Artists weave some history

Katharine Swailes
Katharine Swailes
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THE final tapestry in a series of seven hand woven over 14 years by West Dean artists was unveiled last week at Stirling Castle.

The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn was created by weavers at West Dean Tapestry Studio, part of the internationally renowned college.

The first and last weavers to work on the Stirling Tapestry project, Ruth Jones, Louise Trotter and Emma Jo Webster admire the final tapestry in the series: The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn,  on public display at Stirling Castle's Royal Palace from tomorrow 24th June 2015 Neil Hanna Photography www.neilhannaphotography.co.uk

The first and last weavers to work on the Stirling Tapestry project, Ruth Jones, Louise Trotter and Emma Jo Webster admire the final tapestry in the series: The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn, on public display at Stirling Castle's Royal Palace from tomorrow 24th June 2015 Neil Hanna Photography www.neilhannaphotography.co.uk

The series was commissioned by Historic Scotland to recreate The Unicorn Tapestries (1495–1505) held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as part of a refurbishment at Stirling Castle.

At the unveiling ceremony were Ian Walford, chief executive Historic Scotland; Lesley Ferguson, head of collections, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland; and Alison Baxter, head of creative enterprise, West Dean College.

The West Dean weavers worked in two teams, one based at the college and the other in a purpose-built studio at Stirling Castle.

Studio Master Weaver Katharine Swailes worked on the whole project from the beginning.

The Arundel artist previously worked with Tracey Emin on Rose Virgin (2011) and further significant commissions.

“The opportunity to work on such a unique project was not expected, and was full of surprise and learning,” she said.

“Stepping in the path that weavers had taken 500 years before was thrilling, to investigate not only the image but the working practice of a weaver at the loom.

“It was an unique project and I am so pleased to have been part of it.”

Royal inventories at Stirling Castle show that James V owned more than 100 tapestries, however there is no record of what happened to them.

The tapestries woven by West Dean Tapestry Studio, the only professional studio in the UK, are part of a project to recreate the interiors of the palace to how they may have looked in the 1540s, when it was home to Mary, Queen of Scots, and daughter of James V.

The venture is the biggest weaving project undertaken in the UK for 100 years and brought together an international team of weavers.

The bespoke palette of colours and tones for the yarns were dyed in West Dean studio’s dye laboratory.

The artworks were deconstructed and the most important colours identified and matched using the studio’s recipe books as a reference.

It was essential to have all the yarns dyed at the outset in order for the weavers to begin to work out the different combinations of threads that made up the palette of mixes for weaving.

The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries are steeped in myth and allegory, not only the elaborate rituals of the medieval hunt and court etiquette but pagan and Christian iconography.

Pictorial tapestries were the most expensive and highly prized of the decorative arts in the Middle Ages and tapestries were the ultimate status symbol denoting wealth and importance.

An exhibition, Weaving the Unicorn, runs at Stirling Castle until spring 2016.

West Dean College, internationally renowned for Creative Arts and Conservation, is the only UK college offering full time postgraduate study in Tapestry and Textile Art.

The college is hosting a Tapestry Symposium on July 31 exploring the status of hand woven tapestry within contemporary art practices.

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