Stitching the stories of people and nature
During these difficult times, our connection to nature has been so important. Each time we venture outside, we’re reminded of the vital effect nature has on our well-being.
The Quaker Tapestry recognises this connection too, and reveals stories of people in nature. Let’s focus on a detail of the panel designed by Wendy Gillett and embroidered by the Milford Haven group. It’s called ‘Live Adventurously’.
‘Live Adventurously’ tells of American Quakers being invited to settle in Milford Haven in Wales, in 1792. We can see them on a green shore, giving thanks for a safe journey. And in the bottom right corner we move forward in time and find Welsh pacifist and poet Waldo Williams (1904-1971).
Imprisoned twice for withholding tax in protest against the Korean War, he was against new military bases in rural Wales. He also campaigned for the Welsh language to be restored to legal status.
Waldo has his back to us, so we can see what he sees. Seated on a favourite hillside, Carn Llidi, his view is of rain sweeping over the Preseli Hills, part of the Pembrokeshire coast. And he’s writing poetry. We know he suffered from depression and this was an uplifting place for him to be. He described the view and a vision he had there in “Ty Ddewi” and the embroidered landscape calls to mind his words: “The generous slope of the eternal land”.
This vignette is a wonderful example of embellished embroidery, look at the 3D effect of his haversack, the use of different stitches over a base of Bayeux on his jacket to show the folds, and his hair, with the detail of the bald patch.
In the top right of the panel there’s another lovely detail – a pod of grey sperm whales moving through waves – embroidered by children. It would have started out as a cartoon and recalls the whaling community of Nantucket Island, off America’s north east coast.
Every one of the tapestry panels has the power to send us off in different directions to question and to learn. This one gives us pause to consider the impact of nature, its presence in art and poetry, and the way it has, throughout time, both soothed and inspired artists and poets.
What is Man?
poem by Waldo Williams, translated by the poet and theologian, Rowan Williams
What is living?
The broad hall
found between narrow walls.
What is acknowledging?
Finding the one root
under the branches’ tangle.
What is believing?
Watching at home
till the time arrives for welcome.
What is forgiving?
Pushing your way through thorns
to stand alongside your old enemy.
What is singing?
The ancient gifted breath
drawn in creating.
What is labour but making songs
from the wood and the wheat?
What is it to govern kingdoms?
A skill still crawling on all fours.
And arming kingdoms?
A knife placed in a baby’s fist.
What is it to be a people?
A gift lodged in the heart’s deep folds.
What is love of country?
Keeping house among a cloud of witnesses.
What is the world to the wealthy and strong?
A wheel, turning and turning.
What is the world to earth’s little ones?
A cradle, rocking and rocking.
Are you fascinated by the stories of the tapestry and its production? Living Threads is the embroiderer’s story, is one of those books that once you start reading you can’t stop until you’ve finished. Jennie Levin spent five years researching the information, recording interviews with designers and embroiderers who have worked on the Quaker Tapestry.
Buying lovely things from us directly supports our charitable work. Your purchase helps us to preserve and exhibit one of the world’s largest community embroideries, sharing its stories, history and stitches for all to enjoy.
Quaker Tapestry facts
The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cms x 53.3cms and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. The ‘Quaker Stitch’ is now used by embroiderers around the world.
World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.
The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.
Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.