Methodist Tapestries Collection

05 June 2024

Crafters and textile artists from as far away as Long Island in the US have become involved in the Methodist Tapestries Collection. To be housed at the Weardale Museum in County Durham, the completed collection will feature 100 panels that portray the history and heritage of Methodism.

The designs explore key events in Methodist history, such as the fire at the Epworth rectory where John Wesley was rescued, a stained-glass window from a Methodist college; a picture of Mow Cop - the site of the first Methodist camp meeting in the UK; and a meeting between John Wesley and Beau Nash.

Conceived in 2019, the Methodist Tapestries collection was inspired by the renowned Scottish Diaspora Tapestry which has travelled the globe sharing the story of those across the world who claim Scottish ancestry. Having seen the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, David Heatherington, one of the founders of the Weardale Museum, began to imagine something similar that would illustrate Methodism, featuring local, national and international stories. David came up with fifteen designs that would form an ideal ‘flagship project’ for the newly enlarged Weardale Museum & Heritage Centre. So far, 31 are finished and a further eight are awaiting final mounting and framing. Another 30 are currently with their embroiderers and being stitched, while the remaining 30 or so are still to be designed.

“I do not describe the collection as ‘The History of Methodism’ but rather ‘Stories of the People Called Methodists’, which I think leaves it much more open-ended and interesting”, says David Heatherington, artist and founder of the Methodist Tapestries Collection. “Initially, we envisioned that our embroiderers would come mainly from Methodist circles, but we have panels stitched by The Durham Embroiderers' Guild as well as those stitched by embroiderers with Methodist connections drawn from across Great Britain, along with two in the USA.”

Tapestry of showing a preacher on horseback
Beau Nash
Luton College Window
Mow Cop Tapestry
Mow Cop

High House Chapel, where the Weardale Museum is located, will provide a suitable home for the Methodist Tapestries Collection. While renovations to create the gallery space continue, the completed tapestries are taken on tour. “We have exhibited locally in Durham for a Conference of Methodist Historians and at Mount Zion near Halifax for their special celebration of 250 years since John Wesley preached there.”

The panel that attracted the most debate was On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at, which links the well-known Yorkshire song with an outing of the choir from a Primitive Methodist chapel in Halifax.

The panel was based on a design by David and shows the scene of a good shepherd watching his flock, with the Cow and Calf rocks of Ilkley Moor as a backdrop. Figures from the song feature in the distance, as does a humorous duck with a dangling worm in the foreground! The star suggests the Christmas story.

Yorkshirewoman Ruth Bourne, now living in Droitwich, stitched the panel but admits that she had to dust off her embroidery skills for the piece. “I confess, I’d not done anything more than a bit of desultory ‘slow stitching’ since an apron in secondary school which my mum helped me to finish embroidering and that was half-a-century ago!

Starting tapastry

“I practised for a while with a small sample to see if my minimal sewing skills were going to be up to the task. Using the embroidery frame was a new technique to me and a challenge. It took me an inordinately long time to get going properly on the panel and finish, partly being scared of ruining it and partly having to stash it away safely while we had a lot of messy work done on the house! Once I got into the flow, it was a very enjoyable experience and quite meditative.”

You can read more about the collection here or you can email.

Header image courtesy of Flat Cap Photographer