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The Story of the Great Tapestry

The Jubilee Tapestry - Seven Great Signs from St. John's Gospel

 

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Designed by Polly Hope, the Great Tapestry was worked by Parishioners and their friends from 1991 to 1999, measures 18' x 10' and has approximately three million stitches.

 

It all began in 1990, the year in which the parish of Scaynes Hill celebrated its diamond jubilee; until 1930 we'd been part of the medieval parish of Lindfield (though St.Augustine's had been built in 1858/1880). The Vicar, the Rev'd Graham Mitchell suggested that the jubilee should be commemorated in some way. Oddly, there's no East Window in the church - the wall behind the altar is blank. A stained glass window would be very costly; perhaps the parishioners could create a hanging. The kneelers had just been finished and so we knew there were keen stitchers in the village. So a great tapestry was suggested, the Church Council was enthusiastic and it was decided the whole wall should be covered - mere 18 feet by 10!

 

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Father Graham now needed to find an artist and saw a review of church art which spoke of a woman called Polly Hope who was happy to work with volunteers in the making of her creations.

 

Polly was visited at her studios in Spitalfields and accepted a commission. The theme of the tapestry was to illustrate the phrase around which St.John builds his Gospel: "I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly".

 

Seven great signs, or miracles, show this theme and Polly produced a design which revolved around these signs. The Church Council and the Diocesan Advisory Committee approved the design but the Chancellor of the Diocese (without whose permission nothing can be put in a church) wanted to see the complete painted canvas before he would give his permission.

 

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There was some consternation about this because to have the canvas painted was going to cost a further 1500 on top of the 500 already spent on the coloured sketch, with no guarantee that the Chancellor would say 'yes'. However, Polly was asked to proceed and when she'd finished an anxious Vicar went to her studio. The canvas looked wonderful and the Chancellor must have thought so too for he gave his permission.

 

And so the work began. The canvasses were brought to Scaynes Hill and the centre panel of the three, measuring 6 feet by 10, was mounted on the specially designed mahogany stitching frame in the vestry. About 2 feet of the canvas was exposed at any one time (the rest being wound around each of the mahogany beams) and three people could stitch quite easily from each side. The wools and threads were decided upon, and guidance about stitches was given by an experienced needle-woman parishioner.

 

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She, with ten other women and three men, stitched faithfully for the next seven and a half years. The Vicar put in the first stitch on the 9th December 1991 - the first of about 3 million, and the last was put in the third panel on 28th January 1999.

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As each panel was completed, it was dampened and stretched for about 2 weeks and then stapled to a strong but light frame made by a local craftsman. It was then hung from two hooks on the beam at the East End. The first panel to be completed and put up was the central one in 1994.

 

After the third panel was up, the Bishop of Chichester blessed the finished work on 18th July 1999 during a day of celebrations. A specially commissioned piece of music was sung by a small choir.

 

The central figure of the Jubilee Tapestry is shown to the left: I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD John Chapter 10

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Polly Hope, the designer, with the Bishop of Chichester on her right and the Bishop of Horsham on her left.

 

"What are you going to do next?" we were asked;

"Nothing", said the Vicar firmly, "except to say Deo gratias!"

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To organise a group visit to view the tapestry please telephone: Mrs Pilcher 01444 831233 (Excellent afternoon teas available @ 2.50)

A Description of the Tapestry

The central figure is Christ, holding himself as the Lamb of God, who gave his life for the salvation of the world - hence the blood flowing from his breast. At the top are the hands of God the Father, the Creator, and in the cream semi-circle are the nine planets, representing, with the sun and the moon, the created universe. The Holy Spirit, traditionally represented as a dove, speaks in Christ's ear. The greek letters in Christ's halo say 'he who is' and from Christ flows the river of life. The great golden eagle is the traditional symbol of St.John. Around Christ's feet the sheep represent us, the faithful. Animals and people from the parish are scattered through all three panels.

 

Around the edge of the tapestry are the seven signs or miracles on which John built his gospel. In the lower part of the central panel are the Raising of Lazarus and the Woman at the well of Samaria. In the right hand panel at the top the Healing of the paralytic who had been lame for thirty eight years and below that the Marriage of Cana where the water was made into wine.

 

In the left panel there is the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the man born blind (who will no longer need his white stick and so one of Polly's lurchers is taking it away) and the woman taken in adultery. Blindness gives way to sight, hunger to fulfillment, and harsh judgement to compassion and mercy.

 

Scattered throughout the work is the created world - animals, birds, flowers, rocks - and the eternal world, represented by the Seraphim (who here look rather like 1920's women instead of the more usual naked little boys!).

Materials used

  • Canvas
    • 18 holes to the inch - 324 holes to the square inch.
  • Stitches used
    • Tent
    • Long and short
    • Cross
    • Bullion
    • Rya
    • and a regular long and short on the diagonal for the mosaic background
  • Wools
    • Appleton and Paterna
  • Cottons
    • Anchor and DMC; German metal threads

Over 250 people from around the world put in stitches.

 

A 2-volume photographic record has been kept which was put together by the late Ron Buswell.