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The Fabric of Life – Guest Bloggers Christina Fairley Erickson and Marilyn Olsen

October 14, 2014

The eighth day of our whirlwind tour of the Glories of British Art and Textiles marked several major transitions. While to-date all of our adventures had involved day trips from a lovely Oxfordshire hotel, this morning we packed our bags for an overnight ferry voyage to France.

Upon arrival in historic Portsmouth and a chance to see the twelfth century Portsmouth cathedral’s embroidery collection, our focus changed quickly and dramatically from work created hundreds of years in the past in both content and context to the Overlord embroidery housed at the D-Day museum.

The embroidery measures 272 feet in length and is the longest embroidery of its kind (the Bayeux tapestry in comparison measures 50 meters in length.)

The piece was commissioned in 1968 as a tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of those who took part in Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy by allied forces on June 6, 1944.

Whereas for more than a week we had marveled at delicate and often flamboyant stitching on silks and satins created for the wealthiest and most powerful people of their time, now before us was a rendering in the cottons and wools worn not by long dead aristocrats but by people who had a direct relationship to us and our families. The thousands of men and women- our fathers, uncles, aunts, and grandparents who had proudly served and given their lives in horrific and bloody battles on the beaches of Normandy just 70 years ago this past June.

Composed of 33 panels designed by Sandra Lawrence and stitched by 20 members and 5 assistants of the Royal School of Needlework, the embroidery took five years to complete. Veterans of World War II worked alongside the stitchers to assure that the piece was historically accurate-down to the style of hat the bagpiper wears.

The craftsmanship is amazing. Although basic stitches were used, what is especially remarkable is how the simplicity of shapes through cut appliqué fabrics or stitches makes faces both emotive and recognizable. There is an air of ambiguity that makes each face seem as though it could belong to any man. Another aspect of the embroidery is the way the designer created an incredible sense of perspective that made us feel as though we were there.

In addition, the way the museum displays the embroidery allows the viewer to step into scenes in alcoves of three sides giving a greater impression of three-dimensionality.

Unfortunately the sound system was unavailable the day we were there, but nonetheless the experience served for all of us a poignant introduction to the day that would follow- our visit to the 173 acre Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where 9,387 marble Crosses and Stars of David remind us of the scale of this momentous event. As we were closing our eyes aboard the ship to France, we all reflected on the difference in our circumstances from that of our forefathers.

For more information about the Overlord embroidery visit: http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/d-day/d-day-and-the-overlord-embroidery

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