Large Tree Group: Behind the Tapestry

Large Tree Group Tapestry on the loom, Victoria Crowe, woven by Naomi Robertson and David Cochrane, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Michael Wolchover, 2013
Large Tree Group Tapestry on the loom, Victoria Crowe, woven by Naomi Robertson and David Cochrane, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Michael Wolchover, 2013

To mark 100 years of innovation in tapestry weaving, Dovecot Studios embarked on an ambitious project, in collaboration with artist Victoria Crowe, to create a tapestry entirely from un-dyed wool, sourced from within the United Kingdom.

The design of the tapestry was taken from Victoria Crowe’s celebrated 1975 painting Large Tree Group, one of a series of works depicting shepherd Jenny Armstrong. Born in 1903 at the farm of Fairliehope, near the village of Carlops, Armstrong worked all her life in the Pentland Hills, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Crowe recorded the life and work of this remarkable woman and her relationship with the Pentlands landscape over a period of 15 years.

Master Weaver David Cochrane working on the tapestry, with the painting serving as a visual reference, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013
Master Weaver David Cochrane working on the tapestry, with the painting serving as a visual reference, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013

For the Master Weavers at Dovecot Studios the challenge lay in translating the painting’s range of colours and textures into the medium of tapestry, utilising only the natural pigments found in the fleeces of native sheep. To obtain the range of raw materials necessary, Dovecot and Victoria Crowe worked closely with 70 producers throughout the country, from small scale crofters to large estates.

Debbie and Frank Harvey, ‘Lonelybield’, Kitleyknowe, Scottish Borders, Alicia Bruce, 2013
Debbie and Frank Harvey, ‘Lonelybield’, Kitleyknowe, Scottish Borders, Alicia Bruce, 2013

The fleeces were, in turn, spun into yarns by a range of specialists, from individual hand spinners, to commercial operations.

Spinning yarns at The Natural Fibre Company mill, Launceston, Cornwall, Alicia Bruce, 2013
Spinning yarns at The Natural Fibre Company mill, Launceston, Cornwall, Alicia Bruce, 2013
Nancy Wilson spinning yarn, Broughton village hall, Scottish Borders, Alicia Bruce, 2013
Nancy Wilson spinning yarn, Broughton village hall, Scottish Borders, Alicia Bruce, 2013
A small sample of un-dyed wools with labels from producers and spinners throughout the UK which were used in the tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Alicia Bruce, 2013
A small sample of un-dyed wools with labels from producers and spinners throughout the UK which were used in the tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Alicia Bruce, 2013

The resultant range of un-dyed woollen yarns was handwoven by Master Weavers David Cochrane and Naomi Robertson, between 2012 and 2013. The finished tapestry, complete after hundreds of hours of painstaking work, demonstrates the weavers’ mastery of blending colour and rendering complex patterns in tapestry.

Woven test piece, shown against a cartoon for the full scale tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013
Woven test piece, shown against a cartoon for the full scale tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013

Large Tree Group Tapestry, a beautiful work in its own right, embodies a powerful story of collaboration and stands as an enduring testament to the Scottish landscape, the lives of those who work the land and the art of tapestry weaving. For the exhibition Fleece to Fibre: the Making of the Large Tree Group Tapestry, labels were carefully added to the weft yarn ends on the reverse of the tapestry, detailing the breed and location of the sheep and the names of the producers and spinners. The labels were removed prior to display and now exist as a photographic record of all those who contributed to the project.

Large Tree Group Tapestry, reverse, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Michael Wolchover 2013
Large Tree Group Tapestry, reverse, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Michael Wolchover 2013
Detail of reverse of Large Tree Group Tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013
Detail of reverse of Large Tree Group Tapestry, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, Kenneth Gray, 2013

Large Tree Group Tapestry was first shown at Dovecot Studios in 2013 as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival and donated to National Museums Scotland by Sir Angus Grossart QC, CBE, DL, the following year. The original exhibition Fleece to Fibre: The Making of the Large Tree Group Tapestry was curated by Ben Divall and toured to the Australian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and Fleming Collection, London.

Large Tree Group Tapestry is now on display in the Hawthornden Court at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

Photograhy by Alicia Bruce and Kenneth Gray.

+ Dovecot Studios 

+ Victoria Crowe

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