Norfolk woman is recreating the entire Bayeux Tapestry
- Credit: Mia Hansson
Just under 1,000 years ago a group of English women began embroidering an epic tale of war and invasion. By the time they finished their story of 1066 and all that it stretched for 70 metres and from Saxon England through the Battle of Hastings to the Norman conquest of Britain. Today it is world famous as the Bayeux Tapestry.
In a family living room another Bayeux Tapestry is taking shape. This year Mia Hansson hopes to reach the half-way point of an astonishingly ambitious 10 year project to create her own Bayeux Tapestry. Midway through 2026 she hopes to have sketched every design, embroidered every stitch and sewn together every panel – even faithfully copying the mistakes she finds.
Mia, of Wisbech, learned to embroider as a child and rediscovered her passion, and skill, when she joined a Viking re-enactment group and began making outfits, first for herself and then for friends and clients.
A few years ago, finding herself without anything to make, she cast around for a new long-term project. “I was bored and needed a creative project that I couldn’t finish in a hurry!” she said. When she came across someone making a half-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry she knew what she wanted to do. “I’m known for not doing things by half. Throughout my life I have been ambitious and if I can make something bigger and better, I will at least make an attempt. I’m not necessarily competing with others, but with myself.” She is believed to be the first individual in Europe to embroider a full-size replica, and possibly just the third in the world.
Her aim is to create a tapestry which will look like the original once did, almost 1,000 years ago. She has visited the real Bayeux Tapestry just once. “But this was long before I had any real interest in it. If I ever went to see it again, it would be with totally different eyes and they would struggle to get me to leave!” she said. “I would love to go again and when it comes to the UK, I’ll go and see it.”
Her favourite part of the process is filling in each image after having drawn and then embroidered around the outline shapes. “It is like colouring in with wool, relaxing and therapeutic work while I watch TV,” she said. “Horses are my favourites until I have done several in a row, then ships are my favourites. After stitching two ships or more, I long for a horse!
“Buildings are at the bottom of my list, with their spindly walls, bricks and roof tiles. Oh my, I hate tiles with a passion!”
However she loves sharing her progress with, pre pandemic, groups of local craft and history enthusiasts, and her Facebook tapestry group is followed by people all over the world.
Mia grew up in Sweden and was taught to embroider by her grandmother. The Vikings brought her to Britain, in that many re-enactment friends, plus a childhood friend, lived in London. Arriving for a fortnight’s holiday, she loved it so much she decided to stay. “I was meant to stay for six months, as a trial, but during that time I met my current partner and here I still am, almost 18 years later,” said Mia. She worked as a dementia specialist in London before moving to Wisbech, where her embroidery takes second place to caring for her disabled stepson.
Eventually she hopes someone will buy the finished tapestry. “If I can sell it for enough money to enable my partner to put his feet up, that would be awesome. Should I not manage to sell it, perhaps I can find a permanent venue where I can invite groups for talks or viewings, or having it open to the general public. Should that plan fall through as well, I’ve had 10 years of fun and I’ll store it in my hobby room.”
The family also has two dogs and Mia has had to clean the occasional muddy paw print from her work. But the original Bayeux Tapestry is not perfect either and she has been intrigued to come across lots of mistakes: “I’m a perfectionist and a trained teacher and curse myself for setting out to make a true replica. That means copying the original mistakes. I can’t stress enough how much I would love to correct the mistakes!”
The tapestry has also inspired her to embark on four books. “I started writing Mia’s Bayeux Tapestry Story before I even bought the fabric,” she said. “It will need some serious editing at the end, or it will be thicker than the Bible!” She has also created a colouring book of her hand-drawn Bayeux tapestry images, which is selling well, and is working on a sequel. “And as if I didn’t have anything else to do at the moment, I’ve started writing a historical fiction about the seamstresses who made the original,” said Mia. “I’m writing it as if I was one of them, or at least lending my ideas and spirit to a couple of the characters.”
She still takes commissions for period clothing and sells Bayeux-style drawings on fabric for people to embroider themselves – and is hoping to be able to give talks and display her part-finished tapestry again later this year. “All going well, I’ll be in both Norwich and Attleborough at some point during 2021 and a few other places as well,” said Mia.
For more information about Mia, the tapestry and potential public talks visit “Mia’s Bayeux tapestry story” Facebook group.
EMBROIDERING THE FACTS
The Bayeux Tapestry has also inspired another embroidery project taking place across Norfolk. A sequel to the 1,000-year-old original is being created for Norwich Castle by a team of more than 40 volunteers, picking up the story of William the Conqueror’s victory over arrow-in-the-eye King Harold. It includes Norwich Castle in another vibrant story of Saxons v Normans with knights on prancing horses, battle-lines bristling with spears, flimsy boats dancing across the water, and people feasting, travelling, fighting and falling, all set within a border of real and mythical animals. It will hang in the king’s bedchamber when Norwich Castle Keep reopens next year and has been funded by the Friends of the Norwich Museums which celebrates its centenary this year.
The original Bayeux Tapestry is set to return, on loan, to England next year, for the first time in almost 1,000 years. It is believed to have been made in Canterbury around 1070 and hung in Bayeux Cathedral, in Normandy, until the French Revolution. It has been on show in its own museum in Bayeux since 1945.