Earlier this year, we explored various embroidered tapestries from all over the world, focusing on how embroidery is used to tell stories.
Just as narrative poetry can relate the great epics of mythology and history, narrative embroidery can relate visually – in vivid, captivating detail – similar epics.
If you’ve ever contemplating starting a narrative tapestry, whether on a small scale (relating, for example, the story of your own family), or on a larger scale, perhaps relating the history of your city or town or region, then you definitely will be interested in The Art of Narrative Embroidery by Rosemary Farmer and Maggie Ferguson.
And heck, even if you never dream of creating a narrative piece of embroidery, if you love embroidery, history, bustling activity, people, places, animals, ships, incredible vistas – all worked with needle and thread – you’ll love this book!
The Art of Narrative Embroidery, published by Prestoungrange University Press, is a narrative itself. It tells the story of the creation of two tapestries, really – the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry and the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.
What makes this particular book different from other instructional embroidery books is that it isn’t so much an instructional book in stitchery as it is a demonstration on how stitches can be used to produce these magnificent works of art.
What you’ll find among the pages is a vast resource of inspiration and ideas for how to make your stitches tell stories.
The book is loaded to the gills with detailed photos of the embroidered panels of both the Prestonpans Tapestry and the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.
The photos are divided into eleven categories, and each category comprises a section of the book.
Landscapes kick off the book, because really, you can’t have a story without a setting! The landscapes are an essential part of the tapestry panels, and you’ll find in the photos all kinds of landscapes represented in stitchery, with detailed descriptions of how the particular landscape was worked and with what stitches.
You’ll find close up photos of native flowers (not just native to Scotland, though a good amount of thistles do show up!), of leaves, vines, trees and the like included under landscape, too.
I’m pretty sure you couldn’t tell any story of Scotland without mention of the sea, and so seascapes figure in as well – and some of them are just glorious!
Heads follow landscapes. The great stories of history, after all, are about people, so people figure into the tapestries abundantly.
Detailed descriptions of the people, who they are, where there are on the particular tapestries, and how they were brought to life in stitchery are all included. And it all makes fascinating reading!
And of course, the people are pretty much clothed, so the next section is on apparel.
And oh, golly, talk about vivid, expressive, and sometimes motley – this section of the book is downright fun! The embroiderers went to town on the apparel, using the clothing as a springboard for some exquisite creativity.
And, being Scottish tapestries, there’s no wonder plaid figures into the apparel… a lot!
There’s no dearth of plaid in the book, so if you’ve got a thing for tartans and have always wanted to stitch up your own little clan figures knocking their heels together in a bit of a reel, you’ll find all kinds of ways to embroider plaids in this book!
After the section on apparel, there’s a small section on small figures, items, household goods and the like, followed by a section on the military, including soldiers, armor, uniforms, weapons, fighting scenes…and plaid.
Next up, buildings! From castles to cottages, cityscapes to chimneys, you’ll find all kinds of buildings depicted in the tapestries, along with bridges, fences, doors… everything building-related fits into this section.
If you’d like some inspiration on how to depict your home, your city, your favorite building or bridge in embroidery, you’ll find plenty here!
What do people do all day? This is an important part of any human story, so industry has its own section, too. Here, you’ll see people at work in all kinds of spheres of industry. You’ll also see tools of various pursuits – the gardener’s spade, the carpenter’s saw, the gold miner’s pan.
The movement of the masses in related in a section dedicated to vehicles – planes, trains, and the like, from the humble bicycle to the Flying Scotsman.
But ships – they get their own section, and I’m glad of that! Glorious, glorious ships, in glorious detail!
And there is, of course, a section on animals. Sheep figure somewhat prominently, as do horses, and there’s a magnificent beaver in there, too!
The final category is Borders and Letters, and here you’ll find lots of embroidered ornament and lettering, with all the details on how they were achieved.
Following the various categories, you’ll find a section that demonstrates the stitching of one panel in progress, as well as a glossary of stitches used.
And the book ends, appropriately, with a comprehensive list of the 1000-ish volunteer stitchers from over 30 countries around the world who worked on the various tapestry panels.
Pros & Cons
The pros to owning The Art of Narrative Embroidery are numerous:
1. It’s a wide source for inspiration, especially if you have any interest in narrative embroidery, but also for those who like scenic embroidery, figure embroidery, and the like.
2. There’s really no other book like it.
3. It’s a fantastic way to see close-up details of embroidered tapestry panels.
4. It’s a fascinating history lesson.
5. The embroidery is really beautiful and fun to explore.
I can’t really think of any. Perhaps the fact that it’s not widely available and has to be ordered from the UK, but that’s just the way it is – I don’t really see that as a con.
Where to Find
You can find The Art of Narrative Embroidery on the Prestoungrange Arts Festival Boutique website. The book is £12 plus shipping, and outside the UK, shipping is a little steep, at £13, which brings the book to about US$38, with the current currency conversion.
If you have an interest in this type of embroidery, it’s definitely worth the price! You’ll find hours of enjoyment in poring over the images, captions, and details in the book, and you’ll discover that it’s a vast source of inspiration for your own stitching projects.