Stirling Castle Hosts UK’s Largest Tapestry Project in 100 Years

Six of the seven Unicorn tapestries are now hanging on the walls of Stirling Castle

The exhibition charting the UK’s largest tapestry project in a century has opened at Stirling Castle.

The exhibition, entitled Weaving the Unicorn, charts the story of the Stirling Tapestry project, part of a project to return the interiors of the palace of James V to how they may have looked in the 1540s,when it was home to James’ daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

‘The historie of the unicorne’

When James V built the palace, he owned over 100 tapestries, including a set of tapestries depicting ‘The historie of the unicorne’. However, there is no record of what happened to any of these tapestries.

In 2001, Historic Scotland embarked on a journey to recreate a set of tapestries for James V’s renaissance Palace at Stirling and commissioned West Dean Tapestry Studio to design and weave a set of seven new tapestries to decorate the walls of the palace.

The result was a 14 year project  – the largest of its kind in 100 years – bringing together 18 weavers from across the globe. “This exhibition gives visitors an insight into the craft, skill and historical research that went into this project,” said Peter Buchanan, Project Manager for the Stirling Tapestry Project.

“We knew from royal inventories that when James V redesigned the royal apartments at Stirling during the 1540s, he owned over 100 tapestries, none of which are believed to have survived. With the originals long gone, we began an international search and located the set of seven 15th century Flemish tapestries called ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’ in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“Over the past 14 years, donations to the Historic Scotland Foundation, including from the Quinque Foundation of the United States, have enabled the project to be realised.”

Weaving The Unicorn

Over the years, a team of master weavers carefully recreated and reinterpreted the ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’ tapestries, six of which now decorate the Queen’s Inner Hall at Stirling Castle, with the largest measuring over 3.3m high by 3.8m wide. The seventh and final tapestry in the series is due to be installed in the palace this summer.

The tapestries were woven by weavers from West Dean Tapestry Studio, who created a unique palette of colours for the project in the studio’s dye laboratory. Teams of weavers wove two tapestries concurrently, one team based at West Dean and the other at Stirling Castle.

Exhibition Curator, Katriana Hazell said: “The exhibition is designed to give visitors the opportunity to follow the wider story of the tapestry project but also explore the story from a weaver’s perspective.

“Visitors will discover how the weavers examined the backs of tapestries and fragments to determine the original colour and brightness of colours used. They will also find out how a tiny hint of a female’s sleeve allowed the weavers to take two small fragments of an original tapestry and recreate a design to complete the set.

“It’s a fascinating insight into this unique project, which brought together weavers from around the world to help recreate the splendour of one of Europe’s greatest renaissance palaces.”

Weaving the Unicorn will run at Stirling Castle until spring, 2016 and is included within normal admission price.

For more information on the Stirling Tapestries project, click here.


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