All You Need to Know About The Bayeux Tapestry

Last week we were ecstatic to hear the news that the Bayeux Tapestry could be on its way to the UK for the first time in 950 years.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the story, scene by scene, of the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Although its origins have been subject to speculation and controversy, it is thought to date back to the 11th Century and was actually made in England, not Bayeux, after it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother.

Bayeux Tapestry

The Tapestry, which is almost 70 meters long, is split into some 50 scenes using trees and is embroidered, using coloured woven yarns onto linen. It technically isn’t a tapestry at all as it is embroidered rather than woven. However, it has been called a tapestry for its lifetime and continues to be known as such. Nine linen panels, between fourteen and three metres in length, were sewn together after each was embroidered and the joins were disguised with subsequent embroidery.

At least two panels of the tapestry are missing, perhaps even another 6.4 m in total. This missing area may have included William’s coronation.

The Bayeux Tapestry contains:

  • 626 human figures
  • 190 horses
  • 35 dogs
  • 506 other birds and animals
  • 33 buildings
  • 37 ships
  • 37 trees or groups and trees
  • 57 Latin inscriptions.

Fun fact: The tapestry shows a picture of Halley’s Comet, which appears in the upper border in scene 32. It is the first known picture of this comet.

Bayeux Tapestry Scene32

The Bayeux Stitch, which takes its name from the famous tapestry, is a relatively simple stitch to master. In this stitch, originally used for reasons of economy, threads are laid across the surface of the fabric and then held down with another laid thread and a couching stitch, leaving a minimum of threads on the reverse side.

Download your guide to to the Bayeux Stitch from the embroiderers Guild here. 

Bayeux Stitch

There is a Victorian replica of the Bayeux Tapestry in the Reading Museum. It was the idea of Victoria Wardle to create the replica in the late 1800’s. Victoria was a skilled embroiderer and a member of the Leek Embroidery Society in Staffordshire. It took 35 women just over a year to complete the tapestry under the guidance of Victoria. This tapestry is permanently houses in Reading Museum. In 1993 a new Bayeux Tapestry gallery was opened in the Museum. The tapestry was carefully conserved and remounted as a continuous strip in a specially designed display case. For the first time for many years the entire tapestry could be seen in one gallery.

Although we are told it could take 5 years for the tapestry to make its way to us in the UK we are very excited and will be among the first in line to see it. Have you seen it in Bayeux?

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