Arts and Crafts Ideas – 3 Traditional Crafts From Around Scotland
Scotland is a country with a very rich heritage and culture, much of which is expressed through our love of crafting. Here, we’ll take a more in depth look at 3 types of craft from across the country.
In part, a love of crafting is due to a wish to leave something tangible to future generations. Nothing expresses home and caring quite as well as a handmade item. Many such items are in fact kept and passed down from parent to child becoming significant, valuable heirlooms.
When we craft, we are in a sense connecting with our past and yearning for continuity. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in traditional skills spurred on by a wish to nurture them, thereby avoiding them dying out completely. There are strong Celtic and Pictish traditions in Scotland of course and the symbols of these are reflected through many of the crafting media, displaying an incomparable beauty and simplicity that finds admirers around the globe.
Fair Isle Knitting
Fair Isle is in the far north of Scotland, lying half way between the Shetland Isles and the Orkney Isles. It’s a small island with few raw materials available and knitting provides an income for many of the women there. The knitting technique, which was named after the island, was actually developed in Shetland and creates distinctive patterns from the region. These patterns don’t usually have more than two or three stitches in any colour at one time since they are stranded.
A block of one colour that is too long will mean an overly long strand of the other colour which could be too easily caught on a button or other item. Knitting is done in the round and Shetland jumper-weight yarns at 8 stitches to the inch are normally used. Fair Isle sweater construction involves sewing or fastening the work where the arm holes go, and then cutting the knit fabric to make the armholes. These cuts are called steeks by American knitters, but the term is not used in Shetland.
Weapon Craft – Sgian Dubh
Another well known Highland craft is that of creating custom sgian dubh (pronounced skee(a)n doo). Sgian Dubh are worn as part of Highland dress, tucked into the man’s hose so that only the pommel can be seen. Now having only a ceremonial function, the blades are often made from brass which is then nickel plated while the handle is made of plastic.
However, some pieces are highly crafted works of art commanding high prices. The blades are constructed from titanium, sterling silver or Damascus steel then finely etched with celtic designs, clan crests, regimental symbols or personal inscriptions. The handles are then made from a variety of natural materials such as Highland Bog Oak, Scottish Yew, Ebony, Rosewood and antler bone. These are also extremely decorative, utilising celtic, pictish and clan symbols.
The pommel is normally fitted with a semi-precious stone such as the Cairngorm, a smoky quartz from the Cairngorm mountains, or amethyst from Tayside. The final necessary piece is the sheath for the blade and these are also made of either wood or fine leather tooled with complimentary patterns.
The tartan, or plaid, is a woven material made from spun and dyed wool in different weights. There are over 2800 publicly known tartans with the oldest dated to the third century, making it 1,700 years old. Although today’s patterns are colourful, originally the material would have been limited by locally available materials.
The word “tartan” actually described the way the thread was woven to make the cloth: each thread passed over two threads then under two threads, and so on rather than referring to the pattern itself.
Weaving in Scotland was originally based around cottage handlooms for making linen from home-grown flax. Rough woolen cloth was then introduced in the Lowlands around the 16th century. Harris tweed eventually arrived from the Outer Hebrides in 1840 courtesy of Lady Dunmore. As wool gained in importance, particularly in the Borders, finer wools, known as worsted became available.
After a long period of decline from the 1870s onwards, recent years have seen a regeneration of traditional weaving techniques. Many art and design students, encouraged by support from The Scottish Woollen Publicity Council through the 1980s and 90s, have set up their own businesses using computerised looms. Others have computerised handlooms for weaving craft items.
Louise Lockhart is a lifelong crafter with a particular interest in Scottish crafts and currently runs her own handcrafting business as a fabric and fibre artist in the heart of the Lothians. The business focus is on producing quality, one of a kind items. As such, fair trade sourced, recycled or repurposed materials are used whenever possible. Discover more arts and crafts ideas, crafting resources and recycling news by visiting her blog at http://www.thistledubhewe.com
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