Updated on 20 January 2023
Reading time: 4 minutes
Fancy embroidering your own medieval masterpiece using the very same stitching technique used to make the Bayeux Tapestry? My daughter Fanny and I certainly did, so we booked ourself onto a workshop with Chantal James, master craftswoman embroiderer at Bayeux Broderie, in Normandy, in the centre of Bayeux. I admit, it was hard at first to convince my 15-year-old grandson Bastien to join us on our medieval quest, but I came, I saw and I conquered by reminding him that his favourite TV programme Games of Thrones thought the Tapestry was cool enough to make their own version! Would our versions be better though…?
a look at the original
Before we start our embroidery workshop, we stop off at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. Although not included in the workshop price, a visit here is essential for better appreciating the embroidery artform and also to marvel at this 955-year-old UNESCO-listed masterpiece! Equipped with our audio guides, we learn the fascinating story of the Battle of Hastings and the coronation of William the Conqueror as we move through the different stages of the 71m embroidery. The illuminated display case highlights the details and finesse of the different scenes, bringing together drakkar ships, knights on horseback, shields, chain mail, fantasy creatures, battle scenes and other decorative features.
We learn that the Bayeux Tapestry remains a source of inspiration for artists around the world and is widely acknowledged as ‘the very first comic strip.’ This mode of storytelling used in the 11th century is awe-inspiring not least because it captures the same graphic modernity of cinema and animation today. No wonder Northern Ireland, where much of Game of Thrones was filmed, was so inspired by it that in 2019, its tourist board made a 77m tapestry of their own! This fact does not escape Bastien, who is a huge fan of the programme.
bringing the BAYEUX stitch into the 21st century
After our visit to the original Tapestry, we can’t wait to try some embroidery for ourselves! Just across the road from the Bayeux Tapestry Museum sits Bayeux Broderie, a shop and workshop run by Chantal James, master craftswoman embroiderer and one of the few people alive who is skilled in the technique used to make the Tapestry, the Bayeux stitch.
We start by choosing the images we’d like to embroider. Our kits includes a pre-designed linen canvas, needle, wool, embroidery hoop and instructions. Bastien opts for a tree, Fanny a scene of the battle, and I select a drakkar ship. Chantal talks us through it step by step, starting with the stem stitch. We quickly get into it, with Bastien deep in concentration as he tries to follow the contours of the tree trunk. Chantal then teaches us how to do a straight stitch – lengthwise, you stretch the threads to make a tight tablecloth, then the needle goes in and out on the same side. It’s tricky but we finally manage it after much concentration!
‘What’s so lovely about the Bayeux stitch is that you can see the results really quickly,’ explains Chantal. ‘It gives good coverage so hides irregularities well and this really brings the embroidery to life! That’s why I teach children as young as nine – because it’s very accessible.’ My daughter Fanny, who is very into her embroidery, then comments that this stitch is different to other techniques she’s tried, as it’s very relaxing.
We stretch our canvases over our embroidery drums and get down to tackling the next few steps. After two hours we have each completed around 10cm’s worth of embroidery – a long way from 70m of the Bayeux Tapestry, but a great effort nonetheless! Chantal tells us that we can take our embroidery kits home and finish our canvases there if we like.
An exclusive club
As we thank Chantal and say our goodbyes, my daughter Fanny is elated. ‘It’s like we’ve travelled back in time to the days of William the Conqueror and played a part in history by making our own Bayeux tapestries! I think I did a pretty good job at mine. We’re now members of an exclusive club of people who still know how to do the Bayeux stitch in the 21st century!’
And Bastien? Well, he may have dragged his feet a bit before we arrived at the museum this morning, but he ended up loving his day out with his mum and grandma!
Bayeux boasts a stunning historic centre as well as its world-famous, UNESCO-listed Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The city had the good fortune to be swiftly liberated by the Allies in June 1944, but its war museum and British cemetery recall the sacrifices made in these parts.
Find out more about Bayeux
Bayeux Broderie – Chantal James, Master craftswoman embroiderer
24 rue Nesmond, 14400 Bayeux
+33 2 31 51 05 81 | +33 6 89 84 32 36 | bayeux-broderie.com
15 April – 15 October, Tuesday and Friday afternoons
Bayeux Broderie workshop packages – prices per person:
€45: Small size 30cm x 25cm (typical designs include drakkar ships and griffins)
€66: Medium size 40cm x 35cm (typical designs include drakkar ships, Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and trees)
€112.50: Large size around 70cm x 60cm (section of the Tapestry typically including battle scenes and knights)
€106: Extra large size around 90cm x 60cm (section of the Tapestry typically including Mont-Saint-Michel or Bayeux)
Prices are per person (adults and children aged 9 and up) and include a two-hour workshop, embroidery hoop, embroidery kit (100% linen canvas design), wool, Bohin needle, coloured diagram and instructions
Entry to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum:
Full price: €11
School and students: €5
Children under 10: Free
PLACES TO STAY
Le Manoir Saint Victoire
32 rue de la Juridiction, 14400 Bayeux
Hotel situated in a medieval stairway tower typical of Bayeux in the 15th century
Places to eat
Le Moulin de la Galette
38 rue de Nesmond, 14400 Bayeux
Boasts a heated terrace overlooking the river
44 rue des cuisiniers, 14400 Bayeux
Colouriful 1970s-themed cafe serving tasty homemade dishes
All of the above information is subject to change