My name is Joanne Kaar. I live Dunnet
village, on Dunnet Head in Caithness. With viewsto the village of Brough, where I grew up. The Pentland Firth and the
Orkney Island of Hoy are in the distance. Earlier this year I visited JoyceLaingin
Pittenweem, Fife, to take a closer look at the grass garments made my Angus
MacPhee.I had seen his incredible work
while it as on display in Stornoway many years ago. Angus was a crofter. He lived in South Uist,
but spent almost 50 years in Craig Dunnain psychiatric hospital in Inverness.
He chose not to speak, instead he made garments from grass and leaves growing
in the hospital grounds, twisting the plants into a rope or simmans. A traditional
technique he would have learnt at home in Uist. When he’d finished making, Angus just discarded
them and started another one.It was
fortunate that Joyce Laing discovered Angus and saved some of his work.
Angus became known as ‘the weaver of
Exactly how Angus made his garments was a
mystery Joyce wanted to solve.
I’ve plenty of grass in my field to
The grass ‘weavings’ made by Angus are now
old and fragile. With the help of my
husband Joe, who made a sketch of the construction bylooking at a patch of more open weave, and
the information from Joyce with her first had experience of seeing Angus work,
I made notes and took measurements in my sketchbook.Next, with a ball of cotton string, I made a
few test pieces.
Back home, I drew out a full size paper
template to work from. Starting at the waistline, I made a grass rope to fit
the width, then, by opening up the rope at regular intervals,I made a series of loops, threading the grass
rope in and out of the gaps.
I’m using dried grass a this will help hold
the twist in the rope.
Using a looping technique,I worked upwards towardsthe neck of the garment, the same direction
as in the original. The loops were small and pulled tight at the
waistline, getting larger towards the chest.I used my fingers as a gauge and pulled the rope to the size I
wanted.Whilst keepingthe same number of loops in each row,
thegarment widened at the chest,
because each individual loop was bigger. This made a flatsection for the front of the garment.The arms were to be added later.
Working with a short length was easier, as
didn’t have to pull so much rope through the loops. When I ran out of rope, I
simply made it longer by twisting in more grass.
The cuffs of the sleeves and base of Angus’s
garment were deliberately frilly.The
loops on these partswere too matted confusing
to understand howthey were made.So I decided to use the same looping
technique for everything as this was the only one I was sure he had used.
Working from the original waist band, I made two large loops into every one in the
row before – this instantly made it
wider and uneven. Working from the waistline down, I followed the paper
template and adjusted the loop size to complete the front side.
Making the back of the garment was
easier.I started with a waistband as
before, butat the end of each row, I
looped through the sides of the front piece, connecting the two halves together
as I worked back and forth, leaving gaps for the sleeves and neck.
The construction technique is easier to see
on these larger loops.
The garment was getting quiet heavy, so I
made the sleeves separately.Again,
starting with a rope I made a series of loops, but this time I tied it into a
circle, the same diameter as the sleeve, working in the round, not two flat
pieces. This was stitched with a grass rope to the main body section.It’s difficult to see on the original garment
if the sections were made in the round, or sewn together later. I used a
combination of both.
The sleeves attached and only the neck to
do.I worked this in the round, picking
up loops from the back and front of the garment until it was finished.
I've been adding a bit of colour to the portable museum about the workhouses of Whitehaven - taking red from the red seal's in the documents, I've used red thread in the clog making components, and then painted the sides of the drawers with red enamel paint. I gave all three drawers, two coats of enamel paint. Although I loved the touch of colour, it didn't work as it soon scratched as the drawers were opened and closed - so now we are removing the paint back to the original metal.
As Whitehaven was an important harbour, it’s not surprising to find that many of the young boys from the workhouses in Whitehaven were
apprenticed to service at sea.
In 1856, George Craner age 13, was to serve a 7 year apprenticeship on the ship, Adventure, owned by Joseph Bragg of Whitehaven.
The year before, his older brother, James Craner age 14, was apprenticed to Thomas Trohear of Whitehaven, a clog and pattern maker.
The brothers had been separated.
In 1849, William Thompson, age 14, was to serve an apprenticeship on the Capella under ships master George Nelson. In 1870, the Capella was
shipwrecked. Was this the same ship? Was William still a member of the crew? Research often leads to more questions, many left unanswered.
The photo shows a sailors wedding in Whitehaven from mid 19th century. We don’t know who they are, but we would like to think that perhaps he was one of the boys apprentices to the sea service from the workhouse.
In 1849 Isabella Corkhill, a pauper inmate was found to have been smuggling out workhouse provisions and selling them in the town. Spirituous liquor had also been introduced. Isabella had also given birth to an illegitimate child, the father was Archibald Farish master of the workhouse. He resigned after his involvement with Isabella.
In 1849, there was a measles epidemic in workhouse, killing 18 children.
Irregular Accounts. The image is a page from Whitehaven Workhouse minute book 1830-1863. Income from the sale of clothing had not been recorded, and the consumption of alcohol is noted as being rather high.