The Canadian Embroidery Tapestry


Text – Helen McCrindle

In May of 2014, the national seminar of EAC/ACB was held in Ottawa, Ontario, the national Capitol of Canada.  Some members of EAC/ACB took a tour of Rideau Hall, residence of the Governor General of Canada.  They were disappointed to discover that there was no textile art in the collection of Rideau Hall.  The people on the bus tour had an idea to produce an embroidered piece of art to celebrate Canada’s upcoming 150 years anniversary in 2017.

East and West pannels
North West

I was approached that summer by the then president, Beryl Burnett, to ask if I would become the team leader.  I thought about it for a few days then took stock of the possible local textile artists that I could call on to be part of my team.  I invited three people to be committed to the project.  Catherine Nicholls, Bonnie Adie and Pat Ross met with me to brainstorm what would be included on our tribute to Canada.

Catherine Nicholls, a textile artist in the Vancouver BC area agreed to be the designer.  She spent three months on the design which is divided into two panels which roughly represent Western Canada and Eastern Canada.  Once the design was complete in black and white, Catherine started the colouring of the images in realistic colours.  Meanwhile it was decided to use sturdy linen twill for the background fabric as it is a strong enough fabric to receive all the different threads.  We decided on a mixture of DMC cotton floss for detail and Appleton Crewel wool for larger areas and some metallic threads for special effects.

There were many meetings with Catherine to determine the exact colours of all threads.  In the end there were 133 different colours of DMC cotton floss and 118 different colours of Appleton Crewel wool.  Each panel measured 60 x 90 cm. (finished).  We transferred the design to the cloth using Saral transfer paper.  It is not permanent so we had to go over every line with archival pens to make the images permanent.  Once the design was on the fabric pieces, we turned our attention to dividing up the design for embroidery.  We divided each panel into a 15 cm. (6”) grid of 24 squares.  We selected all the threads needed for each 15 cm square and stored the threads in small see-through bags.

Basic stitching rules were established.  No knots, 2 strands of cotton thread unless specified otherwise.  One strand of crewel wool.  Most important:  Follow the coloured images.

North West – details
South West

The Western panel was started in Calgary at the national seminar in May 2015 and the Eastern panel in Truro, Nova Scotia.  The panels were sent with their accompanying 120 cm frames to the many guilds in the east and west and then at the end of 2015 the panels switched from east to west and west to east.

The panels have been worked on at festivals, like Folklorama in Winnipeg, Manitoba and in needlework store windows and even in grocery stores.  At each stop, members signed the log books and made comments.

Our goal was to have the panels completed by December 2016, but that did not happen, and we did not meet the 150 year anniversary of Canada’s confederation in 2017.  Finally, the panels were completed in September 2018, after more than 8 000 hours of stitching by 650 embroiderers. The panels were mounted and framed with archival quality materials, photographed and a proposal was submitted to the Acquisitions department of the Government of Canada.  Finally, in May 2019 we received notice that the tapestry had been accepted in to the Crown Collection of the Government.


The embroidery
The central element is the maple tree which grows up the touching edges of each panel.  The maple leaf is a symbol of Canada.  On the branches which fan out from the trunk are all of the provincial and territorial birds.  The seed pods of the maple tree, called samaras are scatted around the tree moving from green in the spring to yellow in the summer and brown in the fall.

There are three golden ribbons that twist through both panels, representing the Trans Canada Highway, the Trans Canada Railway and the Trans Canada Trail (now called the Great Trail).  All three means of transportation (vehicles, train and foot) are strong uniting ties across the vast territory of Canada.  You can walk all across Canada on the Great Trail, or run or bicycle.

North East

From the fishing boat on the west coast, through the forest and mountains and across the prairie to the Peace Tower of the Government of Canada on the Eastern panel and the lobster and cod fishing and fleur-de-lis representing the French speaking people of Canada.  The North features the brilliant Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), caribou, mining, inukshuks, and whales.

The stitches used were mainly straight stitches as the embroiderers were asked to duplicate the marks and shading on the original design sheet which was designed by Catherine Nicholls. The fabric was stretched on a roller slate frame so that only about 30 cm could be revealed at a time. It limited the design area to be stitched until the side lacing stitches were taken out and the embroidery space moved to a new area.  Catherine chose the colours from thread charts and my team coordinated them in the thread packets.  When the embroiderers worked at the frame they could sit together, two at a time or sometimes just one person.  They were encouraged to work everything from the top surface as it would be very difficult to turn the 120 cm over to the back. Some groups had the embroiderers sign up for a certain length of time.  I worked with the person in each area who was put in charge of the gathering.

North East, details

I kept a calendar of where either of the panels was and for how long, with the name of the person in charge, and the name of the transportation company taking it along to the next group.  I learned a lot about the geography of Canada doing this!  Thank goodness for computers so that I could keep track of the panels.  It was like sending children out and hoping everyone would take good care of them.  And they did!  Nothing befell the panels on their cross-Canada trips.

Helen McCrindle stitching the Maple tree

The frames for the project are box frames, about 4 cm deep.  The inside of the frame was stained the same brown as the outer frame to emphasize the maple colour of the tree.
We had an amazing framer here in West Vancouver who had the framed pieces on display in his shop.  He had many offers to purchase the two pieces, some in the thousands of dollars!  They were disappointed that they were not for sale.

Below are some of the comments taken from the two log books.  They say a lot about what the project meant to them:

– We have enjoyed our time together, stitching on Project 150.  It has brought our guild closer together.  We are all looking forward to the unveil and seeing it hang in Ottawa.
– Congratulations to our designer – what an epic way to represent Canada!
– What a privilege to stitch on such a national project.  It brings us all together
– From coast to coast – people sharing a passion for the threaded needle!

I am grateful for all the members, young and not so young, who have spent some time translating the vision of the artist, Catherine Nicholls, into a Canadian tapestry of celebration!

Embroiderers’ Association of Canada/ Association Canadienne de broderie –

The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire