Press Release: Recreating 15th century textile art, final handwoven tapestry unveiled at Stirling Castle

The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn created by weavers at West Dean Tapestry Studio, part of the internationally renowned College, was unveiled today at Stirling Castle. The art tapestry is the final in a series of seven works hand woven over 14 years and commissioned by Historic Scotland to recreate The Unicorn Tapestries (1495 - 1505) held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as part of a refurbishment at Stirling Castle. At the unveiling ceremony today were; Ian Walford, Chief Executive Historic Scotland; Lesley Ferguson, Head of Collections, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland; and Alison Baxter, Head of Creative Enterprise, West Dean College.

The West Dean weavers worked in two teams: one based at the College in Chichester; the other in a purpose-built studio at Stirling Castle. Studio Master Weaver Katharine Swailes worked on the whole new series The Hunt of the Unicorn project from the beginning. Swailes previously worked with Tracey Emin on Rose Virgin (2011) and further significant commissions.

"The opportunity to work on such a unique project was not expected, and was full of surprise and learning. Stepping in the path that weavers had taken 500 years before was thrilling, to investigate not only the image but the working practice of a weaver at the loom. It was an unique project and I am so pleased to have been part of it."

Royal inventories at Stirling Castle show that James V owned over 100 tapestries, however there is no record of what happened to them. The tapestries woven by West Dean Tapestry Studio, the only professional studio in the UK, are part of a project to recreate the interiors of the palace to how they may have looked in the 1540's when it was home to Mary, Queen of Scots, and daughter of James V.

The venture is the biggest weaving project undertaken in the UK for 100 years and brought together an international team of weavers. The bespoke palette of colours and tones for the yarns were dyed in West Dean studio's dye laboratory. The artworks were deconstructed and the most important colours identified and matched using the studio's recipe books as a reference. It was essential to have all the yarns dyed at the outset in order for the weavers to begin to work out the different combinations of threads that made up the palette of mixes for weaving.

The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries are steeped in myth and allegory, not only the elaborate rituals of the medieval hunt and court etiquette but pagan and Christian iconography. Pictorial tapestries were the most expensive and highly prized of the decorative arts in the Middle Ages and tapestries were the ultimate status symbol denoting wealth and importance.

West Dean College, internationally renowned for Creative Arts and Conservation, is the only college offering full time postgraduate study in Tapestry and Textile Art in the UK. The College is hosting a Tapestry Symposium next month (31 July 2015) which will explore the status of hand woven tapestry within the context of contemporary art and craft practices. Speakers include; Professor Lesley Millar, Director of Anglo Japanese Textile Research Centre at the School of Craft and Design; and Yvonna Demczynska, Founder and curator of Flow Gallery in Notting Hill, a consultant for the

Crafts Council. West Dean Master Weavers Philip Sanderson, shortlisted for the John Ruskin Prize, and Katharine Swailes who worked on The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries will also be speaking. West Dean Master Weavers curated an archive of the weaving venture which forms part of an exhibition Weaving the Unicorn which runs at Stirling Castle until spring 2016.

For further details on commissioning a tapestry or to make an appointment to visit please contact the Tapestry Studio on +44 (0)1243 818233.

For all enquiries relating to graduate and postgraduate study at West Dean College please contact the Academics Office +44 (0)1243 818291 or download an application form at

Notes to editors:

• The West Dean Tapestry Studio archive of the weaving of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries was supported by The Company of Mercers.

• The Unicorn Tapestries were a gift by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in the 1930s.

• West Dean Tapestry Studio is part of the Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust which also comprises the West Dean College, West Dean Gardens and the West Dean Estate. Charity No. 1126084.

• Weaving the Unicorn exhibition runs until 31 May 2016

• All photography included here is free to use for editorial purposes. To request an interview or high res images contact the Media Relations Team.

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West Dean College and Gardens, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 OQZ