Scottish Diaspora tapestry to go on display for first time

Aaron Johnston sews the tapestry he made. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Aaron Johnston sews the tapestry he made. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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A UNIQUE tapestry chronicling the impact of Scots throughout the world has gone on display in its entirety for the first time, after being gradually enlarged by an army of volunteers as it travelled the globe.

More than 1000 people in 34 countries have contributed to the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, which is made up of 305 individual panels representing almost every aspect of Scottish culture and heritage.

For the past three years the artwork has travelled the world, more than doubling in size as members of the Scottish diaspora added their favourite stories about their countrymen and women who found fame and success overseas.

Organisers estimate that more than 75,000 hours of embroidery have gone into the creation of the tapestry, with people aged between 12 and 90 adding everything from a few stitches to complete panels.

After being displayed around the world from Norway to New Zealand, the is now on public display at St Giles’ Cathedral until May 18, where it can be viewed for free. It will eventually be displayed permanently in Prestonpans, where the project was first conceived.

Some sections pay tribute to famous Scots, from the 10 who have held the office of UK Prime Minister to the great explorer David Livingstone and industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

However, members of the Scottish diaspora were also asked to send in stories about their ancestors and the impact they had on the local area, meaning that some panels contain deeply personal tales passed down through generations.

Working in collaboration with Scottish artist Andrew Crummy, who also designed the Great Tapestry of Scotland, volunteers at home and abroad have since brought the stories to life through the traditional craft of narrative embroidery.

Organisers described the completed artwork as a “stunning visualisation of the experiences, achievements and legacies of Scottish migrants around the world and across the centuries”.

Arran Johnston, a historian and writer who helped to organise the tapestry’s global tour, described the process as a “giant relay race” with one Scottish community responsible for passing the tapestry onto the next.

“Wherever you go in the world, you can find stories of Scottish migrants and their descendants who have had a really quite broad, wide-ranging and fascinating impact on their home communities,” he said.

“What you see when you view the tapestry is the scale of the impact that Scots have had around the world, visualised in something tangible. It’s an amazing introduction to some well known stories but also some very personal stories.”

He added that while some panels communicated the “sense of hardship” felt by many Scots after leaving their homeland to start a new life abroad, the overall impression was “very positive”.