The idea for the Ros Tapestry came from a need to celebrate the founder of the town of New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland in 1207, the famous knight and ‘Flower of Chivalry’ William Marshal. The Bayeux tapestry sprang to mind. While this embroidery was a powerful source of inspiration, the Ros Tapestry differs hugely in scale and execution.
Designed by Ann Griffin-Bernstorff, (an international known artist) each of the fifteen panels measure 72” by 54” Extensive historical research by the artist ensures that the panels are important and valid resource for an increased understanding of the development of culture, trade, language and warfare in early medieval Ireland. The forgotten importance of New Ross with its Norman origins is the focus of the series of tapestries. The research into historical events, customs, dress and folklore ranging from the value of cattle under the Brehon laws to the troubadours of Aquitaine and the many of Italian bankers who operated in medieval Ros, provide the substance for the fifteen panels of the tapestry.
The story of the making of the Tapestries begins with a group of courageous women living in Fethard-on-sea on the Wexford coast responding to a call for embroiderers. This group did in fact start on the high seas, as the panel entitled ’Evening; The lighthouse at Hook Head’ was stitched by them. As a sense of local ownership was important it was decided that as far as possible each panel would be stitched by groups living in the locality of the historical event.
Technically the style of embroidery used on the Tapestry is known as crewelwork. This is the use of stitches such as long and short, stem stitch, couching, bullion and French knots in woollen thread on linen cloth. These stitches are practised by each embroiderer on a sampler and then adapted and played with to bring liveliness and expression to the imagery within the design.
The Ros Tapestry uses traditional stitches in a descriptive way to create a sense of volume, movement and texture and the scale of the designs have pushed us to be inventive and adventurous and exacting in our use of techniques. Not only the scale but the dramatic viewing points created within the compositions demand deep consideration of stitch direction and the fall of light on an area of work in order to maintain a sense of the strong and ambitious perspectives.
Over 150 people from Wexford, Waterford, Carlow, Kilkenny, Offaly, Wicklow, Cork and even Bristol and Essex have been involved. Camaraderie and an ‘esprit du coeur’ is at the very heart of the project as is the desire to be involved with the making of something that is going to endure.
It is arguably the largest tapestry series of its kind in Europe and a highly ambitious project. The patient skill of the embroiderers and the wonderful vibrancy of wool are added to the already lively and dynamic designs. At the centre of this project is an unparalleled community spirit and a pleasure at being involved with the making of a national treasure which will endure and contribute to Irish culture and heritage for centuries.