Cajal Embroidery Project

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 via the Cajal Embroidery Project email.


Note: All our Lancet Neurology articles and supplementay appendices are openly available - you just need to create a free account with the journal. We'd like to sincerely thank Dr Arpan Mehta for all the hard work he has dedicated to promoting the Cajal Embroidery Project, and our embroiderers, through the fantastic contributions he has put together for the 2021 Lancet Neurology series.

December 2021 update: Our final front cover for Lancet Neurology features all the embroideries created for the Cajal Embroidery Project as they will appear in the assembled tapestry. It is accompanied by a Focal point article 'Trials for neurodegenerative diseases: time to innovate' that reflects on the need for cross-discipline collaborative working, as exmplified by the embroidery project,  in clinical trials for degenerative disorders. Our final Supplementary Appendix is a real treat - featuring all the embroideries submitted to the Cajal Embroidery Project! 

November 2021 update: The November issue of Lancet Neurology features a beautiful embroidery by Carol Wollaston of a Cajal illustration of the many layers of the retina, which was special commisioned for this issue. It is accompanied by an Focal Point article 'The retina as a window into the brain' which touches on the importance of anatomical experiences in teaching and the special feelings Cajal held for the retina. The Supplementary Appendix features further retinal illustrations and embroideries.

October 2021 update: The October issue of Lancet Neurology showcases a stunningly detailed embroidery by Lisa Stoneman of a fully developed cerebellar Purkinje cell. These neurons have incredibly intricate dendritic arbours which makes embroidering them both challenging and time consuming! The accompanying article 'Anatomy embroiders function in Purkinje cells' by Prof David Atwell (University College London) and Dr Arpan Mehta (formally Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, now University of Oxford) contains some very intersting facts about these cells - and estimates that each one of these neurons (in rats) can store 5KB of information! The Supplementay Appendix features all the embroideries of this Cajal Drawing. 

September 2021 update: The September issue of Lancet Neurology is now out, complete with our ninth embroidery front cover - this time of developing cerebellar Purkinje cells. It is accompanied by a very nice article about Spinocerebellar Ataxia  Type 1 'Purkinje cells and their trees' by Prof Huda Zoghbi (Baylor College of Medicine, USA) and Dr Arpan Mehta (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences). The accompanying Supplementary Appendix features all the embroideries of this image created for the Cajal Embroidery Project.

August 2021 update: The August issue of Lancet Neurology features a specially commisioned embroidery of the Cajal's illustration of the hippocampus on its front cover by Hannah Warming, a PhD student at University of Southampton who works on haemorrhagic stroke. In the accompanying In Context article Hannah and Dr Arpan Mehta (who is managing the Lancet Neurology series of articles and front covers) team up with Professor Erin Schuman (Director, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research) for a 'Journey down memory lane' exploring the role of the hippocampus in the storage of memories. 

July 2021 update: The July issue of Lancet Neurology features a lovely embroidery by Liz Framery (one of our York-based members) of a Cajal cortical neurons illustration. It accompanies a short article by Prof Karl Deisseroth (neuroscientist and psychiatrist, Stanford University), Dr Jane Haley (Edinburgh Neuroscience) and Dr Arpan Mehta (Clinical Brain Sciences) reflecting on connections in the brain. In a not-quite-coincidental-timing, Karl’s first book was published yesterday ‘Connections: A story of human feeling’ has already had rave reviews. I bought my kindle copy yesterday so will be delving into that shortly. You can see Liz’s embroidery here, the focal point article here (free to view), and Karl’s book here (published by Penguin, it is being sold by lots of publishing platforms, including Kindle version).

June 2021 update: The Lancet Neurology front cover for June features a beautiful specially-commissioned embroidery by Professor Madhuri Behari (former Head of Neurology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India) to accompany an In Context article celebrating the centenary of the discovery of the oligodendrocyte by Pío del Río-Hortega (born in Spain in 1882, died in Argentina in 1945), who was a disciple of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. The article is by Dr Owen James, Dr Arpan Mehta and Professor Siddharthan Chandran (all Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences).  The Supplementary Appendix features stunning modern scientific images of oligodendrocytes.

May 2021 update: The Lancet Neurology front cover for May is of a pyramidal neurone from the cortex. The front cover features nine separate embroidered renditions of that image, many created by members the Edinburgh Neuroscience community: Diane Sherman and Noah Stypidou (both Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences), Emma Wilson and Jyoti Nanda (both Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences), as well as contributors from Germany, Finland and Chile! The front cover accompanies a short article about the British Neuroanatomist Thomas Willis by Dr Arpan Mehta (Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences) and each of the embroideries features in the article appendix.

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  :-)