Thursday, April 17, 2014

Naked Craft

My proposal for the exhibition 'Naked Craft' has been accepted.  I will be one of 40 makers (20 from Scotland and 20 from Canada) taking part.  The exhibition is due to open in Canada in early 2015.
 This is what I will be making:
Journeys over land, sea and through time.
A centuries old technique lost to both Scottish and Canadian shores , re-emerged in the hands of Angus MacPhee, a crofter from South Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland.  Angus spent almost 50 years in Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital in Inverness. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he made a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.
Joyce Laing, the first art-therapist in Scotland, visited the psychiatric hospitals in search of ‘raw’ art, discovering Angus in the 1970’s.  She visited him over 20 years, saving some of his work for the Art Extraordinary Trust in Pittenweem Fife.  Angus became known as ‘the weaver of grass’. When Craig Dunain closed and care in the community was started, Angus went home 1996, he died a year later, taking with him the mystery of why and how and he made the grass garments. 
The grass ‘weavings’ made by Angus were now old and fragile, and Joyce wanted replicas to be made, before the originals were lost completely. In 2011 I visited  Joyce, and with the help of my husband Joe,  who made a sketch of the construction by  looking 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.   
Angus had combined the techniques of traditional rope or simmans making he would have learnt as a crofter, with a construction technique which had long since died out with the Vikings – needle-binding, which pre-dates knitting.
The basic technique of nalbinding (also known as Looping - knotless netting - weaving without foundation and Vattarsaumur ) involves making a loop and feeding all of your yarn through it to make the next loop. This means you will have to work with short lengths of yarn, adding more as required. This description also fits the technique one once used by Angus MacPhee 'weaver' of grass to make garments. Angus used the materials he had available, mostly grasses and sometimes wool which he collected from the barbed fence of the hospital farm fields.  Because of the materials he used, most of his work is chunky and large.  The Vikings also used materials they had available for needle-binding – wool.  A very slow process which makes a dense fabric, they used it to make mostly gloves and socks.
My research took me to Iceland where I was invited by Freja Hlidkvist Omarsdottir, Curator of Collections at The National Museum Of Iceland to take a closer look at the only glove found in Iceland from the Viking times made using the needle-binding technique is kept. 
According to the sagas, Icelandic Viking, Leif Eriksson discovered  North America, but it wasn’t until the 1960, proof of Vikings in North America came to light at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada during excavations when Icelandic- style house foundations and Norse artefacts were found. Vikings  had indeed landed, and briefly settled, in North America 500 years before Columbus.
It is this connection to our shared past, emerging through Angus MacPhee and his  extraordinary imagination and creativity using only his hands and local materials that I would like to explore contemporary ‘weavings’ using Juncus effusus (soft rush) which grows in abundance on my own field on Dunnet Head,  and in Canada, to make a series of socks, each with a different feel to them – some dense like the Viking techniques and others more open ‘weave’ like Angus MacPhees work. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Shetland Island of Yell

My portable museum of curiosity inspired by Robert Dick the baker and botanist of Thurso is currently on loan  from Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso to The Centre For Creative Industries on the Shetland Isle of Yell. 
If you would like to borrow it, do contact Caithness Horizons Museum Thurso.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nalbinding - building on last years research in Iceland - work in progress - sock made from combed soft-rush. Start of a series of socks I'll be making using a variety of nalbinding and looping techniques in soft-rush - this sock is my size and home grown.

The sock will be longer, and perhaps I'll add a thin red band along the top edge, a nod to the only nalbinding sock found in the UK - at York, the Coppergate sock. 
naalbinding   nålbinding    naalebinding  Nålebinding  knotless netting, knotless knitting,  single needle knitting, looping, weaving without foundation,  vattarsaumur , nõeltehnika, tkanie igłą ,   вязание иглой

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thar she blows.

Click here to see lots more photos of the portable museum on my flickr. 

Mystery of the Magellan Daisy  and whalers.

A Portable Museum of Curiosity.
Designed and made by Joanne & Joe Kaar.
Sound with thanks to Bob Pegg.
This is what you hear inside the box:


Monday, January 27, 2014

Portable Museum - layout for large flat fold out - Magellan Daisy and Caithness Whalers mystery

Mystery of Magellan Daisy and Caithness Whalers - progress on my portable museum of curiosity

Layers of enamel paint age the once shiny metal box.
Side panels are now printed on canvas and in place with black canvas edging.
Drawer labels also printed onto canvas.
still lots to do. I'm thinking about thick hemp rope to coil up and fill the gap above the drawers.


There's still lots to do - but it's starting to look like I imagined it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hooker's Mosses

 Sinigoe is on the edge of Brough village on the road to Dunnet Head lighthouse.  It was home to George Shearer, the last full time lobster fisherman working from Brough Harbour. There magnifient views from Sinigoe, overlooking the harbour and across the Pentland Firth to Orkney.  Sadly, George died a few years ago.  Sinigoe and Upper Sinigoe are also landmarks we look for when fishing in the Pentland Firth, launching also launching from Brough Harbour.  We often drift from Langipoe to Sinigoe, sometimes with a good haul of cod, other times, nothing!

This paper packet is one of Robert Dicks's paper wrappers - the baker and botanist of Thurso 1811-1866. Dunnet Head was one of his favourite places to walk. The paper wrappers are in Caithness Horizons Museum, Thurso. The Robert Dick area of the museum is being given a new look, as since the museum re-opened a few years ago, a lot more information about Robert Dick and his pressed herbarium had been discovered

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Our Botanical Exchange Club - Devon / Caithness

We ventured south to Devon for the festive season, to visit our relatives George and Linda at West Lake Orchards.
They are the other half of our botanical exchange.
Photo: George Travis writes a few labels on his herbarium sheets.
Inspired by the original Botanical Exchange Club of the 1830's, and the pressed herbarium sheets from collectors around the UK now in the Robert Dick Collection at Caithness Horizon Museum, Thurso near where I live, we decided to document the plants on our own land and a couple of nearby locations we have permissions to pick, by making a pressed herbarium, and exchange duplicate sheets with each other to compare plants and flowering times etc.
It's a long-term project, and we are all learning how to make herbarium sheets that will not only look beautiful, but will be of use to botanists in the future, so everything is archival with detailed labels on each sheet - a bit of double checking might be needed!
This December we packed a selection of our north herbarium sheets to take with us to give George and Linda in Devon.
They have special Culm grassland on their land, and was recently listed as a County Wildlife Site after a site inspection by Devon Wildlife Trust Nature Improvement area advisor Michael Symes.
Click here to read more about Culm grassland on Devon Wildlife Trusts website.

The flower below is a cowslip.  I am puzzled as to why the tips of the petals have turned green after pressing - any info welcome!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crew Lists - my design inspired by real ones - perhaps on sale in a whalers ship chandlers 19th Century.

Ambergris - whalers gold

Ideas coming together for my portable museum of curiosity inspired by the mystery of the Magellan Daisy and whalers - a 19th Century whalers ship chandlers.

A Whalers Ship chandlers

Boxes for drawers in the portable museum all about the Magellan Daisy and Whalers mystery.  I'm narrowing ideas down, and taking the angle that this portable museum is a ship chandlers specifically for whalers - the mariners medicine box my portable museum is based on, fits perfectly.

Now working on Magellan Daisy Seeds and Ambergris.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Whalers - my portable museum

First try out of my ideas for inside my whaler /daisy box.  Imagery painted, then photographed, tinkered with a bit, then printed out on thin paper.... the whale at the top inside the lid will be made from copper - 3D.  Still early stages with lots of post-it stickers moving around with info, telling the story of Magellan daisy and whalers, Darwins voyage to South America on the Beagel in 1830's and the return of locals ~(York Minster, Jemmy Button, Fuega Basket - Memory Boat died before the return voyage), traditonal whale boats (pointed at both ends) Fitzroy also used to survey the coast of South America, and the traditional Fuegan Canoes - they carried fire in the centre of the boats  to each new camp (Tierra Del Fuego - land of fire).  Lots to pack in.

The box shape is inspired by a mariners medicine chest.  Whale bone pieces found on a local beach are in a bucket of bleach - in preparation of experimental scrimshaw.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sir W. Hooker - another exciting find in the Robert Dick Pressed Herbarium collection at Caithness Horizons Thurso.

It's confirmed, there are 'Hookers' in Caithness Horizons Museum. Click here to read a feature in The John O'Groat journal.

Click here to read previous blog post, Darwin's best friend', to see why I'm excited about finding this particular herbarium sheet.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Darwin's best friend.


  This week, while digitising the pressed herbarium collection of Robert Dick, baker and botanist of Thurso 1811-1866, I came across herbarium sheets with the name Hooker on them.

An exciting find indeed, as William J Hooker and his son Joseph D Hooker were both previous directors of  the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Both eminent botanists, Joseph was a close friend of Darwin.  Joseph trained as a surgeon in Glasgow, so is it his name on our herbarium sheets?

While on the Beagle's voyage 1831 - 1863, Darwin sent his herbarium sheets and specimens to Professor Henslow in Cambridge.  Joseph Hooker married Henslow's daughter.

If you have any info and can help discover which of the Hooker men's name appears on Robert Dicks herbarium collection in Caithness Horizons Museum, Thurso, we'd be delighted to hear from you!
UPDATE:  It has been confirmed that DR Hooker is the son (Darwin's best friend). Click here to read a feature in the John O'Goat Journal about this exciting find.

Still a few thousand herbarium sheets to document.....what else will I find??

Here's a few links - click on their names to find out more:

Joseph D Hooker

William J Hooker

Darwin - correspondence with Joseph D Hooker.

John Steven Henslow

Caithness Horizons Museum

Robert Dick

A few more of those herbarium sheets...........


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shetland - the first pressed herbarium sheet in the Robert Dick collection, from the far north islands has come to light !

Norwegian Sandwort.
Collected by Charles Peach in 1856.
Shetland Isles
Click here to read more about Charles Peach and his job in Wick, Caithness. And click here to read about him in this link to the National Museum of Scotland.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nalbinding in the Faroe Islands?

I've returned home after a week of grass weaving workshops for Perth Museum, Weaving Musical Threads in Paisley and finally at Eden Court in Inverness for the Scottish Mental Health Film Festival (Highland) where Horse and Bamboo Theater performed their production 'Angus Weaver of Grass' to a full house (260).  A fantastic end to a wonderful week having at last met up with Roger Hutchinson author of 'The Silent Weaver.'    The photo above was taken at Eden Court, the top shoe is my replica grass shoe and below  it in the perspex box is an original grass shoe made by Angus MacPhee and is now in the collection of Karrie Marshall - Creativity in Care.

Click here for 2013 Episode 3 - Rodger Hutchinson @ Angus McPhee day podcast. "In this episode we hear from Rodger Hutchinson, author of Angus – Weaver of Grass. Who provides an overview of Angus’s life and experiences that lead him to weave such extraordinary art. Recorded on 14th october at Eden Court, Inverness."

Did Angus MacPhee learn the technique of Nalbinding while he was posted to the Faroe Islands in WW2 ?? A question I was asked during the week...........

Evidence so far suggests he didn't and couldn't have. Click here to read about Nalbinding in the Faroe Islands, in an article published in 2004 - it's a PDF document, click the top search document to read.


"I wanted to share with you some wonderful feedback I’ve had from people who took part in our event on Saturday. I’ve spoken to a number of people and had email feedback from a couple of others. The email feedback is below. Everyone I’ve spoken to thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and for many it’s given them a deeper appreciation of Angus’s story and some new perspectives on the value of creativity to mental wellbeing and the complex relationship between mental health, mental ill-health and the arts.
Thanks for being part of it!

Best wishes, Keith Walker
Policy Officer - Health Improvement, Choose Life Highland Coordinator, Highland Council

“Keith, Just wanted to say what a wonderful afternoon you organised. The whole thing was super! I enjoyed hearing from the artist about how unique Angus was in his weaving and getting to make the rope from grass. Pass my thanks on to the whole team involved."
“Just wanted to say how much we enjoyed the events at Eden Court on Saturday and to say a big thank you to yourself, Roger Hutchinson, Joanne Kaar, Karrie Marshall and Chris King who made it such a special and memorable event. The insight into Angus’s life, interpretation through poetry, hands on grass weaving and walk & talk up in the grounds of Craig Dunain added many dimensions of understanding to Angus’s life & Art and greatly enhanced our viewing of Angus Weaver of Grass that evening. "

"The tactile experience of weaving with grass was really transformative and highlighted the universal ways that we all, as human beings, find ways of making sense of the world and our personal experiences. Joanne’s workshop was great fun, totally immersive and equally powerful in the sense that it helped define Angus’s story in terms of human creativity rather than being defined by illness. So often people are defined by the condition that afflicts them and it is hard to find hope in that. I think that together with raising awareness the festival’s greatest on going achievement is communicating hope. Imagination is ultimately the only thing that saves us, as individuals and as a species and what I took away from Angus’s story was how all truly great Art changes our perception and how Creativity leads so many people out of darkness. "
"The imagery of Chrys Salt’s poetry read with such compassion by Chris King further expanded Angus’s world. It was interesting to hear during Karrie’s walk at Craig Dunain, patient perception of favourite places within the grounds as spaces of refuge, a tradition that will hopefully endure on the site as a green space. "
"The Arts of all disciplines create spaces of refuge and reflection which can be very hard to find in everyday life. The festival is a great way of opening up discussion in the wider community and each activity during the afternoon succeeded in raising questions about how we perceive mental illness, individually and collectively. "
"Thank you for bringing together such an inspiring group of people to lead this event and for the wider focus of the festival in raising awareness. It is of great importance in the region Culturally and in relation to Health & Social Care”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Making Connections - Iceland - part 4 of 4

A basket of stones - someone has very carefully made a hole in each. They are in  Skogar museum, South Iceland.   They are weights used on a Viking warp-weighted loom. Watch this short video clip, recorded in Norway, in 1956. The film is part of the archive at Norway.

 Auður Hildur Hákonardóttir (one of our Icelandic hosts) has one of these looms in her house, a long term collaboration and research project she has been working on with other makers/artists. We didn't have time to see it in action. 

The Vikings used many different textile techniques, including  'needle-binding' (nalbinding / naalbinding). Like the term, knitting, within the term 'needle-binding', there are many many different variations, some simple and others very complex.  
Knitting was not introduced to Iceland until the 16th
Century.  Needlebinding pre-dates knitting
The basic technique involves making a loop and feeding all of your yarn through it to make the next loop. This means you will have to work with short lengths of yarn, adding more as required. 

Sound familiar? For those of you following my research, you'll know that this description also fits the technique one once used by Angus MacpPhee 'weaver' of grass to make garments .

  Looping - knotless netting - weaving without foundation - needle-binding and Vattarsaumur: 
Are all names given to techniques where you need a short lenght of yarn to work with, pulling all of your yarn through each loop to make the next. This sets them apart from knitting or crochet.
These gloves and mittens were made by Marianne Guckelsberger from Reykjavik Iceland.  Our Icelandic hosts arranged for Marianne to come along and demonstrate her needle binding.  She's done loads of research investigating the variations, and showed me two techniques, one was called 'coppergate', named after the needle bound sock found in  Coppergate,York in England and is on display in the JorviK Viking centre.  This sock had a red edge, and might have been an indication of status (I forget now where I read that)?  They were made from wool. At the end of the weaving process on the weighted loom, there is natural wastage as you have to cut your cloth free. Hildur wondered, if these short ends of woollen yarn were used for needle binding - nothing wasted, and short lengths are perfect for the technique.  
A few times a year, Sheila Roderick from the Scalpay Weaving Shed in the Western Isles, sends me this natural wastage from her linen weaving...... I make it into paper.  

This cow hair milk-strainer was made by Þórður Tómasson and is on display at his museum in Skogar,  South Iceland.   Þórður told me of the superstition that horse hair should be used for anything do to with horses, and cow hair used for anything to do with cows.  It was high up on the wall, and I couldn't see the technique used to make it.

This short film was recorded in 1943, Norway, and is now part of archive collection at    in Norway. The clip showing carding hair, then needle binding starts just under 6 minutes in to the film.
 Searching the net, I found this website from a textile museum in North Iceland, which shows a horse hair shoe, made using the needle binding technique. They also show examples of knitted in-soles.
Finds of Viking garments made using the needle-binding technique are few, there was however a significant find in Iceland. 
This 10th Century glove (Icelandic Vattarsaumur) was found near Geysir in South Iceland. It is now in the National Museum of Iceland on display.
   I was privileged to get a much closer look at the glove on our last day Iceland as Hildur had arranged from me to meet with Freja Hlidkvist Omarsdottir, Curator of Collections at The National Museum Of Iceland. 
 Freya is wearing a very nice cardigan, she knitted herself (she's just started making her second one!)   I was able to see that the only apparent damage to the glove must have happened while it was underground.  The technique of needle-binding is very slow, but it makes a very thick fabric. A Viking wife must have been annoyed, having just finished making it, her husband or son, then lost it !!   
 The sock found in York, England and this glove found in Iceland, might have both been made in Denmark/Norway/Sweden, or a  Viking continued the technique after re-settling. 
Over time, by different cultures across the world, people have had a need to make a bag to carry something, or wear for comfort or protection. With limited or no tools, using local materials, they have independently 'invented' this technique of looping. It continues today with Australian Aborigine looped bags. The Vikings developed it further into more complex structures, and brought it with them to Iceland and the UK.  Angus MacPhee also 'invented' the technique during his time at Craig Dunain - he would not have known about looping or nalbinding.  
The textile technique of nalbinding is now being revived in Iceland, but  apparently it is a living tradition in  some Scandinavian countries as it has never disappeared.
With much thanks to the National Museum of Iceland for permission to use the photographs I took of the glove.
The rich colours of these woollen gloves may have been the original colour of the wool, but  probably from the earth they were buried in.                          Watch this space....... while in Iceland we experimented with earth ochres and volcanic ash as pigments for papermaking........Auður Hildur Hákonardóttir may use the results of the groups collaborative pulping as part of her exhibition in at the Nordic Centre in Reykjavik.
I'll finish my Icelandic adventures with  a handful of stones.....   The first, I found near Geysir (Martin Clark shared info on the special location.....) They are petrified birch leaves.
And this Icelandic ghost stone.   At the last supper in Iceland (cooked by our friends from Slovakia), Arnþrúður Sæmundsdóttir  gave us each one of these special ghost catchers.
 Arnþrúður also talked about, obsidian. Now, there is a piece of obsidian in Mary-Ann's cottage, near my house in Caithness, Scotland.  This piece of stone was considered to be a healing stone, used on people and animals.  However, Arnþrúður said something very quickly, and mentioned that if given to a couple, it may result in divorce................! 
Thanks to our Icelandic hosts for a fantastic trip.
Halldóra Óskarsdóttir
Hildur Hákonardóttir
Harpa Ólafsdóttir
Þórey Axelsdóttir
Margrét Jónsdóttir
Arnþrúður Saemundsdóttir
Lots more photos on my flickr from our Icelandic trip here.

The funders for this Icelandic adventure were Grundtvig, ARCH and the partners in Iceland were Thingborg or 'The Wool House'.