Saturday, 25 May 2019

The SWI Tapestry at Castle Fraser

I'm no stranger to a make-along, especially it seems when it comes to crochet.

Back in 2015, I made the Spice of Life Crochet Along Blanket as a way to learn new stitches and keep to a schedule as the pattern was released in six weekly instalments.  It was being made by hundreds of crocheters at the same time around the world, supporting each other, sharing progress pictures and cheering each other on.  A real motivator!

Last summer I took on the challenge of my first mystery crochet along run by The Crochet Project and made The Skimming Stones Shawl for similar reasons : a desire to further my skills in a supportive crafting environment but this time with the added fun challenge that I didn't know what the finished design would look like!   I subsequently gifted my shawl to my friend Helen of Ripples Crafts (above) as a booth sample as it's crocheted entirely from her hand dyed yarns.

So when I heard that a collaborative craft project by local branches of the Scottish Women's Institute for the National Trust for Scotland was looking for volunteers, I put my hand up straight away.  I couldn't attend the inaugural meeting at Castle Fraser last May but I popped along soon afterwards to pick up my supplies.

I was given a picture of the bell tower at Castle Fraser, a printed canvas and some tapestry wool.  I didn't see any of the other designs, meet any of the people behind the concept or any of the other participants or even  know what the finished piece was going to look like.  This was a going to be a make-along for one!

The castle itself is an impressive tower house, situated near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire only a dozen or so miles from where I live.  It's a wonderful place to visit, both inside and out, as there are beautiful gardens and woodland walks, as well as a wonderful tearoom.  Parts of the castle date back to the 1450's and I've highlighted the bell tower above.

Anyway - back to the tapestry canvas and wool -  maybe I should mention I've never done this before?

I made a long stitch picture from a kit of Lake Hayes as my husband and I travelled round New Zealand - but that was in 1992 (and he was still my boyfriend).

Undaunted by my rookie level ability, and bolstered by tips from experienced tapestry makers at my local weekly knit group, I worked steadily away and gradually filled the canvas with colour, managing to complete it by the September deadline.  I've turned my progress photos into a wee movie - do listen with the sound on as the accompanying track I randomly chose speeds up towards the end, rather like my stitching itself!  (you might have to click the play icon twice)

If the movie won't play for you for any reason, I've included a progress collage below.

Tah dah!  Here's my finished panel, just before I sent it back to Castle Fraser last autumn.

Asking how the project arose, I learned that the SWI was invited to make a wall hanging for the National Trust after a successful exhibition to mark the SWI centenary in 2017 was staged at Castle Fraser.  There are already two other community tapestries at the castle, the concept of Catriona Skene.  The first was completed by National Trust colleagues and local friends and depicts points of interest from the gardens, the estate and the castle over a series of four panels, two of which are pictured below.  The following year, local schools participated in the stained glass window design (shown on the right) featuring flora and fauna on the estate.  It's hoped these might be displayed permanently in The Gatehouse in future.

Earlier this month I received an invitation to Castle Fraser to see the finished SWI tapestry along with others from the Aberdeenshire Federation of SWI who'd been involved with the project.  Ladies from the following Aberdeenshire Scottish Women's Institutes took part : Logie Durno, Balgownie, Esslemont,  Auchnagatt, Glass, Daviot, Monymusk and  Kildrummy as well as myself from Oldmeldrum SWI.  Other groups expressed an interest too including Tullynessle & Forbes SWI.

Designed for the National Trust by Katy Gordon, and put together by seamstress Jane Balme, the SWI panel celebrates the completion of exterior works to the castle 400 years ago.

Here I am, all smiles, as I get to see the finished design for the first time.

Two similar panels of each of the four corner designs had been made by SWI ladies, one for the wall hanging and one framed and placed on a window ledge in the room.   Here's my piece in its frame.

I'm pleased that my contribution fits into its new home and can be enjoyed there for years to come.

And as far as make-alongs go, I'm sure it won't be long til I'm embarking on another - though I might try to find out what I'm letting myself in for first next time!


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