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The Pirton Millennium Screen Project - by Penelope Siddons

How it all began...

Inspiration for the Millennium Screen came to me on a French cycling trip with my husband Edward. The highlight of this holiday was a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry. I was amazed by the size, colours and intricacy of this magnificent work which has lasted almost a thousand years and wondered, not only how it had been designed and constructed but also about the women who sewed it – who they were and how they lived.On returning home I began to think of the possibility of creating a long-lasting piece of work to mark the Millennium in Pirton. Nothing as ambitious as the Bayeux Tapestry, of course, but something which would involve as many people as possible and which would demonstrate the wide variety of interests in this village. I also thought that future generations might like to know something of the people involved in the work and how it was designed – hence the Record Book and of course these Web pages.

Getting Organised

Initially I talked to Susanne Welch and from this grew a “Co-ordinating Group” consisting of ourselves, Juliet Alexander, Sheila Gibbons, Margaret Granger and Sue Kennedy. (Margaret’s husband Cyril was later to provide invaluable help by designing the supporting frame – his comments appear later in this Record Book).

When planning the project there were several factors which we felt were important. Firstly, it should be open to anyone who wished to be involved, regardless of experience. Secondly, that participants should be free to choose their own topics within the broad subject of what Pirton meant to them. Lastly, because we felt it important that the finished work should be a coherent whole, a unifying colour scheme and shape were essential.

A short note in the Parish Magazine and several telephone calls resulted in the first meeting of the Pirton Needlework Group attended by nearly 30 people. Many signed up on the spot to take part and some even decided on a topic right away. This number grew as more people heard about the project from friends until eventually over 50 people and organisations were involved stitching tapestry sections and collages, designing and building the frame, or providing sponsorship.

We received financial support from several organisations in Pirton and the Methodist Church agreed to be caretakers for the screen. An alphabetical list of all participants is included at the end of this Record book.

Sewing Bees

We organised regular Sewing Bees, which provided the opportunity to exchange ideas, collect materials, work on designs and solve any problems. These were an important means of keeping up the momentum of the project, and also provided enjoyable social occasions. Several photographs of Sewing Bees are shown later in this Record Book.

Constructing the Panels

The first task was stretching the completed tapestries. A specially designed piece of equipment provided a simple, quick and reliable method. The collages were simply pressed with an iron.

We then marked out all the calico backing panels to ensure the tapestries were aligned correctly – this completed we were ready to tack and machine the tapestries in place. The machining required two or three people to take the weight of the cloth and feed it through to the machinist.

The next step involved attaching the collages to the calico backing using Bondaweb before tacking and then hand-sewing the tapes around each individual section. This was the most time-consuming part of the operation which involved the entire co-ordinating group in many hours of work, not to mention sore fingers!

Now it was time to attach the front and back of the panels together, incorporating the tabs which would be used to suspend the panels from the supporting rods. This was the only other task done by machine. Finally, tape was hand-sewn round the remaining edges to protect and strengthen the panels.

The Embroidered Names List

Meanwhile another group was busy stitching the names of all participants onto a pale green Aida fabric, ready to be attached to the reverse of the panels. Dorothy Andrew, Penelope Siddons and Sheila Gibbons designed this embroidery, which used the same border as the title section of the centre panel. Dorothy also completed a large part of this work with some help from other members of the Needlework Group.