A Celtic Mystery

A Slow Stitch Story…

It’s not every time I make a piece of stitched textile art that I could tell you for certain where the inspiration came from, often they seem to evolve from a process of stitching meditation, but that’s not the case with my latest work, this one definitely has a story…

In 1939 a small bronze disc decorated with exquisite spiral whorls, was discovered in the sand and gravel when the River Bann was being dredged near Loughan Island, Co. Derry. it was probably made by a Celtic metal worker in the first century AD and it was this, the Bann Disc which gave me my inspiration.

Who owned it, how it was used, and how it came to be in the river are all mysteries, but this one small artifact (it’s about 10.5 cm diameter) encapsulates everything enchanting for me about the Celts and especially their art.

The design itself is an enduring mystery. It’s three entwined spirals is known as a triskele. People have been using this style of design for at least 5000 years. It appears on many pre-historic monuments, including the spectacular entrance stone at Newgrange. It continued to be used extensively throughout the pre-Christian era, particularly associated with Celtic art. For me the freedom of line, the organic writhing of the curves is at its best in the early celtic period.

What it symbolised to the people of those times can’t be certain, many ideas have been and continue to be discussed – perhaps we’ll never really know.

It appears again in Christian symbolism, usually associated with the Trinity. And now is once more being extensively used by neo-paganism, again with a variety of symbolic interpretations.

What happened to the Bann Disc in the 2000 years from its creation until it was re-discovered is another unsolved mystery. As with so many artifacts we see in museums, we can only imagine their precise histories.

But although we may not know their exact stories, looking closely at these remarkable artifacts you can see layers of history, a patina built up over long years, a burnishing. Most artifacts come down to us damaged or incomplete, but for me this often adds to their enchantment. It lends them a fragility and delicacy, offering us a thin but tangible thread back through time, as here, it gives us a physical if vulnerable link direct to the hands of a Celtic metal worker, a gift from the Iron Age.

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In creating my own version of the Bann Disc in threads, fibres and silks, I’ve tried to show the piece both as a powerful symbol with a strong metallic essence, but also an accumulation of layers, an iridescent shimmery patina, appearing to change according to the light, a fragment decayed by time.

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A Celtic Mystery – Ann Pawley 2017, approximately 13 x 14″ (32 x 34 cm).

Do you think it works? I wish you could see it glinting at night under the lamps or by candlelight, it really does change what you see with the metallic stitches catching the light in different directions.

There’s nothing better than talking stitchy or historical (unless of course its historical stitchery), so please do leave a comment. How would you display this? I’m thinking mounted onto canvas without glass, what would you do? I’m trying to decide what’s best, so any suggestions gratefully received.

Anny x


More Information

  • The original Bann Disc is displayed at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. 
  • There are many sources of information and images of various triple spiral symbols, if you want to read more, start here.
  • To read more about Newgrange, try this website.
  • The photograph of the Bann Disc is from the book ‘Celtic Mythology’ – Proinsias Mac Cana.

Most days you can find me posting on Instagram and Twitter. Do follow me there for a daily dose of hedgerow watching, stitchy updates and a smattering of castles…

23 thoughts on “A Celtic Mystery

  1. Let me be the first to tell you how stunning this is–and yes, it works! Thanks so much for sharing your artistry so generously!

  2. Lovely – a tribute from one artist to another with a thread (several threads) connecting them across millennia.

    How about displaying it in a circular metal frame (or frame treated with bronze-coloured metallic paint) to tie it in with the original material? Or within a frame decorated with bits of mirror or coloured glass to represent the water that it’s been buried in for all these years?

    1. Don’t you find yourself wondering about the hands that made all these things, I get the same thrill from looking at all sorts of ancient art, so far away but at the same time so close. I like the bronze colour idea, I can see that working. Thank you.

  3. This is absolutely beautiful Anny. I think you’ve captured the spirit of the Celtic original. I hope you’re going to frame it and hang it on a wall somewhere. It certainly deserves that at least.
    Alan

    1. Oh so kind Alan, thank you. I do intend to finish this one properly – I have so many that aren’t mounted, but this one I’m determined to see completed with a frame of some sort.

  4. Ohhh, it is beautiful!

    I agree with your thoughts about _not_ displaying it behind glass — I think that’d obscure the glint & shine of the metallic threads. I like hb’s idea of displaying it in something round.

    1. Yes, I’ve used glass previously for some items, but I really much prefer to go without, there’s just too much texture and ‘twinkliness’ you miss behind glass. x

  5. It is beautiful and I can imagine it will look even more impressive when seen in situ. Really like the colour palette you haven chosen for this. An unframed hanging would be my suggestion for showing off this piece.

    1. Thank you so much. I think this is my ‘go-to’ palette, I’ve always been drawn to these colours. Unframed is my preference, but it’s not to everyone’s taste, I need to find a good way to do it so it looks finished.x

    1. Hi Theresa, many thanks for your comment, yes I’m glad the response is pretty much in favour of no-glass, I’m going to see if I can find a good way to mount it – I like those floating frames, I’ll have to find out more.

  6. Gorgeous, Anny! As everyone else, I agree that glass isn’t necessary and in fact would detract from the piece. One of the lovely aspects of your work is that it is so tactile; glass would be a barrier to that. The colours are so rich and wonderful, as are the swirling shapes, and really connect with the celtic tradition.

    1. So pleased you like it – and yes, I’m going to have to find a way to mount it without glass. What I need is a friendly framer who knows about textiles and doesn’t want to charge the earth – where are they?! 🙂

  7. Just gorgeous Anny. What a wonderful tribute to the miracle of survival this is. I think I’m with you on the matter of framing but so hard to work out how to hang it sympathetically. I wonder what the Cells would have done ☺ xx

    1. Oooh. now you’re asking! What I really need is a pet framer (as opposed to a pet-framer which would just be unthinkable…) – someone who has a proper feel for textiles. I don’t know where to find one – any ideas?

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