A ring of birds

This embroidered place mat was one of the first objects to be given to Groam House Museum by George Bain’s son and grand-children. He probably created the design and then one of his students embroidered it in brightly coloured threads on white linen.

Six birds make up the border of the mat. Pairs of vivid birds face each other. Their necks interlace so that each rests its bright yellow beak back on its own wing, as if roosting. Their long tail feathers interlace with those of the next pair. They surround a complex, circular knotwork design in gold and blue, with its central six-pointed star highlighted in red and yellow.

The embroiderer has used a variety of stitches to create different textures. There are back, stem and chain stitches, herringbone and close blanket stitches, french knots, fly and feather stitches. The use of such a range of stitches results in a surprisingly textured piece.

The shapes of the birds are all typical of those in illuminated manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells. The central knotwork design is a reminder of a design on the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll cross slab.