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Embroidered commissions colourfully created through lockdown by Port Appin textile artist Midge Gourlay are now gracing Greyfriars Kirk in the heart of Edinburgh.
To mark their completion, Midge has just published a 30-page commemorative book telling the story behind the making of the pieces of ecclesiastical stitching that were commissioned as part of the Kirk’s 400th anniversary.
Photographs she took every step of the way chart how the Healing Cloth, made from handwoven Indian silk, and the Machair Panel came to be – inspired by the Kirk’s history and the wild beauty of the flower-dotted grasslands of the glorious Hebrides.
Midge, who has lived in Appin for 22 years with artist husband Alex, was asked to craft a cover to go on a new communion table being specially made by the Grassmarket Community Project furniture workshop team, as well as a six-foot silk patchwork panel to sit below the communion table in the Kirk’s Saint John’s Aisle where Gaelic services are held.
Before starting work on the actual pieces, Midge made full-size replicas of her design ideas with paper and paint to get the Kirk’s approval.
‘Although the Healing Cloth sample was true to size I didn’t make the whole six feet of the Machair Panel, I just took along a few sections,’ she said.
Once work started on them, Midge ‘flitted’ between the two. ‘I’d have been driven demented otherwise, so it was duck and dive between them both,’ she said. The whole project took about one year to complete from her home studio.
Because the work would have taken too long to embroider by hand after all the sketching and paintings, special free machine techniques were used to draw with the threads.
Although they look extremely delicate, the tablecloth in particular had to be sturdy. The centre of it was inspired from one of the Kirk’s clear glass windows but Midge has added colour of her own. In a nod to the Franciscan greyfriars associated with the kirk, who were known as great healers, each of the arms around the cloth’s centre depicts a healing plant.
‘I got advice from a local herbalist and found nearly all of my chosen plants close to home. I was growing marigolds in my garden. The Saint John’s Wort, Dog Rose and Yarrow were all discovered close to Appin point.
‘The tablecloth in particular will get a lot of use, so it had to be tough – I hope they will be careful with the communion wine,’ said Midge
The finished pieces were finally delivered to Greyfriars Kirk in October 2020 but to see them in place, people will have to wait until the church safely reopens to the public.
‘Meanwhile, I’m back in my studio pottering about just enjoying myself,’ Midge said. ‘Working on the Kirk’s commissions was a joy but also like a full-time job. I’m happy for now treading water waiting to see what comes next.’
To see more of Midge’s work or to buy a copy of her book, go to www.portappinstudio.co.uk