Friday, 28 February 2014

Shetland Workshops

 Like much of Britain the weather in Shetland since Christmas has been wetter and windier than usual. Many folk here don't remember it being as bad for the last 40 years. For three weeks in January the wind blew at gale force almost every day which, accompanied by rain, meant the simple act of going out of doors became almost impossible. The front door on the house is positioned facing east to avoid the normal southwesterly gales but these January gales came from the south east requiring a shoulder barge of rugby playing proportions to close the door. But if you give up the struggle and stay indoors the wind howling round the house and down the chimney can quickly drive you crazy so, I organised a couple of workshops to fend off cabin fever.

My thanks go to Chris Dumont for helping to organise the twining one at Baltasound on Unst. A small group, but hardly surprising given that several inter island ferries had been cancelled due to the weather in preceding weeks, something that happens rarely. People from the mainland of Shetland are understandably nervous of getting stranded in the North Isles as there is little in the way of hotel accommodation or eating places in either Unst or Yell at this time of year. The prospect of spending the night in your car is therefore a real and not very appetising one.

Chris made a kishie out of the fine polypropylene netting that crofters use on their bales of silage. We had to devise some ways of weaving with it because, unlike straw, this material made it difficult to differentiate the various strands making up the hjogs. It worked in the end and he has used it to go shopping with.

The following weekend the frame basketry workshop at Levenwick on the mainland was fully booked and my thanks go to Barbara Dinnage for helping to organise that one. 

Frame basketry is not part of the Shetland basketry tradition because there are few trees to make the frames out of. But, it is a good technique for people who enjoy textile weaving as the process is more akin to loom weaving than stake and strand basketry. It is also a great technique for using a wide variety of found materials. I don't normally do any preparation for students because I believe it is important for them to learn the whole process from gathering the material to completing the basket. But in this instance I made the frames out of willows from my garden in advance so that they could dry a bit, because flexible frames make controlling the shape much harder. However I did demonstrate how to make the frames so that they weren't missing out on that information and they had to make their own ribs. People brought along a wide variety of found materials including felted off-cuts from knitting machines, which was anew one for me and it worked really well. My thanks go to all the students at both workshops for making the effort to come and dragging themselves away from their warm houses.