Battle of Lewes tapestry to be unveiled

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The magnificent Battle of Lewes Tapestry will be officially unveiled at a ceremony on May 14.

That will be the 750th anniversary of the battle it commemorates.

But here’s an exclusive first image of Simon de Montfort, leader of the baronial army which defeated King Henry III.

It has taken a team of some 60 volunteers two years to stitch the dramatic work of art.

The backing fabric has been applied, the frame is being constructed and the tapestry stretched to make sure it lies flat. But there’s still something missing.

Tapestry co-ordinator Sandy Hilly explained: “After two years of working most days on the tapestry we now have to take the big step of putting the final stitch in.

“It will be sewn in by lead embroiderer Maggie Lanning later this month in gold thread. But we have a choice of two last stitches. It could either be Henry III’s crown or the gold braid of Simon de Montfort’s gloves. We can’t quite decide who it should be!”

The tapestry is due to be unveiled at Lewes Castle by renowned historian Dr Louise Wilkinson on May 14. She will also deliver a talk about 13th century embroidery.

To help ensure as many people see the unveiling as possible, Lewes Youth Theatre is helping out by supplying its flying video camera, known as a drone, which will relay live images to elsewhere on the castle site.

After the ceremony, there will be spinning and embroidery displays and hand-on activities at the castle, enabling everyone to have a flavour of some of the techniques used.

On May 15 embroidery supervisor Sally Blake will deliver a talk about how the tapestry was created, and the group is also writing a booklet about the tapestry which will go on sale later this year.

It will also be possible to see a smaller ‘alternative’ tapestry which uses hand-spun and hand-woven linen as a backing fabric.

So how do the group feel about saying goodbye to the tapestry? “I feel very sad,” said lead embroiderer Maggie Lanning. “It’s been a lot of effort, but it’s been wonderful to see how many people have been affected by it and their lives improved by it. This has been a wholeheartedly beneficial project for so many people. It’s been pretty brilliant altogether.”

What can people expect when they see it? People will be absolutely stunned when they see it all together,” said Maggie. “We laid it out yesterday and even Tom Walker who designed it and has been one of its embroiderers was stunned. It looks wonderful.”

Here are some tapestry facts and figures: It took 4,479 actual stitching hours; it used 6,250 metres (just over three miles) of yarn; the pure wool threads were coloured with 63 different natural dyes; 175 people and barons are depicted, and there are 40 animals.