Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 2 Paisley

Wed April 27
We started at the Paisley Abbey which dominates the center of town. Robin Craig and James Wardrop guided our groups through the Abbey. St. Murrin founded a church on this site in the 6th century. In 1180, thirteen monks from the monastic order from Cluny, France, arrived to start the monestary. The weaving trade in Paisley developed to provide fabric for the monestary. The 12th century abbey has a medieval nave from the time of the founders.
After the Reformation in the 1500's, the monestary disbanded in 1560. The central tower of the abbey collapsed in the same century. Restoration started in the 19th century and continues into the 21st century with the recent refurbishing of the organ. The abbey also houses a 10th century stone carved Barochen cross which used to stand in a field near the town, carvings of 16 different monks faces tucked into various niches in the Abbey and stunning stained glass windows. Two queens and one king are buried in the church including the Royal Tombs of Marjory Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, and King James III. The Abbey is known as the “Cradle of the Stewart Kings” of which the current queen of England can trace her lineage.

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 just retired curator, Valerie Reilly, graciously came back to gave us a powerpoint lecture of the history of the Paisley shawl. From the design's origins in Babylon where it was a fertility symbol, 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, Napoleon'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. Here is a "kirking" shawl that women would wear to church the first Sunday after the birth of a child. 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 now not only the head weaver, but the shawl curator at the museum. Part of his job is to research and rebuild the equipment and examples of looms used in the shawl industry. He also teaches weaving classes 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 cottages sit on Shuttle Street.

In 1704 the weavers union started. The union watched out for the weavers. If trade was bad and the weaving was scarce, they gave the weaver 10 pounds cash and sent them off to America. One such weaver who came to America from Paisley was Alexander Wilson. He went onto to become a leading ornathologist, poet, and president of Princeton University.

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."

Ellen Farmer, president of the society and her group of volunteers do a smashing job of keeping the story of Sma Shot alive.

The group in the courtyard garden at Sma Shot.

When you step outside the cottages, you can see the parish church where John Witherspoon preached. Witherspoon emmigrated to America and was the only Scot and the only minister to sign The Declaration of Independence.

My camera was quite keen on picture taking at Sma Shot, so below is a flurry of shots from our visit.

a) the paisley pattern shaped herb garden in the Sma Shot courtyard

b) Mary H., Judy L. and Nickie W. enjoying the gift shop

c) Jere L. wrapped up in 150 year old paisley shawl

d) Wallie W. emerging from the cottage

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 for lovingly sharing the history of the thread mill industry with us.

Here is Eleanor standing here by a crocheted wedding dress. When one of the last of the functioning mills was closed, the mill was stripped of equipment for scrap. This dress was found some years later in a bin that had not gone to the smelters. It was crocheted with Anchor thread by an unknown mill worker and only recently donated to the museum. The thread mill's website is currently offline but here is the cities' link to the mill

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 1 Glasgow

April 26, 2011

Welcome to my blog about the fourth Scotland adventure I’m leading for weavers, spinners, knitters and their traveling companions. I'm happy to be fiddling, walking, and 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 Canada, both coasts of the US, New Mexico, Arkansas, and the Midwest. For some it is their first time out of North America. Others are regularly on the road. We have a wide mix of backgrounds from sheep growers to an herbalist, an astronomer, a chemistry professor, a teacher, a social worker, a nurse, and avid volunteers. There is a mother and daughter, a father and a daughter, individual travelers, and several couples. We range in age from age 21 to age 87. It is an interesting mix of folks that I already know ask excellent questions of our guides.

Our first stop was House for an Art Lover. The house was designed over 100 years ago by Charles Renne Mackintosh for a contest to design a house for an art lover. He submitted his entry under the pseudonym "Der Vogel" and indeed throughout the house, you find motifs of birds. He did not win the competition. But in 1980, two businessmen decided his house should be built. And in 1996, the house, in Bellahouston Park, in Glasgow, opened.

The clean lines and the influence of nature inside the house was influenced by Mackintosh's appreciation of Japanese design. Throughout the home the "Mackintosh Rose" symbol appears again and again. Margaret, Charle's wife, a fine artist, designed the gesso plaques and the stipling on the wall . When the house was built, students from the Glasgow School of Art and other area artisans recreated the furniture, cabinets, stained glass, virtually the entire interior as the Mackintosh's designed it 100 years ago.

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. The House for an Art Lover might be a good place to start.

Jenell P. playing the piano at House for an Art Lover (DM)

The walled garden at the House was in full spring glory. Here are Gordon M. and Linda L., Linda Ry. and Elaine P. enjoying the brilliant sunshined start to our tour (DM)

We lunched at Pollok House in Pollok Park. The kitchens of this fine old mansion have been turned into a café. The head waiter, (always smiling except in this photo) Billie and his staff served us a delicious lunch.

The Burrell Collection, is also housed in a museum in Pollok Park. Sir William Burrell amassed great wealth in the shipping business and spent his money on collecting artwork from all over the world. The family gave the collection to the city of Glasgow. There are many tapestries in the collection.

Dina Ward, an enthusiastic volunteer docent, guided us through the tapestries on display. The collection includes large and small tapestries from Flanders, Brussels, and France. Most of the tapestries are currently not displayed as the museum is getting ready to photograph them for a publication. I really enjoyed Dina's insights into the four tapestries that were on display. “Four Scenes from the Life of a A Virgin” was woven in Switzerland in the late 1400's and woven for the church. Dina points out the wonderful little details like the fact that the angel's eyes were woven cross-eyed!

Large tapestries were woven in Flanders and France. Brussels was a major weaving center in the 1500's. By this time the royalty were commissioning most of the tapestries. Henry VIII was reported to own over 2000 tapestries. “Prudence Arriving at the Temple of the Divine Wisdom” approximately 5 x 12 meters, was woven on its side which made it much stronger when hanging. The weavers sat side by side following a cartoon. They only had 2 dozen colours of yarn at that time, so they used a hatching technique which created 3rd colour from two yarn colours and added dimension to the figures.

Walking around the park, which has a large herd of Highland cattle, flowers, and trees, is a green peaceful retreat in the middle of the largest city in Scotland. http:/

The day ended with an optional visit to the Kelvingrove Museum not too far from our lodging in the West End, Glasgow. Some of the travelers who arrived in advance of the tour heard the daily organ concert in the great hall of the museum. Since the refurbishment a few years ago, it is the number one visited museum in Scotland. It has a vast variety of objects from elephants to the famous Salvador Dali painting "Christ of Saint John of the Cross "

Photos in the blog were taken by myself,

Doreen M. and Dan K.