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Stitching the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

Some 650 volunteers from across the Highlands and Islands are creating a collaborative tapestry telling the story of those communities.

A panel of The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Tapestry with stitchers in Islay
A panel of The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Tapestry with stitchers in Islay

Some of the beauties and spirit of Islay and Jura have been captured for posterity in tapestry form. Four stitchers from Islay have come together to create a panel for The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Tapestry.

This project has seen some 650 volunteers from across the region work in local community groups to create around 50 separate panels, which together celebrate and tell the stories of Highlands and Islands life down the generations. 

The finished artwork will ultimately be displayed in the newly created visitor centre at Inverness Castle, when it opens in 2025, as well as within community venues across the Highlands and Islands. 

The Islay panel has been created by Peggy MacNab, Kate Skinner and Carolyn Ferguson from the Rhinns, and Rae Woodrow from Bowmore. Peggy persuaded the others to form a group together, having been inspired by visiting The Great Tapestry of Scotland, created ten years ago and designed by the same artist, Andrew Crummy. 

The four stitchers all brought their own perspectives to the project. Kate said:

“I have had a go at many different crafts during the 15 years I have lived on Islay – but this was all new to me.  In September of 2022 I spent a ferry journey to the mainland watching YouTube clips and trying out stitches. I loved the colours we were given, they really go with the Islay landscape and I was also really pleased we could use tweed from Islay Woollen Mill and ‘home grown and hand dyed’ wool from Tormisdale Croft Crafts.  

“It was also great to have the freedom to add the images we felt were the real spirit of Islay and Jura to the panel. But, the best part was spending time with people I knew, but hadn’t really spoken to in the past.”

In contrast with Kate’s crafting experience, Carolyn confessed: “I was a totally raw beginner, absolutely new to any form of stitching or sewing. So I was pretty daunted at the start. But my team-mates gently and generously coached me, becoming teachers as well as friends. I’m really keen for us to make something else, now that I’ve realised how satisfying stitching can be.”

The panel design, showing a Celtic cross overlaid with stylised lines representing the horizon, was created by Andrew, the project’s artist. But as Rae explains: “As a team, we were then encouraged to fill the white-space with our own designs. We chose to represent an iconic Islay or Jura image in each corner, with geese swooping around between each location. Kate even managed to cleverly incorporate our initials – K, R, C and P – into the feathers of the goose she stitched!”

Now that the project is finished, Peggy says: “We have all found the experience challenging, frustrating, educational, but most of all, fun! We have forged new friendships, developed new skills and had lots of laughs together. So much so, we are looking for other projects we could get involved in, perhaps something to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Rhinns Lighthouse. We’ll see!”

The metre-square panel has now been packed off to Inverness, to be stretched and framed. Hopefully it will make an appearance on display back in Islay, before it forms part of the completed tapestry, which launches in 2025.