Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 2 Paisley

Wednesday 22 April. We started at the Paisley City Museum. This is a free museum and the oldest municipal museum in Scotland. It houses one of the best collections of Paisley shawls in the world. The collection curator, Valerie Reilly, gave us a detailed talk and slide presentation of the history of the Paisley shawl from the design's origins in Babylon where it was a fertility symbol, how it spread to the Kashmir region of India, and then finally to Europe. The East India company started importing them to Europe in 1780.

Originally the shawls coming from Kashmir were made of pashmina goat fiber that was collected from bushes where the goats would rub it off. These shawls were woven on simple wooden looms and took months to weave. The limited source of the fiber and the time it took to weave these shawls in Kashmir made them very expensive. Josephine, Napolean's wife, had 200 shawls in her wardrobe. By the late 1700's the shawls were being produced in Edinburgh, Norwich, France, Russia and Paisley on draw looms. Paisley had highly skilled weavers who had previously woven linen.

The town of Paisley in the height of popularity of the Paisley shawls around 1840, had thousands of weavers making these wonderful cloths, then on the Jacquard loom. An elaborate paisley design could take 484,000 pattern cards to produce it. But the weavers had to be accurate in their weaving, so that by the time they had woven an entire shawl pattern, they were within 1/4" of the required length.

The paisley pattern changed throughout the 100 years the shawls were in fashion The designs became more elongated in the Victorian era. The size of the shawls also changed as women's fashion changed. In the 1850's, the shawls were woven 5' 6" x 11' so they could be folded and used like a coat to fit over crinoline skirts. When the bustle came into fashion 1865-1870, this was the death of the paisley shawl as the shawls didn't work with the protruding bustle shape. Some Paisley weavers found work into the early 20th centuries when “fur shawls” enjoyed a period of fashion popularity.

Dan Coughlin is far more than the weaver at the museum. Part of hisjob is to research the equipment used in the shawl industry. He also teaches weaving classes on Fridays at the museum. Dan showed us pattern books and explained the process from designing to weaving. At the peak of the Paisley shawl industry there were 10,000 weavers working in their homes and perhaps 20,000 more people supporting the trade. The fine threads, 80 to 120 ends per inch in paisley shawls and the exacting weaving specifications meant the Paisley weavers were highly skilled. Dan has rebuilt several jacquard looms back to working condition in the weaving studio at the museum. He made a shuttle box that holds 10 shuttles for one of the looms. Paisley is the only place he found that shuttle boxes this large were used on the looms. He is currently building a draw loom and turning 200, 3/16” thick pulleys for it. His next project is designing a beaming frame. Here Dan is showing how the pattern cards were punched for the Jacquard looms that wove the shawls. Once the weaving industry died, most of the looms were turned into firewood. But with Dan’s passion, skill, and dedication, he is bringing the history of the weaving equipment and the art of weaving back to Paisley. Nowadays, people can weave for enjoyment, unlike the past where the weaver was the loom’s slave. One journal of a weaver of Paisley reads “I’m glad to be free of the four posts of misery.”

Sma Shot Cottages are just down the road. The name Sma Shot comes from the binding weft thread that was thrown every 7th pick to hold the rest of weft threads in place in the paisley fabric. A society has resurrected and preserved one of the weavers cottages from the era when linen was woven Paisley, (1700's) and then other rooms depicting life in later years.

The men were the weavers, but there were many other jobs associated with making the shawls including designers, beamers, warpers, washers, steam pressers, stenters, fringers, and then the marketers. The weaver took an oath to eat his shuttle rather than give away trade secrets. Thus the shield for the weaver's trade has 3 tabby cats on it with shuttles in their mouths. Their motto was "Weave Truth with Trust" The first Saturday of July, is "Sma Shot Day", still celebrated. This commemorates the day in 1856 when the weavers won the case to be paid for the yarn used to weave the "sma shot."

Here is a shot of the group in the courtyard garden at Sma Shot. Dan came down to the weaver's cottage to demonstrate weaving on a countermarche loom he has set up. Here he is flanked by 3 of my female travelers. Once in a while there is a perk to being a weaver!

We always enjoy a nice lunch complete with clootie dumplings at Sma Shot. Ellen Farmer, president of the society and her group of volunteers do a smashing job of keeping the story of Sma Shot alive. We thank the following dedicated volunteers: Joanie Taylor, Jenny Kemp, Sandra Hurst, Di Adam, Anne Milne, Douglas Gillepsie, Margaret Devlin, Agnes Maclean, Elinor Robinson, Mary Reed, Cathy Wier, and custodian Angela Gillespie.

The Thread Mill museum tells the story of the huge thread industry in Paisley that shut the last door in 1992. The Coats and Clark Company which was a combination of the Anchor Thread Mill and the Ferguslie Thread Mill, at one time produced 90% of all the thread made in the world. 10,000 workers were employed in the mills. To allow mothers to work, there was a twilight shift from 5:00-9:00 pm. The cases display mile reels of thread, posters, memorabilia from mill workers, and now all the photographs have been digitalized and are displayed on a large plasma screen. Most of the volunteers who run this museum worked in one of the mills. We thank Eleanor, the leader of the volunteers and Nessie, one of our guides for lovingly sharing the history of the thread mill industry with us.

Paisley Abbey dominates the center of town. 13 monks from the monastic order from Cluny, France, founded the monestary. The 12th century abbey has a medieval nave. The monestary was disbanded in 1560 and the central tower of the abbey collapsed in the same century. Restoration started in the 19th century and continued into the 20th century and even now. This week the pipe organ will be removed for restoration. Since we couldn’t hear the organ, I asked permission to sing a bit of Handel. I love the acoustics of fine old buildings like this. The stained glass windows all have interesting stories, described in a pamphlet available at the entry. The abbey also houses Royal Tombs including Marjory Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce and King James III. The Abbey is known as the “Cradle of the Stewart Kings.” We couldn’t stop exclaiming at the magnificent beauty of the flowering cherry trees in bloom on the Abbey grounds.

Part of the group traveled to Edinburgh tonight to hear a fiddle legend, Frankie Gavin, of Ireland. The Edinburgh Folk Club presents live music every Wednesday night at the Pleasance Bar. For anyone traveling to Scotland, be aware that many towns have folk clubs with weekly gatherings for singing, playing, or performances. Here is where the real music can be heard. Foot Stompin has an excellent website that list folk clubs and a concert calendar that lists performances to be found all over Scotland.

I’ve heard many fiddle players. Frankie is certainly the one with the fastest fingers!I wished for my metronome to see just how fast he was playing some of the reels.He played tunes on both the viola and the violin. It is not a common thing to hear celtic tunes played on the lower pitched viola. He was accompanied by a very creative, improvisational guitar player, Mike Galvin. To attest to Frankie’s genius status, the audience included some of the top musicians in Scotland including lads from Battlefield Band and Boys of the Lough. Look for video that Paul and I shot on YouTube later this spring. Frankie’s friend noticed us shooting some sets from our primo front row seats and requested footage!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 1 Stirling and Glasgow

Tuesday 21 April. Welcome to my blog about the third Scotland adventure I’m leading for weavers and spinners. I'm happy to be dancing, hopping, well mostly riding around Scotland once again. Folks ask why I do this trip. The simple answer is, I love the country and it’s people.In a nutshell, I spent the summer of 1997 in Scotland hiking and roaming, meeting farmers, weavers, felters, fiddlers, and singers. That is when I hatched my idea to bring folks who like music, old stones, and weaving to Scotland to meet my friends!It took 10 years, but in 2007 I brought my first group from North America over. I’ll keep leading this trip as long as people are interested in getting an insider experience into the spirit of this place and its people.

This group includes travelers from Florida, New Mexico, and California. Some of them have traveled together as a group before. For some it is their first time out of North America. Others are regularly on the road 3 months a year. I've found one hardy walker who can easily keep pace with me and several are certified deep sea divers! It is an interesting mix of folks that I already know ask excellent questions of our guides.

Day 1 we headed north out of the city for the first venue of the trip, Stirling Castle. Although the weather was like summer yesterday, we started today with some clouds and some rain. By the end of the day when we returned to Glasgow the sun was out. So that is how it goes in Scotland, just as where I live in the Pacific Northwest. If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. Stirling Castle is the site of many famous battles.It rises out of the lowlands as the entrance gate into the highlands. From the castle you gaze across fields where many battles have taken place in earlier history and look across to the Wallace monument. The Romans originally built the only road from south tonorth that ran right through this area where the Firth of Forth meets the River Clyde Basin. That is why it was a strategic site for holding or conquering the land. Many different buildings and fortifications have stood on this site since the 1200’s. The castle has been rebuilt at least eighteen times over the centuries. Historic Scotland's website can fill in the details of this historic place.

It was a busy and eventful day at the castle. The army was there to render a 21-gun salute for the Queen’s 83rd birthday. 3 guns were set up next to the display canyon on the castle wall facing Abbey Craig. At noon, the pipe band processed and played for the firing spectacle. Thanks to traveler Paul Causey for the firing jpg.

We have the current renovation of King James V palace to thank for the Unicorn tapestry project. Historic Scotland is working with the West Dean Tapestry studio to recreate the 7 tapestries in the “Hunt of the Unicorn” series. The originals with the blue background are in the Metropolitan's Cloisters Museum in New York City. The other series with the red background are the Cluny Museum in Paris. You may enjoy reading Tracy Chevalier’s excellent historical fiction book called “The Lady & the Unicorn” based loosely on the weaving of the original tapestries.Since records show King James had over 100 tapestries in his palace, very likely including a version of the Unicorn tapestries, the Hunt series was chosen to be made anew. Louise Martin, the head weaver of the project, gave us an in-depth look into the scope of this amazing project. The 4 tapestries already completed are hanging on display at the Chapel Royal include:"The Unicorn in Captivity#1"
“The Unicorn is Found #2”
"The Unicorn is killed and brought to the castle #6"
“The Unicorn in Captivity #7”

They are all 330 cm tall and various widths. Since my last visit, "The Unicorn is Found" woven at West Dean, was hung. Detail of "Unicorn is Found"

A temporary studio was built on the north end of the castle for this project. Visitors to the castle can view the weaving but are not permitted to talk to the weavers while they are at the loom. The weavers are currently working on "The Unicorn at Bay” which was started on February 6, 2008. A great delight for me is that I see the progress on the tapestry project each year.It is humbling to realize that it will take 3 highly skilled weavers working 7 days a week, 3 ½ years to complete this current tapestry. Another tapestry in the series is being woven at the West Dean Tapestry studio 500 miles away in England. The entire project will be completed in 2012 when the whole set of tapestries will hang in the newly renovated palace at Stirling Castle.

To render the full-scale design and cartoon, the head weavers go to New York to the Cloisters. They have access to within one millimeter of the original tapestries but cannot touch them. They figure out yarn colors and make a detailed plan for each figure and motif in each tapestry. Working from full size color copy, they make an acetate tracing of the tapestry. Then from this they make a paper cartoon. Samples are woven to work out specific techniques to achieve desired effects. The wool yarn is all dyed at the West Dean studio. Instead of silk, pearl cotton is being used for the shiny parts as it has longer color fastness. Historic Scotland requires that the materials being used in the tapestry hold up for 250 years.

Reweaving the tapestries is not a matter of copying. First, the new tapestries are being woven 10% smaller than the originals to fit in the space in the palace. They are weaving with fewer EPI (ends per inch) in the warp because it would take too long and cost too much money to weave them at the original finer warp set. (A patron in her eighties is financing the project.) Also, the head weavers have to train the weavers who come in to weave each tapestry. Although all experienced tapestry weavers, they need to understand the specific techniques and develop nuances of skill. There will be about 25 weavers total who have worked on the series by the time it is completed. Each weaver has to leave their own individuality and style behind and try to get into the mind of the original weavers as they work. Getting this inside look at the current project is really special. The scope, historical accurateness, detail, and dedication is amazing.

Back in Glasgow, we toured the Glasgow School of Art. There has been in art school in the city since 1845. This current building was completed in 1909 based on a design by Cahrles Renne Mackintosh. When he won the design competition for a new building, he was 28 years old, both working for an architecture firm, and attending school here part time. The clean lines and the influence of nature inside the school was influenced by Mackintosh's appreciation of Japanese design. Throughout the building the "Mackintosh Rose" symbol appears again and again. Margaret, Charle's wife, a fine artist, designed gesso plaques and had a great influence on Charle’s interior design. The tour ends in the new venue for the furniture gallery. A selection of chairs, tables, bed, dresser, cabinets from the school’s collection is on display.No photos can be taken inside the building.

Charles died in 1928, poor and virtually forgotten, and Margaret died in 1932. Their marriage was a true love story. Today, people world wide value the design aesthetic we today call "Mackintosh.”There are many other sites in the Glasgow area that feature the architecture and interiors of Charles Mackintosh. We ended the day at the University of Glasgow. Travelers were free to explore either the newly renovated Huntarian Museum or the MacKintosh House. When Charles and his wife Margaret MacDonald left Glasgow in 1914, one of his patrons bought the house. When the owner died, the family left the contents to the University of Glasgow. The actual house, located just a few blocks from the University, was torn down in the 1960’s. But in the early 1980’s, the museum built this addition to the gallery which replicates the rooms of the MacKintosh house. Each room is decorated with the furniture, light fixtures, artwork, textiles, and colors true to the original house. The sense of light and unity in the house gives a sense of sacred space. The popularity of MacKintosh and his designs today is amazing considering he died in London, almost entirely forgotten and poor.