At the end of 1991, after a chance remark about the talent in our village, a group of enthusiasts met to discuss the possibility of making a ‘parish map’, that is, a project which would celebrate the locality and its distinctiveness. We chose a counted stitch canvas work, which was immediately given the generic name of a ‘tapestry’.
The core group of needleworkers were (alphabetically):
Brenda Bishop, Gerda Bishop, Pat Belcher, Jean Blackman, Elizabeth Burdon, Irene Dowler, Joan Fielder, Lesley Groves, Mary Head, Janet Holt, Kaaren Lambert, Eileen Matthews, Tom New and Valerie Watson-Jackson.
As will be seen, however, 186 people from the village contributed stitches to the completed work and others were involved in fund-raising, research etc.
The Parish Church was suggested as a suitable place for hanging, and the Rector agreed. The ideal place was the organ gallery which was long and narrow, and so we decided to make seven separate panels, which would hang side by side, but would be easier to design, handle and mount than one piece of work. Six of the panels would tell the history of the village and the seventh, middle, one would celebrate the central role of the Church.
An open evening with the Dartington Rural Archive gave an opportunity to give out questionnaires asking what people valued in the village and would like to see in the tapestry. The replies were analysed, and the results gave us the contents to be included in the design.
In line with our commitment to the community, the tapestry was taken out to the village. On three occasions the Archive Group hosted it at their exhibitions and members of the public took a turn at sewing. Special sessions were organised, for children, men-folk, and working people who couldn’t attend the day sessions. Panels were taken to the elderly disabled or those who simply couldn’t make the meetings, and we tried to meet any special requests.
In particular, the primary school took to the idea with enthusiasm and allowed all the children from six to eleven years to sew, in regular sessions, every Friday for two terms. The children were ‘naturals’ and learned very quickly. They completed much of the border.
The work has been one huge challenge for all of those involved, but it has been enormous fun. We have come through, amazed at how such a momentous work could have come from that early group of amateurs, with so much enthusiasm and so little skill. We know our tapestry is more artefact than art, but it represents the people of Denbury and we are very proud of them, and of our village.