Our Canadian Tapestry

Continuing on with our tapestry studies during our virtual Wednesdays, Catherine Nicholls of our ABC team gave an informative presentation about the details of how this tapestry came to be. Read on….

Picture credit of East Panel and West Panel – image by Vasgen Degirmentas

The Canadian Embroidery Tapestry was first conceived in May 2014 during a tour of Rideau Hall when the Ottawa Valley Guild of Stitchery was hosting the Embroiderers Association of Canada/Association Canadienne de Broderie (EAC/ACB) seminar.

As the tour group wound its way through the official residence of the Canadian monarch and their representative, the Governor General of Canada, it was noted there were paintings and sculptures everywhere, but no textile arts on display.  It was decided that a textile project would be created by the members of EAC/ACB to address that omission and to celebrate Canada’s incoming 150th birthday in 2017.

Helen McCrindle was asked to take the lead on the project by then-president Beryl Burnett.  Helen agreed and asked three other women – Catherine Nicholls, Bonnie Adie, and Pat Ross – to assist with the massive venture.

Before the first stitch was placed, hours and hours of planning went into the project. Numerous meetings were held, as Catherine worked on the design and samples were stitched to see how certain details would look.

The fabric used in the project was sturdy linen twill and the threads were a combination of Appletons crewel wool for the larger stitched areas, DMC cotton floss for details, and metallic threads for highlights.  By the time the design was finalized, there were 118 different colours of Appletons and 133 colours of DMC for the two 2-foot by 3-foot panels (60 cm x 90 cm) panels.  DMC (US headquarters) kindly donated two skeins of each thread, while Helen supplied the Appletons wool. 

Stitchers worked from a coloured rendition of the design. Pictured below on the right is the full design for the Eastern panel, while shown on the left is a detailed picture.

Outlines of the symbols, buildings, flora, and fauna were transferred to the fabric using Saral transfer paper. The project was divided into 24 six-inch (15 cm) squares with the corresponding collection of threads stored in little clear bags. Detailed instructions were also created with rules such as no knots, two strands of DMC (unless specified), and one of crewel. Most importantly of all was the rule to follow the coloured images. Pictured at left are samples of a stitched item. The fabric was next attached to roller frames, which allowed up to two stitchers to work on the project at once.

The East panel began its cross-Canada odyssey in Truro, Nova Scotia and the West panel debuted at the 2015 seminar in Calgary, where it was then taken to its first chapter, the Vancouver Guild of Embroiderers.  The first two people to place stitches were Beryl Burnett and Amanda Baxter, co-chair of Seminar 2015.  The two panels were reunited at Seminar 2016 in Toronto and then switched paths, with the East panel crossing the Prairies to the west coast, while the West panel travelled across Ontario and Quebec to the Atlantic provinces. 

Logbooks travelled with the panels, where stitchers wrote down their thoughts and reactions to working on the project.  By the time the project was completed, more than 650 stitchers had worked on the two panels, logging more than 8,000 hours, and the project had visited more than 30 chapters of EAC/ACB across Canada. The project had been scheduled for completion for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017, hence, its original name, Project 150: however, events unfolded otherwise, and the panels were finished in early 2018.

The two completed panels were then cleaned, blocked, mounted, framed, and photographed, with the frame stained to match the brown of the central maple tree.  The Government of Canada arranged for the two panels to be shipped from Vancouver to Ottawa.

In May 2019, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry was accepted into Canada’s Crown Collection.

In March 2020, Helen was informed by the Manager of Interior Design and Crown Collection for National Capital Commission, Ann Malone-Bianconi, that the two panels had been hung at Rideau Hall.  That same day, Rideau Hall was shut down due to the Covid pandemic.  What was hoped would be a few weeks of closure for the building stretched into months, extending into 2021.  However, as the pandemic waned, it was hoped that the Canadian Embroider Tapestry would be available during public tours of Rideau Hall.

Today, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry hangs in the Pauline Vanier Room of Rideau Hall.  Pauline Vanier was the wife of Georges Vanier, Canada’s first Canadian-born, French-speaking Governor General, who served from 1959 to 1967.  The room, just off the Reception Room, is part of the original 19th century building and over the decades has served as a boudoir and most recently as an aide-de-camp smoking room before being remodelled in the late 1950s.  The room serves to showcase Canada’s heritage in arts and crafts.  The Canadian Embroidery Tapestry now hangs alongside works by celebrated Canadian artists, such as Kenojuak Ashevak, Emily Carr, and Norval Morrisseau.  The room also has sculptures, handcrafted furniture, and numerous books on Canadian art.  The Pauline Vanier Room is used as an informal room for events, such as media interviews, but has been included in publicly accessible tours of Rideau Hall.

As Helen wrote, the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry is a “tapestry of what it means to be Canada…a Canadian tapestry of celebration”.



Some of the Canadian Embroidery Tapestry’s symbols

The project features a maple tree at its centre.  The tree is shown through the four seasons with spring buds and a bucket to capture maple sap, summer foliage, its dying leaves in autumn, and barren branches for winter.

The three golden ribbons represent the Trans-Canada Highway, the Trans Canada Railway, and the Trans Canada Trail (formerly known as the Great Trail from September 2016 to June 2021).

  • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) for Alberta
  • Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) for British Columbia
  • Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) for Manitoba
  • Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) for New Brunswick
  • Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) for Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) for the Northwest Territories
  • Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) for Nova Scotia
  • Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) for Nunavut
  • Common Loon (Gavia immer) for Ontario
  • Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) for Prince Edward Island
  • Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca) for Quebec
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) for Saskatchewan
  • Common Raven (Corvus corax) for the Yukon Territory

Picture of view of Pauline Vanier Room – image credit Helen Williamson

What’s hanging at Centennial Theatre?

In a previous post here, I wondered what had happened to some of the various public artwork pieces that our Guild had created. Well I have tracked some of them down and here is what I discovered about one of them; The North Vancouver Centennial Banner.

In February 2007 an idea was spawned when our two workshop coordinators at the time, Nell Burns and Inga Newbury, met to organize a group project for our members. The guidelines were simple; it had to be be contemporary, colourful, fun, inclusive and available to all levels of stitchers. It was to include a wide variety of stitches and techniques, anything from traditional to modern.

After brainstorming, Nell and Inga created a proposal. The concept was a series of 4-inch squares that included primary colours in a simple rectangular design. To help members visualize this idea, Nell made several visits to local paint stores to gather as many colour chips as she could. The colour chips, totalling 105 pieces, were glued to a rectangular mock-up which was then presented at the February general meeting. The concept was well accepted and the decision was made to proceed.

Nell and Inga were initially worried that only half of the squares would be selected by members and that they would have to complete the remaining fifty squares. Boy they were wrong! The project created such enthusiasm that all 105 squares were distributed to the participating members.

A detail of some of the 4-inch squares that comprise the wall hanging.

Members were free to choose whatever stitch or technique they wished as long as they adhered to the chosen colours. … Members were to complete their squares by the April meeting.

It became apparent that those who had been unable to attend the February meeting also wanted to be included. “No problem,” said the two coordinators, and an additional 18 four-inch squares were added to the original design. On these additional squares Nell machine embroidered the names of all who contributed to this unique work.

By April members had submitted 123 finished squares, which were later joined together by Nell and Inga. The techniques used included canvas work, cross stitch, quilting, slk ribbon, and wire knitting. Embroiderers embellished the squares with buttons, glitz, beads, and charms.

This wonderful wall hanging was donated to the City of North Vancouver to commemorate its 100th anniversary and is on permanent display in the Centennial Theatre. Many have enjoyed seeing the piece and are fascinated by the needlework. The wall hanging has been included in North Vancouver’s public art inventory.

This was the local newspaper article. If you haven’t seen this wonderful artwork, maybe now would be a good time to do so.

The Keiskamma Tapestry

Continuing on with our study of tapestries, at our virtual meeting in April, member Catherine Nicholls presented her research related to the Keiskamma Tapestry. What follows is the result of “many rabbit holes” that she perused and what she discovered.

The Tapestry is a product of the Keiskamma Arts Project of the Keiskamma Trust of South Africa, a non-profit organization dedicated to the care of the communities that lie along the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. 

Indigenous to the area are the Xhosa (pronounced kōssa)also called the Red Blanket people, most likely due to the ochre found in the earth. They have survived through cattle herding, fishing, homesteading. Below is a picture of the general area and village.

In 2000 when Dr. Carol Hoffmeyr and her husband retired to Hamburg from Johannesburg, she found a community of impoverished women who couldn’t feed their children, a community suffering from the ravages of untreated HIV and AIDS, lack of employment opportunities, and affordable medical treatment.  As a medical doctor, Dr. Hoffmeyr decided to help. Having also studied embroidery, she hoped that by passing along her knowledge to local women it would, like the Villaneuva Tapestry, offer a skill that was useful and marketable.

Dr. Carol stated the aim of the project was “to use creativity to build confidence and self-esteem, not to make money.”

The project started with early workshops being held in a ruined house. As news spread by word of mouth, the number of women attending the workshops increased and the women started to see their work to provide a bit of income. Their initial sales were of small cushions and handbags, but a single mother, Veronica, had been with the initiative from the start and was able to generate sufficient income to be able to now care for her children and grandchildren.

The project also provided a meeting place and support system for the women, many of whom were widows through HIV AIDS or just being on their own. 

Pictured are two women with ochre coloured hessian working on a portion of the tapestry. The women also spent time planning of the tapestry

Unlike other tapestries, this one was worked in the hands, on the grass, in the floor, wherever the women were able to sit and stitch.  The tapestry which is 394 feet long, was started in March and finished in September.

Dr. Carol was the driving force behind this project, but she was respectful of their culture and tradition.  She would teach a stitch and then step back and let the women run with it.  This was the same with the drawing of the designs.  The women chose the colours, the images, and the stories to tell. 

While the Bayeaux Tapestry tells the story of the conquerors, the Kieskamma Tapestry tells the story of the Xhosa people who were subjugated through colonization and the Xhosa British Frontier Wars that ran for a hundred years to 1876. The tapestry depicts the history of the area from arrival of the 1820 settlers to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1994. By using traditional knowledge, both written and oral history, the women wove a story starting with the land originally filled with wildlife and no humans.

Pictured below is a section of the tapestry showing the land and Xhosa life prior to the arrival of European settlers.

As you view the tapestry you come to sections that depict a dark time when the Xhosa people become decimated.  Having killed their cattle in a  bid to drive the white settlers away, they were left in extreme poverty and begging for work from the white settlers.  This was then followed by apartheid.

This image showing settlers killing the Xhosa.

Here we see the soldiers confiscating the cattle

Troops being carried ashore by the subjugated Xhosa.

The tapestry has travelled worldwide and was purchased by Standard Bank, who has sent it back to the Cape Town Parliament building to be permanently hung for the use of the people thereby financing these women for years to come and provided the much needed stability.

The work was hung in 2011.

It was the first of the current 15 major tapestries of the Keiskamma Art Project and Keiskamma Trust. One of those 15 tapestries is the Keiskamma Altarpiece which was modelled after the famous Isenheim Altarpiece. The Keiskamma Altarpiece, when closed is 4 metres high by 4 metres wide; opened out it stands 4 metres high and 6.8 metres or 22’3” wide as it opens out.  It is made of panels that open and close like an altarpiece and there are 14 different panels in the entire piece.

First unveiled in the Anglican Cathedral in Gramton, South Africa July 2005.  Travelled to England, Canada, throughout the United States and was eventually purchased by a private collector who again gave it back to the community of Hamburg where it hangs in a government building so everyone can see it.

The Keiskamma artists continue to work and raise money to support their community. They have made prototypes of limited-edition tapestry series relating what they value most about democracy; freedom, equality, and human dignity.

Our many thanks to the Keiskamma Trust for providing pictures of the tapestry to us. You may view additional photos in our Portfolio here. The pictures are intricate and may take a moment or two to load.

Display Features Marie-Claude Tremblay

As previously mentioned here, one of the mandates of our Guild is to reach out to our community through displays of our members’ work. This quarter’s display at Lions Gate Hospital’s palliative care facility is the work of our long time member Marie-Claude Tremblay.

In order to get to know her, I presented Marie-Claude with some questions to add to this post. Here are her responses.

  • How long have you been a member of North Shore Needle Arts Guild? I’ve been a member for 25+ years.
  • What drew you to the needle arts? I’ve been embroidering, crocheting and sewing since my teens. I love the idea of using threads & fabric to create something new.
  • What is your favoured needlework technique? My preference is surface embroidery & crewel.
  • If you could spend time with a famous person who would it be and why? Dame Judy Dench because of her love of theater and trees. 
  • Are there any other interests you would like to share?  I enjoy reading, listening to jazz and history which is why I’m a transcriber for Transcribimus. We transcribe the hand-written minutes of the Vancouver City Council and post on its website.

Here is a closer view of what’s on display.

Where are they now?

With our group spending time studying tapestries, we realized that our group historically has done several group projects that one could describe as tapestries. Yes, yes, we know that these may not fit the strict definition of tapestries, but nevertheless those tapestries brought members together to stitch lasting legacies.

In coming posts we will talk about some of those projects that our group produced, what has happened to them, and where they can be seen now.

We will start off with North Shore Reflections, a tryptic depicting the activities of the area known as the North Shore of Vancouver, BC. and currently housed in the Museum of North Vancouver’s Archives.

We will cover the construction of the Centennial Wall Hanging created by 121 stitchers and currently hangs at the North Vancouver Centennial Theatre.

We are searching our archives for information about a series of seven panels created by our members for display at Evergreen House, a complex care facility.

And last by not least the Canadian Tapestry which currently resides in Ottawa at Rideau Hall, the official residence of both the governor general of Canada and the Canadian monarch.

Study of The Plymouth Tapestry

Our recent “Virtual Wednesday” meet up brought some enlightening information about two tapestries we previously mentioned here. The two tapestries (the Plymouth Tapestry and the Keiskama Tapestry) were well researched. The results of that research were presented by two members of our ABC Team; Bonnie and Catherine respectively.

Bonnie has been enamoured of this tapestry for some time. Through genealogical search, she is able to trace directly back to an 11th great grandfather on the Mayflower in 1620. Needless to say, here is just a highlight of what Bonnie presented from her research.

In 2018, Elizabeth Creeden proposed to reinterpret, in stitch, the events leading up to and including the founding of the colony at Plymouth in 1620. The intention was to have it completed by 2020 in time to celebrate the 400th year of the arrival of the Mayflower. Due to the Covid pandemic, the tapestry was not able to be completed by 2020. The project has been ongoing and as of September 2023, about half of the 20 panels are complete.

When doing the research for designing this particular tapestry, Ms. Creeden had written history from the European side of the story.  The Wampanoag side of the story had to come from myth, legend or oral history.  For this side of the story, she worked with specialists who were knowledgeable about the area. 

Each panel was to be 6 feet long with a total of 20 panels. All of the drawings for the tapestry, which Elizabeth drew, were done on paper which was then printed onto linen. The tapestry was stitched using wool, perle cotton, trebizond, gimp and leather. Paying close attention to detail, Elizabeth discovered that the orange carrot she had stitched was inaccurate; carrots of the time were only white. 

In order to stitch the 6-foot panels, they were stretched onto hardwood frames using linen thread lacing which provided the strength needed.  Six stitchers were able to work on a panel, with some working with an upside down image. 

Similar to the Bayeaux Tapestry border placement, the Plymouth Tapestry has a top border representing the mythology of the Wampanoag, and a bottom border representing the European story.

Elizabeth had one stitcher work on the entire top border lettering, while a second stitcher would work on the bottom border lettering.  With each stitchers tension being slightly different, this ensured that the lettering was consistent in tension and appearance throughout. In addition, Elizabeth stitched all of the faces on the panels to again maintain consistency. 

Panel 1 began with the Wampanoag people who lived in the area of Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island 12,000 years before the Mayflower arrived.  It depicts the dome like structures of the summer housing of the Wampanoag covered with mats made of reeds.

Panel 2 features the Wampanoag and their connection to the land, focusing on their beliefs of how their creator Moshrup formed the land of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Panel 3 depicts the Rise of Christian Europe.  Top and bottom borders are once again referencing the difference and similarities of the Wampanoag and Europeans.  Top border reads:  Elders teach by stories & memory.  People read wampum & birch bark with no alphabet.  Bottom border reads :  Monasteries uphold scholarship.  Monks tend the sick and welcome travellers.

Panel 4 depicts John Wycliffe, a printing press and the words “1395 translated Bible into English”. Below you can see the drawing followed by a detail of the the stitched version showing the printing press.

This panel continues with drawings of John Hus, Martin Luther, Henry V111, and John Calvin representing the impact of the printing press and showing the progression of new ideas.   The stomacher on Henry VIII’ s outfit was stitched separately and appliqued in place.  Picture below shows stitcher working on this particular panel on Henry VIII.

Panel 5 shows King James I hearing the protests of the Separatists.  At the time the King held tight control of printing and rejected the Separatists request to emigrate to Holland fearing that printing would take place overseas.

Panel 6 represents the rise of Separatism and how it affected particular congregations in England.

Panel 7 depicts the first attempt at the escape from England.  To the stitchers of the tapestry it was known as The Night Panel as it illustrates three moonlit scenes.  As inspiration they used the colour palettes of artists of the time, e.g. James Whistler’s Nocturne in order to get the lighting they desired. 

Panel 8 shows the arrests during a second escape attempt.  In looking at the detail, one can see that the stitch created during the stitching of the Bayeaux Tapestry was also used here.

Panel 9 shows Tisquantum, chief of the Wampanoag, advising Capt. Thomas Dermer in Newfoundland.  Tiquantum had been kidnapped and taken back to England.  He became an interpreter for the colonizers.

Panel 10 depicts a map of Leiden, which was home for 12 years for the Separatists before sailing on the Mayflower.

Thank you to Bonnie for researching this particular tapestry in such detail and presenting it for our Guild to enjoy. Should you like to learn more about the Plymouth Tapestry or follow the project, you can find information on Facebook at www.facebook.com/StitchinganEpicHistory, or at The Pilgrim Hall Museum here.

Our next post will continue our Virtual Wednesday study of tapestries by looking at the Kieskamma Tapestry.

Boutis Specialist in Our Midst

Congratulations to Elizabeth Janzen, one of our members for receiving a remarkable honour. In recognition of her work in safeguarding “Boutis” as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of France, the Government of France and France Boutis have granted her the right and privilege to attach the official Intangible Heritage Emblem logo to her work. She is the first Canadian woman to receive this honour. The emblem allows her to use the logo to promote Boutis through workshops, exhibitions, publications and artistic creations, although she may not use it for commercial purposes.

This Rose Bleu is Elizabeth’s interpretation of the rose window from the southern transept of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after the fire of 2019.

The Intangible Heritage Emblem logo symbolizes authenticity and quality, representing specific adherence defined by the Cultural Heritage Inventory. Elizabeth’s recognition underscores her embodiment of the purposes outlined in the UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage adopted on October 17, 2003. Her respect and commitment to understanding, practicing and passing along the art of Boutis, showcased through her expertise, teaching endeavours, and advocacy for French Boutis exemplifies why she was bestowed this honour.

Another example of Elizabeth’s work entitled The Colibri Garden.
One final example of the work by our own, Elizabeth Janzen, Boutis framed with traditional pojagi. Kudos to you Elizabeth!!

You can read more about Boutis here and on Elizabeth’s beautiful Boutis website here . Enjoy reading her blog Welcome to the World of Boutis. This is clear evidence why Elizabeth had been awarded this prestigious honour.

To find out more about UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, visit Wikipedia’s information here.

A Day at The Silk Purse

During the Cherry Blossoms: A Textile Translation exhibit, there are demonstrations of various textile techniques every Saturday and Sunday during the tenure of the exhibit. You can view the schedule on our Calendar. You can find out more by clicking here.

On Sunday, April 7, 2024 two of our members Bonnie Adie and Linda Spence demonstrated various hand stitching using embroidery stitches.

The time was spent greeting interested visitors, introducing some to textiles for the first time and answering textile related questions.

According to Bonnie, it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Thanks to Bonnie, these are pictures of some of the items on display along with a picture of Linda doing some hand stitching.

April Stitch In – Stitching With Wool

If you haven’t already done so, why not come by for our Thursday Stitch-In held the second Thursday of every month from September to June. Enjoy the camaraderie of other stitchers while working on your project or a group project.

Kit for Wool Sampler

This month’s activity Stitching with Wool – A Sampler. The activity is approached as ongoing and members can bring their Sampler to work on at the various Stitch-In meetings. As this is a sampler, members are encouraged to practice and experiment with a variety of embroidery stitches with wool. This will be an opportunity for members to share the “how to” of various different stitches and will have a chance to notice the various different styles of stitches.

No one person will be teaching but help will always be available for members to learn a new stitch or two.

Members may sign up for a Stitching with Wool kit and purchase it at this April’s meeting for a cost of $25. The kit contains everything you need to complete this project including: a 6″ wooden spindle to create the scroll for a sampler of wool stitches, 5 pieces of 6″ x 12″ linen fabric, assorted colours of wool year, a crewel needle and supplies to make a pin cushion for the top. Member Roberta McLaren will demo “making the scroll’s pincushion top” to start off the monthly Stitch-In project.

Sit back, relax and spend some time stitching with other members at our in-person Stitch-Ins.

Spring has sprung: It’s Cherry Blossom Time

The sun is shining and the blossoms are starting to show!!

The opening for this exhibit is April 4 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. You don’t want to miss this!!

Each Saturday and Sunday during the exhibit there will be demonstrations in a multitude of techniques. You can check the hours for the Silk Purse Gallery and get further information here.