This is the second of my posts talking about my Scottish Textiles Crafting Futures residency. We've had our introductions, now what did we get up to?
Over the course of the residency we visited a range of makers and manufacturers to introduce thoughts, ideas, and working practices happening within Scottish Textiles. These are my inspirational highlights:
In Ness we were hosted by Harris Tweed Authority, to receive a talk about the Authority and see their visitor centre. I’ve always enjoyed working with Harris Tweed so this was a real pleasure. It’s fascinating to hear of the trajectory the Tweed has had over time, from it’s 1846 official creation, it’s 1960’s heyday, subsequent decline, to the point of protection in the 1990’s. Over the last ten years it has again become a global brand through tight control of the process, quality of cloth, values and branding. When we visited last September they had 190 weavers (47 of whom are women) weaving from their own homes, one of the fundamental elements of Harris Tweed. The colours within the Tweeds are so beautiful. I love the way the different Tweeds are designed with the colours of the landscapes in mind, which is something I try to bring to my own work. The depth of colour and texture comes from the fact that the wools used are dyed pre-carding and spinning, which intensifies the colour, as opposed to other commercial producers who tend to dye at the yarn stage. I was also fascinated to hear that their approach to sustainability is focussed on creating a sustainable business. They want to offer a stable employment choice for the locality and are working to capture the technical skills so they can be retained to continue the traditional modes of producing this fascinating cloth into the future.
Harris Tweed Authority Sample Book. Kate, Pilar, Dal & Sol examing the exhibits in the Harris Tweed Authority Visitors Centre.
We also visited Becca of Taobh Tuath Tweeds in her home weaving shed. She is one of 30 Independents designing their own Harris Tweed as opposed to being instructed to weave designs as dictated by the mills. Her creative process for creating her own Harris Tweed designs was really interesting, how she experiments with colours at ends of cloth. Also seeing the loom in action and the binary nature of the pattern chain was something new to me.
Harris Tweed woven by Becca, wool from Uist Wool, and postcard from Uist Wool showing the antique machinery.
I absolutely loved visiting Uist Wool Mill. Uist Wool like to keep things local. The raw product comes from the local grazing sheep, they keep production local, they control it locally, and use local expertise. The mill uses restored antique machinery, which is in itself beautiful to see in action. Combine this with the wool running through it, (which retains it’s natural colours - no dyes here) the sounds, the feel and smell of the Lanolin – results in a mill visit that is truly a full sensory experience. The small team at Uist Wool are focussed on small batch production of their yarns and only work on 3 or 4 outside commissions per year. Because everything is done by hand they can create yarns that couldn’t be produced commercially through commercial processing volumes. It was almost a lightbulb moment to see how hand feeding the natural shades of wool into the machinery created the variances of colour in the finished yarn. I found the whole experience of being there quite moving actually. It’s definitely something that’s stayed with me and I’m thinking deeply about their approach in how I develop my own practice. Keeping things artisanal, focussed on the provenance of the materials, telling the story of the materials, keeping things authentic – Inspiring indeed.
The Shed at Uist Wool Mill holding the unprocessed fleeces.
BELINDA AT THE COLOUR BOTHY
Back on Deeside we visited Belinda Rose. I confess I was immensely jealous of Belinda’s beautiful studio that is just full of textiles and dedicated to weaving and her practice. She introduced us to a range of weaving techniques, using simple hand held looms right up to a digital jacquard loom. She’s obviously extremely dedicated to her practice, and highly exploratory in her work. Some of the techniques she demonstrated were so interesting to me! She showed techniques where elastic and high twist silks had been used within the weave to create self-pleating fabrics, and where different surface structures had been created through the combination of textiles and yarns that wash or shrink differently. It was illuminating to hear her say that actually the more complicated the tool, the more restrictions there may be. That struck me. I’m not a weaver, but through my previous experience of working in fine metals and now in textiles, her desire to push and understand the materials she is working with was inspiring. This visit made me question how I can manipulate my fabric, or change the aspect of a printed textile by using additional materials to alter the surface. Additionally, I loved the fact that she treats her samples as artworks in themselves, recognising that they have their own value, not just for herself, but for others. I now have a Belinda jacquard sample on my wall - a treasured artwork.
Belinda Rose Weaving.
Alongside these highly inspirational visits there were continuous, open, honest and highly stimulating discussions and conversations within us as a group of makers. All with stunningly beautiful landscape backdrops! We digested, conjugated, debated approaches, identified themes, spoke of inspiration and applications for techniques. We shared fears, difficulties, successes and laughter. All, again, with a mutual respect of, and interest in one another’s opinion, practice, expertise, and cultural perspective.
Our facilitators - Netty Sopata of Diggory Brown, my good friend Lynne Mennie of Lynne's Loom and the wonderful Carol Sinclair (who also mentored me through my VACMA Award, and who is Chair of Applied Arts Scotland) were there to aid and direct discussions towards our projects when required!
And so we started to discuss within our collaborative teams how we could develop our many thoughts into our projects under the themes of Collaboration, Sustainability and Identity. Of particular interest to our team of Sol, Dal and I was the dual meaning of Sustainability - having two separate words in Spanish – something sustaining itself at a certain rate or level, versus the maintenance of future natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. This got us thinking about our own identities, and how local materials and skills have either been retained or lost within our own heritage communities. Sol spoke of how sheep are no longer kept locally within her area due to a downturn in weaving and people moving to the US for work. Dalilah spoke of rescue and repair of natural resources. And I thought of my own identity as the granddaughter of a gamekeeper, how the language spoken and that way of life is not my own language or lifestyle, and the tensions that exist for sustaining those ways of life and communities in the future.
The group of us in Braemar.
By the end of the residency period we were starting to define these ideas as a team and starting to identify where there were overlaps and parallels. We wanted to find the common ground of our very different cultures and human stories and be able to show how we connect through our hands and our work. Could we effectively tell the stories of our materials and how they inform each other? And how could we push each other creatively and avoid falling in to the familiar?