Monday, April 16, 2012

Day 4 Edinburgh

Fri 13 April
Dovecot Tapestry Studios sports a dynamic location. A few blocks off the Royal Mile and just down from the Museum of Scotland, the city pools sat decaying since the 1990’s. The Victorian building, designed by Robert Morham, was constructed in 1885 and housed two pools, one for ladies and one for men. After a complete renovation designed to retain the Victorian architectural features, the building now houses two galleries on the ground floor, Dovecot Studios and offices on the first floor, and two additional floors of rental office space.
Pool before renovation
The weaving floor now sits at what was pool water level in this Victoria era building.
Except for a break during WWII, the studios have been weaving tapestries for commission since 1912. After the war, they began collaborating with well-known artists, a tradition that continues through today. One walks into the weaving studio flooded with natural daylight and colors of yarn cones vibrating from the walls and is dazzled. A viewing gallery rings the perimeter of the large open studio at second story level. Work of past and present Dovecot weavers is displayed here. The studio/gallery, former site of the large pool, feels like a warm, inviting sanctuary.

 Dovecot has three  master weavers and two apprentices. Jonathon Cleaver was in the studio today to show us around. 

Jonathan  joined the workshop in 2009. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art and did textile conservation before coming to Dovecot.  Often the weavers work side by side on a large commissioned tapestry. Each tapestry woven at Dovecot has the weavers’ mark and the Dovecot symbol woven into the piece. Naomi Robertson was not weaving today but has been with Dovecot over 20 years and David Cochrine over 25. 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Dovecot. A centenary exhibition is planned for July.  Several of the pieces currently on the looms will hang in that show.

Jonathan creates  tufted rugs with a machine that looks like a hand drill. But the tool both punches the yarn through a polyester canvas and cuts the yarn creating the pile surface. Power tufting is a much faster process than tapestry and allows for fluid motion and expression.
"Skater" tufted rug designed and made by Jonathon Cleaver
Dovecot tapestry

Travellers were turned loose in the old town of Edinburgh for the rest of the day to explore up and down the Royal Mile and  further afield in new town. I really don't know what they did! But all returned to the b&b tired and smiling!   
Two ever popular tourist venues in Edinburgh, the castle

and Greyfriar's Bobby

Annette and Max of Hotel Ceildh-Donia  host us during our Edinburgh stay. The beds are very comfortable and hospitality and breakfast top notch.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day 3 New Lanark and Paisley

Thu 12 April

 As we drive south of Glasgow and into the area called "The Borders"  Scottish Blackface or Cheviot ewes, often with twin or triplet lamb, cover the pastures. Along the River Tweed, the endless green pastures with horses and sheep are especially picturesque.

New Lanark World Heritage Site is the site of a former mill where cotton  was spun. Today, in one of the restored mill buildings, there is a small  production of wool yarn being spun on a large spinning mule for the sake of education and for profit.

The community was built below three falls on the River Clyde in the late 1700’s by David Dale. The mill ran on power generated by the falls. Today New Lanark still produces hydropower that runs the community, with enough left over to sell back to the power grid. The mill was purchased and run by Robert Owen from 1800-1825. He was a social reformer and forward thinker far ahead of his time. He ideas were not popular with other mill owners. But his efforts gave him the title “father of trade unionist movement” in Scotland. He banned children from under age 10 from working in the mill. He started the first nursery school in the UK. Children from ages 2-9 went to school while their parents and siblings worked in the mill. Once children reached age 10, they worked  in the mill and then attended classes at

night. Mr. Owen treated his own 7 children no differently than he treated the children of the mill workers.

The school was built by money generated from the company store which was run as a cooperative. New Lanark was the first cooperative that lead to the foundation of The Co-op, a grocery store still thriving around the country today. In school not only were reading, writing, and arithmetic taught, but the children studied dancing, music, and nature studies.

The workers lived in buildings just across from the mill. A family of 10 may share one room, but they were warm, well fed, and had health care provided by the mill doctor. The work day started at 6 a.m with a breakfast break at 9 a.m. and lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. The work day ended at 7pm. The mill ran 6 days a week and was closed on Sunday. They produced 50,000 miles of cotton per week. The mill operated until 1968 when it could not operate profitably. The mill buildings sat empty and fell into disrepair from the elements and vandalism. A foundation saw the value in restoring the site and started the vast restoration of the mill in the 1970’s. The restoration still continues today. The newest addition is a roof garden on top of one of the mill buildings.

The site is a glorious example of public and private cooperation to preserve an important part of Scottish history and to educate generations to come. Today 150 people live on the site. Many visitors may only take the Annie McLeod ride. But I encourage you visit the school building, visit Robert Owen's house, spend time looking through the exhibits in Mill buildings 1 and 2 and the housing block, and take the hike to all 3 water falls.

Some of us walked up to the bottom falls near the factory. Traveller, Lynn







Lochcarron of Scotland was the afternoon venue. One of the few weaving mills left in the Borders, this Selkirk-based company weaves tartans and fashion fabrics for designers and companies around the world. They are housed in a former mill building that was refurbished in Riverside industrial area and feature a huge showroom of their goods. The business is family owned with many of the workers long time employees. A guided tour starts with the dying process of the wool.

The process continues with cone winding, winding the warp and then tying onto the looms. If the current  order has the same number of warps per inch as the previous job, a machine can tie on the entire warp in one hour. If an order has an unusual set, a worker has to hand thread the heddles, about an 8 hour job, just like us labor intensive hand loom weavers have to do in our studios.

The Swiss power looms the company used are 11 years old and cost 250,000 pounds each. But still much hands on work and checking is required to retain the high standard of quality the company demands of their cloth. The women in quality control handle and inspect every yard of fabric after it comes off the looms. If an error is found, they may have to hand needle in yarn to fix the problem for up to a 40-yard length. The finishing of the cloth is done in Galasheils. Locharron has their own in-house design team.
The head designers spend half their time in New York and Japan.
Elaine the tour guide

In addition to traditional and private tartan designs, the company weaves fabrics for fashion houses around the world. 4 different weights of tartan are woven by the company. When I asked the guide how Lochcarron has survived when most other mills have closed, she answered simply “quality. When companies buy from us, they know what they are getting.” Sadly these days, you can purchase cheap knock-offs of tartans made in India. Always look for the label “made in Scotland” to assure you are getting the authentic thing, made with quality and pride in Scotland.
"Hello Kitty" 35th anniversary tartan

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee tartan

Day 2 Paisley

Tue April 11

We started at the Paisley Abbey which dominates the center of town. Evelyn guided our group 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 a  collection of over 1100 Paisley shawls. The 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 between 1830-1840, 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, the head weaver and  shawl curator at the museum was on holiday. We were grateful to Douglas for showing us around the weaving loft. 
Douglas, Paisley Museum technician

  Dan does research and rebuilds the equipment and examples of looms used in the shawl industry. He also teaches weaving classes at the museum. We saw the pattern books of the pint paper designs for shawls. 4/5 of the time to make a shawl was spent on the designing. 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. Here is 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.”
Cathy admiring a paisley shawl
Mart, Judy, and Lynn inspecting a shawl

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.

Brown & Polson was another famous Paisley company known for their corn flour. Their starch was used as sizing for the linen cloth woven in Paisley.

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 brilliant job of keeping the story of Sma Shot alive.

A group of volunteers of the Old Paisley Society in the courtyard garden at Sma Shot. 
Clothes drying pulley, found in homes old and new in Scotland

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.

 When one of the last of the functioning mills was closed, the mill was stripped of equipment for scrap. A few of the machines were salvaged and are on display in the museum
Barb inspecting a historical document at the museum
Travellers and Thread Mill Museum volunteers in front of a drawing of the Ferguslie Mill, the last mill which operated in Paisley.