wool extravaganza Maggie's contribution
Heritage Blogs

Care Home Residents Island Culture – Wool Extravaganza

Working on the Arora Dementia Friendly Project today with the talented Mary Smith, her spinning wheel and her extensive wool craft kit, in a  Stornoway care home.

The tactile wool extravaganza included Mary’s mother in law’s blanket made around 1897.Young Ann MacDonald from Shader on the Westside of Lewis, dyed the wool from the family’s sheep with crotal and indigo. Then spun the wool on the spinning wheel she had been given by her husband on the occasion of their marriage. A weaver from Borve, Isle of Lewis, wove the gorgeous blue and cream blanket on his loom. Today in 2017 our ladies spoke about the blankets in their family, the colours, the patterns, the warmth and the weavers who had woven the blankets.

We heard stories about relatives who were tailors and could sew up a wool suit just by looking at a man. No need for a tape measure for those beady eyes.

I had sourced in the Bethesda Charity Shop, hanks of Harris yarn in rust and light green, which two kind ladies rolled into a cnocan for me. As I was standing with my arms outstretched, we all sang some lively Gaelic songs and another lady contributed verses of a wool waulking song off the cuff.

          Dheidhinn leat a d’Uibhist far am buidhicheadh an eòrna

          Fil u ho ro u o

          Ag eisteachd ris na iarlachan ag iarraidh gus do phosadh

          Fil u ho ro u o

This was just one, of today’s lovely moments……

One lady a keen knitter, though unable to communicate, beamed broadly and participated in handling and choosing colours, sat with us during the entire three hours and saw us to the door as is the custom in many Lewis homes.

Mary Smith’s dyed wool samples and large coloured bobbins of wool yarn were much enjoyed during several ‘sniff’ tests.

The care home staff contributed their memories of plying wool in their young days. One granny had a motorised plying machine which was the motor of a new-fangled washing machine. Everyone was on stand-by, for when the switch was flicked, as it was difficult to keep up with it!

The chore of making hanks of yarn using chair-backs instead of a crois-iarna or a niddy-noddy as Mary Smith called it, was demonstrated by a staff member.

Another care assistant told us about the tweed a family member had woven, to commemorate a Royal visit by Princess Diana. She promised to bring in her special handbag made with ‘Diana tweed’ when we return for another wool extravaganza.

When I went to primary school in the mid1960s. I wore a Harris Tweed pinafore made from tweed designed and woven by my grandfather Eachainn an Eachainn of Laxay. It was a dazzling red, black and yellow tartan called Brodie. He was a crofter /weaver and like many others made his own tweeds when there was a little money to buy extra wool.

Thirty years later I discovered several yards of Brodie tartan in a cupboard and had a jacket made. I regularly wear the jacket and American tourists just love the story of the provenance of the tweed.

I also brought my bright yellow basket weave jumper with contrasting coloured blocks. A jumper I had knitted from local wool, some 20 years ago. The bright colours were a hit!

My Harris Tweed hat with feathers made several years ago by Sally Avis, was modelled by several ladies. The ladies loved the colour of my lime green tweed top from By Rosie. Known by the designer, as ‘The Fisherman’ a very easy to wear smock type garment. This conversation led us to fisherman’s gensay patterns and other knitting patterns.

We had such fun today. The bobbin tubes were a telescope which the ladies decided to peep on one another with.

The Black Hebridean wool carded and rolled, ready for spinning, was modelled in an impromptu moment by several ladies as a fluffy beard.

Thank you Mary Smith for taking the time to come with me and bring your spinning wheel, knowledge of wool dyeing and your humour.

I honestly believe we could do this kind of workshop several times a week.