Today if you want to start a campaign or tell the world you take to social media, 70 years ago in a world where social media did not exist the story of the Battle of Britain was told in a huge lace tapestry.

Pair on Black 1000 - Revised

Today these tapestries are scattered across the Commonwealth, whilst the exact number seems to vary with every source you research, there are approximately 30 of the reported 38 originally made still in existence, they are mostly held in museums or private collections.

Everything about these panels is on a large scale, their size is 15ft (4.6m) x 56 inches (1.4m), they each contain 4,200 threads, and 25 miles (41.8km) miles of cotton. But what really strikes you is the many individual cameos of the events of the Battle of Britain making up the complete tapestry, be they dog fights, burning buildings, pilots bailing out, anti aircraft guns with search lights plus emblems representing all parts of the Commonwealth involved in a day that was a turning point in World War 2.


To make the panels 40,000 punched cards were used to translate the pattern into the lace panels using jacquard machines, the machines used were destroyed once the panels were completed.

What today is done in video or on social media 70 years ago was done in lace – and this is very impressive and moving evidence of those events. The Mason Collection is one of few to have a pair of panels, and I was asked to shoot them both for publication, both panels needing to be sat beside each other on the page. Although both panels are in identical in their narrative they use different weights of cotton in their construction.


The size of the panels, the level of detail and the fragility of the panels made this a substantial photographic challenge. I was well aware that the resolving power of a modern DSLR way exceeds old school 5×4 sheet film. In 2006 I photographed approximately 60 engineering systems panels from a Avro Vulcan B2 bomber using an 8 megapixel camera, this resolved lines of approximately 1mm on a 60 inch (1.5m) x 40 (1.01m) inch panel, I knew from years of shooting copy jobs with 5×4 film that film could never hold that level of detail even then.

At over 3 times the length of the Avro Vulcan Panels and with far finer detail using a 21 mega pixel camera much of the finest detail was held and was visible at thread level even when shot from a distance to get the whole 15ft (4.6m) panel in shot. It is worth considering what is being asked of a sensor to resolve these panels at this level of detail. The DSLR camera sensor used for this measured 36mmx24mm, compare this to 5×4 inch (125mmx100mm) copy film as used 20 years ago, to go one step further to compare 35mm film negative to a digital sensor both measuring 36x24mm and the power of the modern digital cameras is immediately clear.


The technology is one thing, however what is way more important is the panels as objects with their impressive size and narrative that records and pay tribute to those from many nations and Air Forces who took part in the Battle of Britain.