Tuesday 4 October 2022

The Book of Deer Community Textile Banner Project - Taking Part

Scotland's oldest surviving book returned home this summer.   On loan from Cambridge University, and with lottery funding, the 10th Century Book of Deer was proudly displayed in Aberdeen Art Gallery for three months.  I'd the pleasure of seeing it for myself in August.  Thought to be designed for personal use, it's a wee book of great import.  Whilst the monks scribed in Latin, they notated the margins in Scots Gaelic making this the earliest evidence of written Gaelic in Scotland.   The monks also doodled mythical beasties around the edges of these precious pages.

Aberdeenshire Council's cultural arm, Live Life Aberdeenshire, along with partner agencies,  developed a programme of events to generate interest in the return of the Book of Deer to Scotland for the first time in 1000 years.  The community textile project, From Book to Banner, sought crafters from across the shire to join groups at their local libraries to stitch a series of panels.  Rachael Forbes, the artist commissioned to design the textile banners, drew inspiration from the illuminated illustrations in the book as well as incorporating some of the fantastical creatures doodles by the monks.  She also dyed threads and fabrics using natural dyes the monks would have had access to in the 10th century.

Red (madder root) Blue (woad) Yellow (alder buckthorn) Grey/purple (alconet) Grey/brown (dried elderberries)

Inverurie Library hosted my nearest group.  During our inaugural get-together last May, I joined the eight other aspiring banner makers to chose which section each wanted to make.  Rachael had cleverly translated each of her banner artwork prototypes into detailed sectional drawings.

As I'm not an expert at embroidery, I was happy the more experienced stitchers in the group chose the apostle figures whilst I selected a background to a figure.  Each section comprised donated fabric, aged with tea by Rachael, on which she'd drawn the design with a dissolvable pen.  We each also received an envelope of matching applique pieces, complete with Bondaweb adhesive.  I couldn't wait to get all mine ironed on to the backing fabric so I could start stitching.

To help guide our hands, Rachael recorded a short YouTube video for each section of each panel.  I'm in awe of the amount of preparation work Rachael did to ensure that no matter the level of experience, the craft group volunteers would be comfortable recreating her designs in stitch.
Tentatively, I started outlining all these wee coloured pieces in black whipstitch as required.  I didn't rush and gently stitched away over five weeks, in between other craft projects, to complete all the black lines.  By this time I'd gained confidence and managed to complete the colourful embroidery stitches in just five days!

Hilary, who I knew but hadn't met before this project, was stitching the apostle which fitted into my background.  When she had completed her section, we married up the two pieces in early June over a companionable coffee and lots of chat.

Meanwhile, the group was meeting regularly at Inverurie Library and I joined them when I could to enjoy the company of the other ladies. It was exciting seeing the design emerge as sections were completed.  Any head scratching over how the pieces should be joined together was definitely made easier as a group!

You'll see there are crochet motifs along the upper and lower edges of the banner.  Rachael incorporated repeat patterns from the Book of Deer into all her designs and left each group to make them depending on the craft skills of the group members.  I crocheted a few prototypes from a book I own called Crocheted Granny Squares (20 to make) by Val Pierce until I got the size right for the space. 

Margaret then made eight more but there was space for ten so we used my matching sample and I unravelled one that was too big and re-made it in the same undyed Shetland wool.  

Once all the sections had been attached to the backing panel, strips of coloured fabric had to be attached to frame them.  Tiny self coloured stitches secured the strips then they all needed to be outlined with black thread.  Most of the group took it in turn to complete this work over several days, taking the banner home to do so.  I was one of the last to stitch the outlining so I got to proudly hold it up - finished! 

Now you can see the four apostles made by Fran, Hilary, Collette and Janet and the surrounding sections complementing them made by Lesley, Margaret, Glynis, Jane and me.

The next step was to sew on a fabric border and quilt the top piece, work beautifully undertaken by Fran.

All banners then returned to Rachael for finishing, including the attachment of hanging loops.  

It was always the intention to display the banners back to back on three free-standing easels with a grand unveiling to take place on 2nd October 2022 to mark the end of the visit of the Book of Deer to the North East of Scotland at Aberdeenshire Farming Museum at Aden Country Park, Mintlaw.  The chosen venue as it's close to the site of Deer Abbey, where it's thought the Book was written, and has a permanent display about the Book.

Here are the banners on display at the opening event.  
Firstly, Inverurie Group banner -

Inverurie Group Banner

Such a lot of stitches.  

Artist Rachael Forbes with the Inverurie Banner

Such a great achievement.  Friendships forged and skills cherished.

Banchory, Inverurie and Banff Group Banners

Peterhead, Mintlaw and the Home Group Banners

Peterhead Group Banner

Mintlaw Group Banner

Home Group Banner

Banchory Group Banner

Banff Group Banner

I feel very grateful to have taken part in this wonderful community effort.

The Banners will be on display at Aberdeenshire Farming Museum at Aden Country Park until the end of October 2022 and over the winter they will tour the libraries where the craft groups met to create them.

If you're in the area you can see the banners here:

Peterhead Library 4th to 16th November 2022
Banff Library 23rd November to 12th December 2022
Inverurie Library 11th January to 23rd January 2023
Banchory Library 28th January to 9th February 2023
Stonehaven Library 14th February to 5th March 2023
Mintlaw Library 9th to21 St March 2023


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