The Ros Tapestry
The Ros Tapestry Project is a massive community initiative in progress in the County of Wexford. Conceived in 1998 and being developed by over a 150 dedicated volunteers, fifteen striking embroidered panels – 6 x 4 foot each – it is a cultural and historical accolade to its creators.
The Ros Tapestries depict events around the Anglo-Norman arrival in the South East of Ireland, specifically the founding of the town of New Ross, Co. Wexford by William Marshal and Isabel de Clare. The content for these tapestry panels was exhaustively researched and designed by Ann Bernstorff.
Initiated in 1998, the tapestries will have taken sixteen years to complete before being installed in a suitable setting where they will remain on permanent public display.
The appeal of embroidery has always been its beguiling attention to detail. This is at the heart of the making of the Ros Tapestry. The embroiderers, the workers of magic, sit at a long frame and stitch the details of landscape – distant hills, rippling water and rough foregrounds using French and bullion knots, satin and chain stitch. Folds of dress fabric are done in couching skilfully adapted to effect the complicated pleats. Faces are done in smooth long and short stitch.
Teams of embroiderers gather throughout the county of Wexford and nearby Kilkenny to interpret the fifteen cartoons researched in depth and painted by Ann Griffin Bernstorff.
Where possible the panels are embroidered at venues which are associated with the historical content of the cartoon. For example, “The Siege of Wexford” was stitched at the Irish National Heritage Centre, at Ferrycarrig just outside Wexford Town.
The hours of stitching fit into the lives of people who farm, nurse, teach and look after families amongst other professions. Their contribution to the craft skills of the country and to contemporary visual culture is enormous.
The style of embroidery used is most closely related to that of crewelwork. We use stem, long and short, chain and burden stitch along with bullion and french knot, couching and seeding. These stitches, however are employed to describe shape, volume and movement rather than the more traditional application of crewelwork techniques. Having decided that the effect of the stitch was more important than the stitch itself it was aggreed amongst the embroiderers to refer to the style we use as ‘needle painting’.
The process involves the study of the cartoon, analysing of shape and movement, choosing of the right shade of woollen thread and the consideration of the type of stitch, it’s direction and size. 500 needles have been used – the points do get blunt as they stab through the Jacobean linen twill fabric which was chosen due to it’s sympathy with the woollen thread and it’s durability.