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A RARE Jacobean bed hanging has been discovered hidden in the attic of Dunollie House.
By Senior Reporter Sandy Neil
The 17th-century fabric, which would have hung upon a four-poster bed, was found in a trunk, bundled up in a pillowcase, during works to preserve historic Dunollie Castle, north of Oban. The castle was the ancestral home of MacDougall clan chiefs until the family built Dunollie House nearby in 1746.
‘It’s another of those moments we have all the time at Dunollie, when you routinely find such amazing things,’ Dunollie’s heritage director Catherine Gillies told us: ‘It’s been a privilege, a highlight of a career.
‘The textile collection from Dunollie is out of this world: I will never work with a collection of such high quality, on such a long timeline, in such a small space. It’s going to be a remarkable resource for Oban.’
The bed hangings are made of unbleached, hand-spun linen, and showcase crewel work embroidery of a leaf and flower design using indigo dyed wool.
‘Only the best-off people had blue,’ Ms Gillies explained. ‘These were aristocrats who had money and an expectation to live in a degree of style. Without a doubt it was keeping up with the Joneses – or the Macleans of Duart.’
In an ancient inventory held at Dunollie museum, castle and grounds, documentary evidence shows the bed hangings belonged to the 22nd MacDougall clan chief Ian Ciar, who battled in the 1715 Jacobite Rising.
‘It reaches back centuries: somebody, a relative of the MacDougalls, has stuffed it into a bag. What is so striking is how fresh they look and how contemporary the design is. It’s homely, but beautiful. I’d love to put them up in my house.’
The bed hangings will be on display this autumn at Dunollie visitor centre, which is also creating Jacobean embroidery packs, so sewers can replicate the rare design at home.
The discovery has also inspired a specialist workshop at Dunollie’s annual Fasanta Festival of Textiles and Fashion, which takes place on 22 and 23 October this year, when Dorie Wilkie, lead stitcher of Prestonpans Tapestry, will host workshops on the ancient embroidery techniques.