapestry that relates a snippet of Scottish history and is definitely worth exploring!

Prestonpans Tapestry

The Prestonpans Tapestry relates, in thread, the story of the events leading up to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s victory at the Battle of Prestonpans in September of 1745, after he returned from France (via Scotland) and garnered the support of the Scottish clans to rekindle the Jacobite rising and restore the Stuart monarchy.

The battle at Prestonpans was successful, insofar as the Scottish won against George II, but even more so because it boosted morale and garnered more support across Scotland for the Jacobite cause. However, April of the following year, the Jacobites lost against the Hanoverian forces at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness, which, for all practical purposes, marked the end of the 1745 Jacobite rising.

In 2010, to commemorate the battle at Prestonpans and the events that led up to it, a tapestry was begun. With more than 200 stitchers across Scotland and 25,000 hours of stitching, the 104 one-meter-long panels were completed between January and June of 2010.

On the viewing page on the Prestonpans Tapestry website, you can view the panels of the tapestry, along with explanations of the scenes and information about the embroiderers. Unfortunately, the online slideshow wasn’t working when I tried it last, but if you have PowerPoint (or Keynote on Mac), you can download the slideshow and view it on your own computer. (Hopefully, they’ll fix the online version soon!)

While you’re exploring the Prestonpans Tapestry website, take some time to read the background of the tapestry project. If you’ve ever imagined organizing or working a collaborative tapestry project that relates a story, this background information is good reading!

Some additional publications that are worth reading and are available on the website include “Stitching the Prestonpans Tapestry” by Dorie Wilkie (PDF) and “Designing the Prestonpans Tapestry” by Andrew Crummy (PDF).

I hope you find as much pleasure exploring the Prestonpans Tapestry as I did!

The more I explore large tapestry projects like these, the more I am enamored with them. If you’re also interested in this type of storytelling with thread, let me know, and I’ll share some other gems with you in the future.


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(63) Comments

    1. Jan Chalmers, who was very much involved in this project, is also the initiator of the Palestinian tapestry.

  1. Do you know about the Exeter Cathedral needlework project? It tells the story of Exeter from Roman times and adds all the important church dignitaries along the way.

    1. Hi, Judy – This, I haven’t heard of, and I can’t seem to find any information on it. Do you know if the project or tapestry has a specific name? If you happen to have a link to more information, I’d love to read about it!

  2. I enjoy reading your stories about historical tapestries so please keep them coming our way. I’m especially interested in the altar piece recently restored & displayed in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was embroidered by British WWI soldiers who were recovering from their wounds in a British hospital. I don’t know if technically it falls under the label of a tapestry but it’s an interesting piece of historical embroidery.

  3. Oh yes, please. Such a wonderful way to get one interested in history, not to mention the joy of seeing such beautiful embroidery.

  4. Perhaps you’ve not spotted my email in your inbox, but I wrote to you just recently about a tapestry depicting the Last Invasion of the British Mainland by the French in the late 1700s. The 100-foot long work is housed in the library in Fishguard, Wales and is well worth a look.

    1. Hi, Annie – I did receive your email! Unfortunately, when I replied, it bounced back. I have the Invasion Tapestry on my list. I’d love to see it up close. The Pembrokeshire virtual museum has very few images, and they’re all tiny. But I enjoyed reading about it, and that area of Wales has been on my travel list for a long time, so hopefully some day, I’ll see it in person! 🙂

  5. You may also want to see the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry celebrating the many Scots who have spread around the world. My guild, the Canadian Embroiderers Guild – Guelph in Guelph, Ontario stitched a panel about local Scots and completed another for a group in Nova Scotia.

  6. I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bayeaux tapestry, and the Victorian replica in Reading museum. In line with Victorian sympathies, any naked men have been given a little pair of pants!

    I’ve also seen the Lady and Unicorn tapestry in Paris in the Cluny museum and have been lucky enough to see one of the stirling tapestries while it was visiting London – based on the lady and unicorn tapestries in Metropolitan museum in NY. http://www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk/tapestries

  7. Saw the Bayeux tapestry in person several months ago and was totally in awe. Seeing it and learning the history of the tapstry gave me a whole new perspective on embroidery. Also saw some fantastic embroidery work in Hong Kong that was beyond description. I find the history of embroidery fascinating, so definitely include these works and stories in your blog. Thanks mary for one of the best blogs ever!

  8. The things some people can do with their needles and thread is fascinating. I love history. (it’s my favourite subject) So, when you combine needlework and history I’m all for it!

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


  9. Please may I also receive any news on story tapestries. I have just seen the Keiskamma story tapestry. I was born in the Eastern Cape
    at Umtata (old spelling) so I was really impressed with the work done there. Thanks to the art students who initiated and worked with the ladies to give us this piece of history in thread and what a bonus to have it hanging in our parlimentary building.

  10. Thanks, Mary! I’ll check that out when I have a chance.
    My grandmother (mom’s mom, who we never met as she died when our mom was a teenager) was very talented. She wrote and illustrated some stories and I would just LOVE to be able to put them down using embroidery. I’ve thought about a quilt (we have quilters in the family). I’ve thought about getting a big piece of linen and making squares. I’ve thought about a tapestry or sampler-like presentation. I’m still mulling…. though — my husband and I will be moving into an apartment that has a room I can use for crafts! Yeah! So I think I’ll have more change to mull over how best to capture grandma’s stories in thread.

  11. Mary, when we visited Conche, Newfoundland, in 2009, an embroiderers’ group was working on a tapestry chronicling the French history of their community. The project’s finished, but this little video tells more about it.

    Also, the Bayeux Tapestry video link doesn’t seem to be working.

  12. If your planning a trip to England, be sure to include a day in Portsmouth to view The Overlord Embroidery…it is the story of The Normandy Landings D-Day 6th of June 1944… Very impressive!

  13. Goodness, so interesting. I have not finished exploring all this site holds, but have downloaded the tapestry powerpoint. So far I have just looked at each panel without reading the background for each. I wanted to just have the general sense of it all. So far I am dazzled by the kilts and the rendering of the hats in the air in celebration. I will have much more to explore at my leisure. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing, Mary.


  14. Hi Mary

    Another interesting article. Thank you. Just to follow on, have you come across the D-Day tapestry or Overlord embroidery to give it’s official title? It was commissioned to commemorate 40 years of the D Day landings in Normandy in 1944

    It’s housed in the D Day Museum in Portsmouth (UK) and this is the link.

    It’s a true
    masterpiece. Hope you find it interesting.



  15. Dear Mary

    Just downloaded the Prestonpans Tapestry and glanced through the panelled tapestries so interesting and such a challenge all those panels and stitched by different people, such a wonderful piece of history shown in embroidered panels. I would love to see the tapestries in person and look more closely at the wonderful stitching and scenes of this historical event. Thanks Mary for sharing the Prestonpans Tapestry with us and for the website links fascinating stuff. P.S Just received my copy of the Embroideries of Liverpool Cathedral so I shall browse through it with anticipation.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  16. The Bayeux Tapestry was my late husband’s favorite bit of France, and I found the Guernsey tapestries that depict the history of the Bailiwick of Guernsey to be equally as wonderful, though not nearly as old. Not technically tapestries, the 10 canvas work panels are exquisite, and even though getting to Guernsey is a bit of a challenge, I would go again just to see them.

    1. I just saw the Quaker Tapestry a couple of days ago, absolutely glorious and such a warm welcome.

    1. Hi, Loretta! I’m familiar with the Overlord Embroidery – is that the same one? I’ll look it up – I think they’re probably the same. It’s a terrific piece!

  17. The same designer and many of the personnel were also the brains behind The Great Tapestry of Scotland. The Prestonpans and the new Diaspora tapestries and the stitches used to solve tricky stitching problems (how to stitch a wall, for instance, or a kilt — not as easy as you might think!) are set out in the wonderfully illustrated “The Art of Narrative Embroidery”.(http://www.prestoungrangeartsfestivalboutique.org/books/the-art-of-narrative-embroidery)

    1. Hi, Serinde – thanks for your comment! Yes, I heard from Andrew Crummy earlier today and just enjoyed perusing his website, which leads to the other three tapestries. Thanks for the link to the book – I’ve bought it and can’t wait to receive it!

  18. Enjoy hearing about and seeing narrative tapestries.

    Thank you every day for such excellent, useful, detailed. and entertaining information re embroidery.

  19. I definitely would like continuation of historical needlework stories, including tapestries. Glad that in today’s comments, readers left links to other sites too.

    Thanks Mary!

  20. Thanks Mary. This is very interesting. Maybe you need to coordinate telling the story of America. 2021 is the 225th anniversary of 1776. These are fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I have a book that explains how to do this type of storytelling through applique quilting. Just an idea!

  21. It’s a fabulous tradition and a fascinating way of recording life to pass on to future generations. I was lucky enough to contribute to a small tapestry organised locally a few years ago. http://www.alcesterinbloom.org.uk/tapestry.htm

    At the time, we were living in the cottage in the centre panel, 2nd row down and 4th from the left!
    There must be many such tapestries around the world; it would be great if they could all be displayed for viewing on one web site!

  22. Have you heard of the Plymouth Tapestries? The Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis has a series of five tapestries that tell the church’s history. You can find the story at http://midwestfiberartstrail.org. I got to see four of the five at once and the fifth in process, but usually you can see only one at a time.

  23. I think these are amazing! I would love to tackle something similar, on a smaller scale. Perhaps a personal history or story of an ancestor.

  24. Hello! Just read this and it seamed a bit surreal I was the stitch co-ordinator for both projects and Andrew was the designer!! We laughed while doing it saying your site must have had a massive amount of hits from our stitchers!! There is another one Andrew designed -Diaspora, for stitchers with Scottish connections in other countries!
    Glad you found us! Dorie

  25. Hi Mary
    Take a look at our website to see our next project The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. I have often told volunteers across the globe to watch your How To Youtube clips.

  26. Hello Mary,
    I read with interest your article on the Prestonpans Tapestry. I have see that Tapestry in Prestonpans, near Edinburgh. I am Scottish but live in Ontario Canada.
    In 2013,I arranged for our Embroiderers’ Guild in Guelph, Ontario Canada to be involved in stitching three (3) panels for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry which was organized by the same group which organized the Prestonpans Tapestry. Over 200 panels have been stitched from stitchers around the world, depicting the history of Scottish emigrees to places around the world where they influenced the development of their new communities.
    It was a very exciting project and last September I was very fortunate to see the work exhibited in Paisley Scotland.
    It was wonderful to feel part of something this big and on display. Hopefully we will see it make a tour around the world in the near future.
    Alison Jackson
    Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

  27. Hi Mary,

    Yes, I would be interested in more information like this.

    Do you know about the Overlord tapestry? It is needlework version of D-Day. I first heard of it when there was an article in “Smithsonian” (magazine of the museum) some years, probably over a decade or more ago. It was to commemorate D-Day in the same manner as the Bayeux Tapestry commemorated the Battle of Hastings. I have not found a complete version of the piece online, but this is a link to the website about it at the D-Day Museum.

  28. While in Scotland last Spring, I had opportunity to go to Paisley — where they were exhibiting the Great Tapestry of Scotland — which is, or course, NOT a tapestry, but an embroidery! It is of recent making — coordinating Scottish embroiderers from all over the country — 160 panels (1 meter x 1 meter) depicting the entire history of Scotland from the original heaving of the continental plates!! There is a good book about the “making of the Tapestry” (how they coordinated & organized it) and a book with photos and explanations of each of the panels. As an added bonus, the show (which was traveling around) was being housed at the Anchor Building (home of Anchor Threads way-back-when. It is now condos and a gallery, but I enjoyed that bit of history as well.

  29. About two years back, I went on an artist residency to a textile art center in the north of Iceland, in Blondúos, where they were working on a tapestry embroidery of an Icelandic saga that took place around Blondúos. The drawings were made by students from an art school in Reykjavik, and the ladies of the art center worked on the tapestry, together with anyone who visited and wanted to join in. I believe the end result would be around 52 meters long! Well, those Icelandic saga’s dó tend to be rather long, so I can see they needed the space! But it was really awesome to see and participate, like new history being made. They have a website, right here: http://textilsetur.com/about/vatndaela-tapestry/ I think you’d find it interesting! 🙂

  30. Hello Mary
    Here in Wales, there are two amazing needlework panels. One in Fishgard, Pembrokeshire which records the last time that Britain was invaded. The other is in Abergavenny.
    Both are he work of teams of embroiderers and clearly show that embroidery is not a dying art and is a wonderful way of recording our history.
    Thank you for your web site which is such a glorious affirmation of the art of embroidery.
    Bronwen. Swansea, Wales

  31. Hi Mary,
    Enjoyed reading your recent article regarding the Prestonpans Tapestry. Don’t you feel that needlework in this format is at it’s highest level? I just, this month, completed my family’s panel for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. What an honor for my family to be part of this project and what an extreme honor to stitch Andrew Crummy’s artwork!!! I did e-mail you a picture of the completed panel. Please make your subscribers aware of the Diaspora Tapestry and the Great Scottish Tapestry completed a year or so ago. Living in Florida now with all it’s history I am drawn to the idea of similar project here……who knows!!!!!? Hmmmm…

    Always enjoy your blog.
    Take care,
    Dottie James

  32. Good morning Mary. I love not only the story of the pieces. But much
    More. They are a glimpse into another time and place, and I always
    Yearn to knowthe story behind the story, of the people who made the
    Tapestry. I would love to hear more about different ones. Maybe
    People could let you know of ones they have seen. I saw one in Nova
    Scotia some years ago. I believe it was in Truro, and it. Amazing.
    I also had the pleasure of seeng the Embroiders Guild of Aericas tapestry
    About the U.S.A., and it took my breath away in its detail and design
    Scope. I anyone is ever in Paris, the tapestries at the Cluny, including
    The Lady and the Unicorn one are beyond the beyond. Thank you for
    Sharing this.

  33. I love this discussion and am thrilled to be introduced to such a diversity of historic tapestries. If anyone knows of links to commercial sites, including museum stores, that sell patterns based on these tapestries, I would greatly appreciate links.

  34. Hello Mary,
    Whilst stitching a panel from The Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Diaspora, you will be pleased to know that I regularly perused your website tutorials for inspiration. Your tutorials are great and I spent time following your instructions until I was confident enough to use particular stitches to add texture and interest.
    Thank you!

  35. Thank you for this fantastic link Mary, and also for a reminder about the animated Bayeux tapestry which I love.

    There simply can’t be too much about these wonderful co-operative works, so bring them on.

    By the way, there is a fabulous embroidery done by many women around Australia in our (new) Parliament House but I haven’t been able to find any information about it online yet. I have a great book all about it but no luck with Mr Google, just lots of words so if anyone else feels like having a go and finds something please let me know.

    1. Hi, Christina – I was looking for some kind of “cooperative” embroidered tapestry from Australia, but I haven’t had any luck finding anything online, either. England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, South Africa, France, Palestine, Iceland, Canada, the U.S. – I’ve found examples from all those countries, but nothing specifically from Australia or New Zealand. Hmmmm….with all the talented needle workers down under, and with all the rich and colorful history available, maybe someone should initiate something? 🙂 If anyone can find information on the one in the new Parliament House, that Christina mentions, I’d love to hear about it!

  36. Yes, I am definitely interested, and you may know of one in particular, that I would love to read about again. It is a tapestry about WWII, it supposedly resides in a brewery in, perhaps England.

    A lady spoke at a meeting of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America, in Atlanta, Georgia, many years ago. She had wonderful slides of this very detailed tapestry and the intricate work done to make it very realistic, especially on faces, and camouflage netting, etc. I would like very much to know where it is, know it’s name, and to read about it again. Thank you for your interest, too.

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