Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day 5

Sat April 14
Besides having the oldest university in Scotland, famous golf courses, and few relics of St. Andrew, the town named after Scotland’s patron saint is home to Di Gilpin Knitwear. 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 25 years, she has been successful in bringing it back into vogue in Scotland.

Her 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 travels to teach. In 2000 she moved her studio and shop to St. Andrews. A large knit club gathers there regularly. But what she still loves to do most is knit. She knits and designs as she goes, taking technical notes. “I let pattern come through me and develop. I never have a pre-conceived idea. “ Then 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.”

North of St. Andrews lies Dundee. It was once known at “Jutopia” Over 50,000 workers worked in the jute mills. Verdant Works Jute Mill 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.

Lilly Thompson, was a weaver who worked for 19 years at the J.F. Robertson mill, The Bower. She demonstrated for us how a number of the machines used in the production worked. When she found out I was a weaver, she offered up a sample of the jute cloth woven on the demo power loom at the museum. I was delighted as I’ve had a special interest in the weavers of this town having sung Sheena Wellington’s “The Weavers o Dundee” and Mary Brooksbank’s “The Jute Mill.” You can listen to this song at
and clicking on the revolving musical symbol on the home page. 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.

Up to this point I haven’t written about food. But we are eating well every day. This night we enjoyed a special feast, “A Taste of Grampian” at the Barn and Bushel in Thainstone. They featured local foods such as angus beef, pheasant, lamb, fish, parsnips, potatoes and fudge. One of our trip members is doing whiskey research at each food venue. She appreciated the knowledgable scotch tutorial from our driver Richard as she conducted her experiments with several different brands this night!

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