Cajal Embroidery Project 2020

Montage image of 4 Cajal drawings

Above - montage of 4 original Cajal drawings

Below - embroideries of these images

Embroidery of a Cajal illustration of a single neuron
Embroidery of Cajal illustration of a Purkinje cell
Embroidery of a Cajal illustration of an astrocyte
Embroidery of Cajal illustration of a cortical neuronal network

The Spanish neuroscientist and pathologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal is famous for his beautiful, detailed, and accurate, illustrations of the histology of the central nervous system.  2020 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the famous Cajal Institute in Spain (of which he was the founding Director) and it is also the year that 6,000 neuroscientists were due to come to Scotland for the FENS Forum meeting in July.

To celebrate, we have been busy creating a large multi-panel embroidery.  Prof Cathy Abbott (Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine) came up with this wonderful idea, which will be a homage to Cajal's beautiful illustrations of neurons and will ultimately consist of a series of individual panels, each containing one of Cajal's neuron illustrations in embroidery.

In March 2020 we invited people to contribute to the project and over the past year 70 people have created 81 embroidery panels. Soon we will start sewing the panels together to create a single 'tapestry' which will be 9 panels by 9 panels (so 81 individual panels in total, each 9 inches square).

In the end this project ended up taking place during the COVID-19 lockdown. Our embroiderers found the process of creating their embroideries really helpful in a difficult, and often isolating, time. We have not been able to create the final physical output yet - the FENS Forum had to move online and we also experienced COVID-related delays. We plan to have the multi-panel piece available for exhibition at a future meeting.

How to get involved

If you would like to follow our work, please join our Facebook Group.

We are no longer recruiting embroiderers for the multi-panel 'tapestry' as we now have a full set of the embroideries needed. We are happy, however, to help anyone who would like to create their own embroidery and post their progress in the Facebook Group. Just get in touch with Edinburgh Neuroscience.


April 2021 update: The Lancet Neurology front cover for April is a beautiful embroidery of Cajal's illustration of neuronal-glial-vascular interaction by Paula Urrutia, the Core Facilities Operations Manager at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany. The accompanying ‘in context’ article reflects on astrocyte-neuronal role in disease and the supplementary materials profiles Paula, who is an incredibly talented and experimental embroiderer, as well as a neuroscientist!

March 2021 update: The March Lancet Neurology Front Cover and In Context article have been published. The front cover image is by Annie B Campbell and is an overlay of her Cajal glial cell  embroidery and a ceramic rendition, also created by Annie. Accompanied by a short 'In Context' article 'Cajal's illustrations insprire reparative acts' and supplementary materials that give a really lovely insight into Annie's work.

February 2021 update: We are the top news item in Science News (04 Feb 21)! Lovely article by Science News writer Laura Saunders outlining the project, putting it into context and interviewing some of our embroidery contributors, as well as featuring images of 9 of our embroideries. You can see the article here

Also in February, we have another Lancet Neurology Front Cover! This time the embroidery is not part of the main Cajal 'tapestry' but instead is a one-off embroidery by Prof Cathy Abbott of Cajal's Neuromuscular Junction. Cathy made this for Professor Richard Ribchester as he retired after 40 years at the University of Edinburgh working on neuromuscular junctions and synapses and Richard and Apran Mehta wrote an accompanying 'In Context' piece reflecting on neuromuscular junctions. You can read the article here.

January 2021 update: More exciting news - we have a front cover on Lancet Neurology! Dr Rebecca Devon's cortical network embroidery (image E) is featured as the front cover of this month alongside an 'In Context' short reflection piece from Dr Arpan Mehta on the Cajal legacy and call for a dedicated museum. More info here.

November 2020 update:  Very exciting news - we have published a paper about our Cajal Embroidery project in Lancet Neurology! 'The Cajal Embroidery Project: celebrating neuroscience' (December 2020) Volume 19 (12), page 979.  All the embroidery contributors to date have been recognised as the Cajal Embroidery Project Consortium.

October 2020 update: Professor Cathy Abbott has published a lovely article about the Cajal Embroidery Project with the Federation of European Biochemical Societies Network. Entitled 'Cajal’s neuroanatomy drawings: a celebration and outreach project through embroidery', you can see the article here.

August 2020 update: The British Neuroscience Association has published a short article 'Cajal, COVID, Coping' by Dr Jane Haley about the project and how our embroiderers responded during the COVID-19 lock-down. You can see the article here (pages 14 and 15).

July 2020 update: We have made a online video using the individual embroidery panels and this is now showing as an Open Theatre event at FENS Forum 2020 (11 - 15 July). The video will be made available here after the FENS Forum is finished. In the meantime, we have a wee taster video for you here.

June 2020 update: We have received 71 panels! They are fantastic - so, so, beautiful.....

06 April 2020 update: We now have 71 people from 6 countries and one completed embroidery already received! We still have a small number of slots left if you would like to get involved.

24 March 2020 update: We currently have 61 people from 6 countries enthusiastically embroidering panels and sharing their progress on our Facebook Group  :-)