Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day 6 Oyne

We had another day of sunshine for our workshop at the rural setting of the studio at Touched By Scotland in Oyne. Not only does Robin and Jan have studio space for classes, but a wonderful newly enlarged gallery full of metal, jewelry, paper, fiber, painting, glass, ceramics,wood, and straw artwork all made from UK artists. In addition to the large gallery space, a restaurant on location will open this summer.

Elaine Lindsey is a local artist who has worked for the past 25 years reviving the Scottish forms of straw work. Today we soaked in the history and learned some technique of Scottish straw work from Elaine. " I make a wide range of natural decorations and gifts, suitable for all occasions, including weddings, housewarings, and Christmas. I never know where it will lead me next, from making a traditional Skeklar costume for an exhibition in Los Angelese to producing straw accessories for Hugo Boss. I love reproducing traditional designs but I also enjoy designing more contemporary items too. I am a member of the Guild of Straw Craftsmen and the National Association of Wheat Weavers. "

A gifted teacher, Elaine is so enthusisastic and knowledgeable about many kinds of straw work from around the world. She is always learning new things herself and this shows in the vast of array of traditional and contemporary work she produces. Elaine uses wheat for most of her work, although traditionally, straw was used in Scotland for the traditional "corn dollie" work. Elaine's wheat, the "Maris Widgeon variety, is grown in the midlands in England.

Corn Dollie doesn't necessary mean a doll made out of straw. A corn dollie just means that it is straw work that still has the "ears" or heads of the grain incorporated in the piece. "Dollie" comes from the word "idol". There are many different stories about the significance of the last sheaf of corn (corn is the word used for grain in the UK) harvested from the field. In Scotland the last sheaf, the "cliach", hung in the farm kitchen. The seeds of this were the first planted the next year. It was good luck to have a dollie in the house.

You don't need fancy tools to work with straw, just your hands, scissors, straw and cotton string. In the photos, you can see how proud we were of our creations at the end of the workshop!

Nearly everywhere you travel in Scotland, stone ruins are found. Near our lodging in Insch, stands Dunnideer Fort. The remnants of the fortifications at the site date back to the Iron Age. A number of us took a pre-dinner hike to the top.

Sunday night G&T came back to treat us once again to a house concert of folks songs of Scotland. Trish Norman and Gaye Anthony travel around the UK and Europe performing at festivals. Their voices blend in sweet harmonies while trading off the lead. Trish’s high, clear, lilting soprano is grounded by Gaye’s rich, round alto voice. They accompany themselves with guitar. They sing songs about the sea, fishing, and even taught us the chorus to their famous haggis song! Their stories and banter interspersed between songs kept us all smiling and laughing and singing along. They learned a song new to them, just for us, "The Spinning Wheel" and I got to join in. Gaye and Trish have made 3 recordings. You can hear their joyous sounds at

Three members of the Grampian Weavers Guild were our guests for the evening. Jean Thain, Margaret Wallace, and Zahara Mcmillan brought things they had made and the travelers who were wearing things they had made, and there was a sharing of co-creativity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Day 5 St. Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeenshire

To get from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, you cross the new Forth Bridge. The old Forth Railroad bridge, a cantilever bridge, is considered to be the 8th wonder of the world. Completed in 1890, it was the world's first major steel bridge and still carries many trains a day.

Most people think of golf or the university when they hear, St Andrews. The town is also home to Di Gilpin Knitwear. (In the photo Marjorie Ann is modling one of Di's sweaters.) Di presented a slide lecture for us of her journey as an artist knitter. She started knitting when she was 6. To make money while in university, she would knit things for people. After a stint as an English and history teacher, she moved to the Isle of Skye. For 5 years she knit, painted and took photographs, inspired by the beauty of the water and mountains out her window. She opened up Struan Knitwear and people started coming. Her goal has always been to get people to knit and over the last 26 years, she has been successful in bringing it back into vogue in Scotland.

Di's early work focused on Fair Isle patterns and intarsia color work. Now in addition to those, she works with lace weaves, deconstruction and a technique she developed called “knit-weave.” Di designs for companies, writes books, travels for inspiration and to teach. She is now starting to make many of her knitwear patterns available to purchase from her website.

In 2000 she moved her studio and shop to St. Andrews. A large knit club gathers there regularly and she offers one, two , and three day workshops. Di knits and designs as she goes, taking technical notes. “I let pattern come through me and develop. I never have a pre-conceived idea." Once the piece is complete, she creates the pattern and the directions. “I think my work is innovative because I come at it from both the technical side and the creative side at the same time. Knitters like to think. I put knitters high on the intelligence stakes.”

The sun always seems to shine when I bring groups to this town. Here are Uarda, Kathy and Pat enjoying a cup of tea.

North of St. Andrews lies Dundee,known for 'jute, jam, and journalism.' It was once known as “Jutopolis.” Over 50,000 workers worked in the jute mills. Verdant Works Jute Mill, built in 1833 , was the 16th largest of 61 milles. The last of the jute mills closed in 1997. Verdant Works is now a museum depicting the days when jute was king in the city on the River Tay.

Jute fiber was brought by ship from India. Large bales were brought to the factories where it was processed, spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Boys only worked in the mills until they were 18, when they were made redundant. Women comprised the majority of the workers in the mills and had a lot of power. We had an excellent guide, Earl Scott, who lead us through the interpretive displays. Each time I come to the museum there is something new and this year it was an excellent film showing the task that each machine played in the processing of the raw material into cloth and rope.

Now there are no jute mills left in Dundee. Some of them have been torn down, others turned into housing and others refitted for other industry. But no industry since has matched the success of the jute mills in the 19th and early 20th century. A number of songs tell the stories of working in a jute mill. My group, Straw into Gold has recorded 2 of them, Sheena Wellington’s “The Weavers o Dundee” and Mary Brooksbank’s “The Jute Mill.” You can listen to this second song at by clicking on the revolving musical symbol on the home page.

If any of you traveled to the U.K. twenty or just ten years ago, you may laugh when I say the food in Scotland is excellent! But indeed Scotland has come a long way with their cuisine. Many places focus on using local ingredients to prepare healthy and tasty fare. This night we enjoyed a special feast, “A Taste of Grampian” at the Barn and Bushel in Thainstone. Each Saturday night, they feature locally raised foods such as angus beef, venison, lamb, fish, parsnips, potatoes...well actually you get potatoes in one form or another served in abundance at every restaurant! Since Barn and Bushel is located at a livestock market area, the beef, pork and lamb are especially fresh.