Alumni’s ‘Tapestry Weaver’ article revisited

Diana Scarth - Red Tapestry

A Visit to the Tapestry Studios at Stirling Castle and the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, February 2012

While a postgraduate student in Tapestry and Textile Art at West Dean College, 2011-12, and as part of my professional development, I went to Scotland to visit the tapestry studio in Stirling Castle which is affiliated to the professional Tapestry Studio at West Dean. Stirling Castle was fascinating, towering above the landscape on a rocky promontory. A misty day in February was the setting as I entered the Castle through an imposing gateway. The last of the Unicorn series of tapestries was on the loom – a project commissioned by Historic Scotland – and will reach completion in 2013 after 12 years in the making. The studios at West Dean and Stirling castle have both been continuously working on this project during this time. Katherine, a professional weaver from West Dean, was there to show me the work after hours, as during the day the visiting public can enter the studio and watch the work in progress. I found it so interesting to see close up all the detail and enormous range of colours being used. The tapestries were commissioned specifically to hang in Stirling Castle, the originals being in New York, and I went to look at the finished ones that are now hanging in the restored Queen’s Inner Hall. They looked magnificent, and surprisingly vibrant; one gets used to seeing ancient, faded examples of fine tapestries, such as those hanging in West Dean, but these were glowing with colour and most impressive. The next day I went into Edinburgh, such a beautiful city, to visit the Dovecot Studios, founded in 1912 and celebrating its centenary year. Over this time it has undertaken a great variety of projects, both public and private commissions, and worked in collaboration with an impressive list of artists.

Dovecot Tapestry Studios

The weaving space is fantastic, a converted swimming pool with the studio in the top section and two galleries and a café underneath. I was shown round by two friendly apprentices and we looked at all the work in progress. It was a point of interest to note how different studios have quite distinctive ways of using colour. I was very impressed to see their facilities for making tufted rugs – a process that has moved on considerably since the 1980’s. An electric ‘gun’ is loaded with wool, the synthetic backing fabric is stretched vertically on a frame, and then you ‘draw’ with the gun! When the image is complete everything is sealed at the back and shaved at the front and hey-presto! Rather exciting, I think, as a contrast with the slow, meditative work of tapestry.

It was a very informative and inspiring journey; I wish I could have had more time to visit other tapestry weavers around Scotland – perhaps another time…

Written by Diana Scarth, first published in Tapestry Weaver magazine, Issue 7, June 2012.