Ripon Embroidery Completed - With A Little Help From Some Friends

By Julia Greenwood | 26 June 2003
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Shows Connie Birkinshaw working on the tapestry with Tibetan nuns

Photo: project instigator, Connie Birkinshaw, enlists the help of two Tibetan nuns. Photo © Gavin Greenwood

A project to make cushions for Ripon Cathedral that united a stitching group with Tibetan nuns, ex-prisoners of war, a former bomber pilot and various community groups has finally been completed.

The 38 cushions, running down both sides of the nave of the cathedral were hand-stitched by a dedicated group known as the Ripon City Stitchers, as part of a Millennium project started in October 1999.

With a grant of £5,000 and other donations of money, skills and time, the individually-designed cushions depict Ripon's history as a thriving market town and a modern day city, now largely associated with its racecourse and ready access to the Yorkshire Dales.

shows a close-up shot of a kneeler

Photo: the pieces depict different aspects of Ripon's history. Photo © Gavin Greenwood

The process involved in making the cushions is a lesson in hard work, good organisation and determination. A committee, chaired by the project's instigator, Connie Birkinshaw, was formed in 1999 to establish a work plan. Helped by local historian Alan Younge, each of the cushions was given a theme.

Local artist Alan Matthews then painted a watercolour or produced a black and white sketch which would later be transformed into a pattern by designer and pattern maker Marion Thew (assisted later in the project by Maureen Lowe). Marion was responsible for assigning a kit consisting of the cushion pattern, the relevant coloured wools, canvas and instructions to members of the stitching team.

The canvas was then mounted onto a frame, similar to those used in rug-making, and the painstaking work began. The scale of the project is in the details: each cushion is about 5 feet long, 16 inches wide and 3 inches deep. The total length of the cathedral's nave is 169 feet.

shows an external shot of Ripon Cathedral

Photo: Ripon Cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of the ancient church of St Wilfrid. Photo © Gavin Greenwood

Some 90 volunteer stitchers from all over Ripon worked on the project. Some worked from home, others in the cathedral's beautiful, naturally-lit library. Local school children and visitors were encouraged to add a stitch or two.

Of the more notable visitors were a group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, a Canadian bomber pilot based near Ripon during the Second War, and a German former prisoner-of-war held in a camp in the area. There are some five and a half million stitches in the cushions.

Ripon's 13th century cathedral was built on the site of St Wilfrid's Church (672AD) and incorporates the original crypt used to keep relics Wilfrid had brought back from Rome. The crypt, which is open to visitors, is thought to be the oldest room in England.

shows a close up of a kneeler

Photo: veterans (from both sides) of the Second World War contributed to the patient project. Photo © Gavin Greenwood

Another interesting feature of the cathedral is the choir stalls, completed in 1494 by Ripon woodcarvers. A griffon chasing a rabbit, whilst another rabbit hides down a hole, is thought to have inspired Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) whose father was a Canon in Ripon from 1852 to 1868.

A dedication service to mark the handing over of the cushions to the cathedral will take place on Saturday 28 June at 3.00pm

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