Unique community embroidery to be unveiled this weekend
By David Wood
More than 8,000 Tewkesbury residents have been involved in creating a six-metre long embroidery, which weaves together the rich fabric of Tewkesbury's social history with events from the town's colourful past.
The sizeable embroidery, the town's equivalent of the famous Bayeux tapestry, will be revealed in its entirety for the first time this weekend, the culmination of a five-month wide-reaching community project called Stitchstory.
Measuring six metres long, the lovingly-detailed embroidery is bordered by more than 120 individual pieces of stitching, created by residents who wanted to add their own memories or connections with the town.
One of the details shows Tewkesbury London and Rio Paralympian Mel Nicholls crossing the town's Mythe Bridge on a handcycle. Fittingly, Mel was the final person to add a stitch, joining a team of volunteers helping to sew the embroidery's 10 panels together ahead of the public unveiling at The Watson Hall.
Chatting while stitching, Mel said: "I love the colour and the character of the embroidery, it's so bold and bright and I love its individuality... that's Tewkesbury. I love Tewkesbury, I love the people and the landscape. It shows that people care and have cared about our town. It's a really special place."
100-year old Jack and his 98-year-old wife Ena, from Ashchurch Care Home, are the most senior stitchers to make their mark on the project, the youngest just six weeks old.
Well-known individuals to add their stitches have included the Mayor of Tewkesbury, Cllr Joanne Raywood, Gloucestershire Lord Lieutenant Edward Gillespie and actor Kerry Katona, during a visit to The Roses theatre in a touring production.
More than 100 workshops have taken place across the town and local villages, as well as visits to local businesses, including MOOG and Cotteswold Dairy, the town's primary and secondary schools and signing up stitchers at events including the Tewkesbury Park Run, Tewkesbury Pudding Club and the Tewkesbury Pub Singers' regular rehearsals.
A High Street stitch-a-thon on a Saturday in March saw 850 people add their stitches in one single day. The team has also held a special drop-in session at Tewkesbury Heritage and Visitor Centre and weekly sessions since December at Tewkesbury Library.
At the heart of the project is Tewkesbury community artist and embroiderer Jo Teague who conceived the initial idea and has been leading sessions and helping residents with their stitching.
Jo said: "It has been great fun to do the workshops. I am telling stories that many people already knew about our town, trying to remind people of all those who have lived here before us and the impact they had and continue to have on the town and our lives.
"From five-year-olds acting out the Battle of Tewkesbury to sitting with the older generations being told their stories of characters such as John Moore, it has been a great privilege to be part of those conversations.
Tewkesbury artist Sam Morris created the embroidery illustration and has been documenting the project with photos and weekly video vlogs. Sam believes that the timing of the project, following two years of living within the boundaries imposed by Covid-19, has contributed to its success.
Sam said: "At a time when isolation had robbed us all of social confidence, I've personally witnessed Tewkesbury's community spirit create an outlook of hope through art and storytelling. Tewkesbury is a town made up of creative people and places which I am so proud to be part of."
Community engagement producer Megan Dunford added: "The Stitchstory project has evolved into something I could have never dreamt about when starting this during a dark and gloomy December last year.
"Five months down the line and we have had, literally, over 8,000 people, come to us, hold their hand out, take a needle and poke it into the fabric, find it and pull it through and bring it back up again, and many of these 8,000 have done it again and again, adding many stitches.
"Such a simple act, but something bigger than that - they have given us their time, shared their memories and by doing so shown an act of solidarity and of support. We've been warmly welcomed into all the schools, into shops, into churches, into community halls, into close-knit groups, into people's businesses and homes."
You can see Stitchstory at the George Watson Memorial Hall on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, from 10am - 5pm. Free entry
For more information, video and photos, visit the Tewkesbury Culture Facebook page
Stitchstory is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Tewkesbury Culture, a creative network and resource to promote collaboration, support and access to culture for people in Tewkesbury.
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