Page content

The 1,517 lives lost in the Titanic have been commemorated in an exquisite, hand-crafted funeral pall, skillfully created by two University of Ulster artists.

The symbolic 12 feet by eight feet embroidered work of art will be dedicated in Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral on April 15, a century after the liner struck an iceberg in the Atlantic during her maiden voyage.

And the finished piece of needlework, which was hand and machine stitched by Helen O’Hare and Wilma Kirkpatrick, textile artists at the University of Ulster, has been unveiled at a reception in the Cathedral.

Made of 100 per cent Merino felt, the stunning pall is backed with Irish linen and dyed an indigo blue colour, evoking an image of the midnight sea in which the Belfast-built liner finally came to rest.

In the centre is a large cross, made up of scores of tiny crosses in different shapes and sizes, each individually stitched in silk, rayon, metallic and cotton threads.

Hundreds more of these delicate little shapes, in hues of white, silver and blue, fall towards the velvet rimmed edges of the pall, symbolic of the many lost lives sinking into the dark ocean.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, was the inspiration for the creation – which took three and a half months to complete – and said Helen and Wilma were responsible for the ultimate design.

“A funeral pall has a cross in the middle and the rest is normally violet, but we wanted to pick up some themes from the Titanic, namely the midnight sea,” said the Dean.

“I felt there should be some silver and white there to represent the iceberg, but Helen and Wilma came up with the idea of using multiple crosses.

“By using crosses of different sizes, they have created the impression that they are falling into the water and set among these are more than 1,500 gold crosses and a number of Stars of David each representing a lost life.

“This is a very special piece of stunning needlework, which people will travel to see – from the central cross that sits like lace on water, to its rich velvet border, rippling Irish linen lining and the felt pierced with crosses on a restless indigo sea.”

Helen, a Lecturer in Textile Art and a textile art artist added: “Wilma and I truly enjoyed working on this. You find great satisfaction in solving problems to make a piece work.

“Wilma and I came together to use our strengths and skills to create this pall. We have both worked on large scale textile art pieces in the past, so we were ready for this new challenge.

Professor Ian Montgomery, Dean of the faculty of Art Design and the Built Environment at Ulster said the School of Art and Design was delighted to have been involved with the commemorative pall.

"The imaginative way that our staff have been able to integrate a range of sewing and specialist textile art techniques – with the core concept around the sea and the reference to the Titanic – reflects the strong links between art, craft, design and the city of Belfast,” he said.

“Dating back to 1849, staff and students from the Belfast School of Art and Design have produced many of the important pieces of art and designed artefacts seen across the city today.

“It is fitting that the School continues to make a substantial contribution to both the creative industries and the vibrant visual culture of Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole.”

The pall will be dedicated at a Service of Commemoration in St Anne’s on Sunday April 15 at 3.30pm, the day after the first ever performance of Belfast composer Philip Hammond’s new Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic.

For the next few months it will hang inside the Cathedral to be viewed by the many visitors expected to flock to Belfast to mark the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.

After that the pall, which was a gift from the Friends of St Anne’s Cathedral, will be used at funerals when required.


The Merino felt, linen and velvet were dipped into indigo dye to give a deep richness akin to the evening and night.

After the dying process the Merino felt was stretched back into shape, as felt shrinks when washed.

Abstract, hand sketched and computerised crosses were embroidered onto the felt using a multi-head embroidery machine and further hand stitching was added.

Abstract gold crosses, Stars of David and crescents were hand embroidered onto the felt using gold silk thread which makes reference to the 1,517 people who lost their lives on the Titanic.

The piece was washed to allow the threads to give a sense of depth on the felt and then further hand stitching was added to give a relief effect.

The linen was quilted onto the back of the felt using a long armed quilter. Finally, the velvet border was added.

Approximately 50 colours have been used in this piece including silk, rayon, metallic and cotton threads.