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Shona MacLellan - SCA Textiles Study Day

Shona MacLellan, Traditional Skills Trainee, Tasglann nan Eilean

The Scottish Council on Archives has been funding my position with Tasglann nan Eilean since Sept 2016 and with this I was able to attend their recent study day on Textiles in Archives.

For someone who has worked as a seamstress and into fashion, the SCA Textile Study day was really up my street. The venue was the first thing that struck me, the Glasgow University Chapel, was a fantastic place to hold a study day.

After a welcome from the SCA chair, Irene O’ Brien, our very own Victoria Woodcock from Tasglann nan Eilean gave a wonderful presentation on the Harris Tweed archive that she has been busy cataloguing for the past nine months. Victoria highlighted some of the gems that can be found in the archive including the Limerick competition to win a Harris Tweed cap:

“A wheezy old ghost called McLeod
Simply couldn’t help sneezing out loud,
Now he’s quiet as a mouse,
When he haunts round the house,
Thanks to wearing a Harris Tweed shroud”

Sam Maddra from Glasgow University then went on to explain how she untangled ‘…. the Knotted Pile: Cataloguing the Stoddard Templeton Design Archive and Engaging with Users’. This was a fascinating insight into the carpet design of the famous Glasgow carpet company. I don’t know if I’m the only who gets excited by shade cards but seeing them within this presentation and how they were used to match colours for their catalogue descriptions was quite exciting!

The afternoon of colour continued through to Helen Taylor’s presentation on Conserving the Design at Heriot-Watt University. Seeing how beautiful fabrics designed by Marion Dorn, a textile designer who designed interiors for the Savoy Hotel and Claridges in London, were preserved was lovely to see. I think everyone gasped with awe when we were shown the stacked drawer system at Heriot Watt University that holds the fabrics – we wish we had some!

My favourite part had to be the conservation of the Tweed Pattern Books. The amount of work that went into them and how important they were to their collection was interesting. They are the largest collection of Scottish Borders tweed and cover from 1834 – 1990s. Within the pattern books are examples of rare and early tweed showing evolution of the design and in a very poor condition. The difference in the before and after photos of the pattern books really were amazing.

I found the work of our last speaker of the day Anita Quye, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, Glasgow University really engaging. Her research into dyes and in particular the recipes or patterns used by David Smith, the Dyer Instructor from 1876, really resonated with me. In the Western Isles we have a strong heritage of creating our own dyes from natural materials and it brought his to mind when listening to her. You can find out more about Anita’s work through the link to her blog, here.

All in all, it was an afternoon well spent learning more about textile collections in archives and how they are looked after, thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the presentations and left feeling even more passionate about textiles.