Islands as Inspiration
Image: Tom Kent, A woman spinning, Orkney. The wool for carding and carders are in a loosely-woven basket next to her chair, while the check or jack reel (also called a click or clock reel) to her right, is used for winding yarn into skeins of equal length. © Orkney Library & Archive
In this guest post Rachel Boak, curator of the Between Islands Project for Orkney Islands Council, tells us about a virtual exhibition that examines the inspiration and legacy of arts, crafts and literature in the northern and western isles of Scotland. It features items from Orkney Museum, Orkney Library and Archive, Shetland Museum and Archives, and Museum agus Tasglann nan Eilean. Crafts here have grown out of necessity - tools for particular tasks, containers for transporting or storing food and fuel, furnishings for the home, clothes to wear – using materials available locally. Skills have been developed and honed over generations so that crafts have come to be identified with specific places, such as the weaving of Harris Tweed and Fair Isle knitting.
Image: Socks (detail), North Ronaldsay pattern, c. 1960, wool; acc. no. 1989.193 © Orkney Islands Council. Photograph: Rebecca Marr.
Local and historic aspects of textile production are explored alongside the international reach that island textiles have had at certain points in their history in a new online exhibition by Orkney Museum. It is part of the Between Islands project - devised by Stornoway arts centre An Lanntair with financial assistance through the LEADER 2014-2020 regional cooperation scheme - with the aim of collectively promoting the heritage and culture of Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.
Image: Samples of naturally-dyed Orkney fleece, mid-twentieth century; acc. nos. 1981.172.1, 1981.172.3, 1981.172.6 © Orkney Islands Council. Photograph: Rebecca Marr.
Highlights of the Orkney Between Islands exhibition include Orkney linen and bog cotton, knitting from North Ronaldsay, the northernmost island in Orkney which has a native ancient breed of sheep, traditional Fair Isle and Shetland lace-knitting, Harris Tweed and the less-famous tweed industries of Orkney and Shetland, straw-work and straw-plaiting, and interviews with contemporary island makers. These feature alongside archive recordings and films, historic photographs, and paintings from other Scottish collections which illuminate stories behind objects, places and personalities.
Explore the project at www.betweenislands.com
This interests me very much as my grandmother’s parents came from the island of Flotta in Orkney. I have inherited a pair of carders very like the ones shown, which I regularly use. I also have a sampler made by my great grandmother at the age of eleven, in the 1860s, featuring a ship. I can imagine the difficulty of doing crafts in cottages in the long dark winters, with short hours of daylight, before electricity.
Thanks for alerting me to this! Fascinating information about the still thriving craft and art activity undertaken in these Atlantic Islands of Scotland. Long may this flourish. It enriches the lives of everyone who is touched by the skilled and creative work. Jewellery making and distilling (craft gins and vinegars for instance) are a more recent development, and indicate how innovative those living on these isles can be.