Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh: Douglas Grierson, head weaver, has been working at Dovecot for 46 years. He told us about the history of the studios. Founded in 1912, except for a break during WWII, the studios have been weaving tapestries for commission for 90 years. After the war, they began collaborating with well-known artists, a tradition that continues through today. A masterful weaver who is drawn to geometric forms, Douglas believes that “the (artistic) translation of tapestry only comes by the weaving of many, many tapestries.” It was a delight to view a number of Douglas’s personal pieces hung around the studio.
While we visited, David Coughlin was working on “Two Views.” This 4’ x 8’ tapestry is translated from the painting of Victoria Crowe. David works from viewing the original painting which stands nearby, in addition to the cartoon behind the warp. He showed us how he sews up the slits between the woven motifs at the same time he is weaving. David was an apprentice at Dovecot for 5 years and has been weaving tapestry there now for 22 years.
At the end of 2007, Dovecot Studios is moving near the center of old town in Edinburgh. This will give them more gallery space, allow them to train new apprentices and have wider exposure to the public. www.dovecotstudios.com
Locharron of Scotland: One of the few weaving mills left in the Borders, this Selkirk based company weaves tartans and fashion fabrics for designers and companies around the world. A guided tour starts with the dying process of the wool. The process continues with cone winding, winding the warp and then tying onto the looms. If the current order has the same number of warps per inch as the previous job, a machine can tie on the entire warp in one hour. If an order has an unusal set, a worker has to hand thread the heddles, about an 8 hour job, just like us labor intensive hand loom weavers have to do inour studios. . The reel that had just come off the warping machine had 9 different warps on it, one tied to the other.
The Swiss power looms the company weaves on are quite new. But still much hands on work and checking is required to retain the high standard of quality the company demands of their cloth. The women in quality control handle and inspect every yard of fabric after it comes off the looms. If an error is found, they may have to hand needle in yarn to fix the problem for up to a 40 yard length. The finishing of the cloth is jobbed out to another company. Locharron has their own inhouse design team. The head designers spend half their time in New York and Japan. When I asked the guide how Lochcarron has survived when most other mills have closed, he answered simply “quality. When companies buy from us, they know what they are getting.”
Just down the road from Lochcarron is Andrew Elliot Ltd. When you walk through the door of this original mill building, you sense a special spirit here. And no doubt that comes from the owner, Andrew Elliot and his love of the trade. Although Andrew purchased the business in 1975, the mill started in 1838 as George Roberts Mill. At the peak, the vast mill complex employed 300 workers. Now the operation is scaled down to one main building for the winding, warping and weaving. Andrew, a daughter, and his son Robin, run the business. Although in his eightie’s, Andrew’s hands are still the heart of the business. He is a master designer. He has been designing for 60 years and continues to be excited about the design process. He is currently working on the Organic Tweeds project for a large UK company that specializes in “organic wool.”
Walking up the creaking stairs to the 2nd story warehouse, a bulletin board proadly displays a letter from the filmmaker and photos of the costumes made from Andrew Elliot cloth for the movie “Greyfriar’s Bobby.” The sun filters onto the shelves of bolts of finely crafted tweeds, tartans, twills, and novelty weaves. Human life is finite and change is a constant, but one hopes that the remaining vestage of this family business can continue on, bringing old world quality that carries the pride in the work, well into the 21st century. www.elliot-weave.co.uk
We couldn’t leave the boders without stopping at Shirley Pinder Studio. Shirley went back to school as a mature student. She graduated from the Scottish College of Textiles, now Herriot Watt University in Galasheils, 11 years ago, and immediately opened her own business. The exploration of fibers, weaving and finishing techniques she began in college continues today in her delicious line of specialty scarves. Weavers now recognize this kind as “fabric that goes bump.” But Shirley was making fabrics that crinkle and pleat and bubble before it became fashionable.
Each year she spends a month designing a new line of work. Much of the weaving is subcontracted and then the fabric comes back to her studio for finishing. Just last year, the Queen was gifted one of Shirley’s scarves when visiting the Borders. Most of us walked out with at least one scarf fit for a queen. I believe the coach driver was convinced by the end of this day these education tours today were just a front so we could shop until we dropped! www.shirleypinder.co.uk