Friday, 14 September 2012

I am frequently asked how I came to be a Milliner, and although the contents of my CV may not make for the most exciting of blogs, I find the inspiration behind why I became a Milliner far more interesting. This is one story of how my family came to influence my life.

Before the 1920s, the family on my Mum's side moved from the Outer Hebrides to a croft in Fernilea, Portnalong on the Isle of Skye. Here they built their own house from scratch, a house that still stands today. In fact, not only does the house still stand today but my Aunty Dolly and Aunty Morag live there.  Incidentally, if you happen to be in Skye in the summer you may wish to pop by as they run a Bed and Breakfast from the house and do a roaring trade in fresh scones baked daily by Aunty Dolly. She really does make the best scones!

I grew up with the story of my Great Granny who, in the 1920s, started her own tweed manufacturing business from this croft in Skye.  It wasn’t just a simple process of weaving the tweed, but involved gathering the wool from the sheep that lived on the common pasture behind the croft.  She would then prepare the wool and dye it by hand prior to weaving it into beautiful tweed. She would work in the byre, which still stands to this day. One half of the byre housed the cattle, whilst the other half had an open fire, which was used to dye the wool.  It is quite something to picture her working alongside the cows! Her business became so successful that not only did a local photographer take pictures of her at work, but she also sold several items to the Duke and Duchess of York.

Great Granny became quite a legend for me. We used to visit museums in Skye where her picture would be on a wall depicting the process for making tweed; or we would be going past a tourist shop, and there would be her image on a postcard. On top of that, the connection with the Duke and Duchess of York fascinated me. I sometimes wonder if there are bolts of her cloth, or garments made with her tweed, lurking in a grand castle or house somewhere in the British Isles.

As a child my brother and I often visited Skye. When we were there we used to spend most of the time playing with our cousins Tina and Norman. We would run in and out of the byre and sheds, exploring the house and croft and through those adventures we used to discover spinning wheels, looms for weaving tweed, and all sorts of remnants from the days of our Great Granny’s business, not to mention all the scary looking crofting equipment like scythes and tractors. All those things have now been disposed of, which makes me sad because as children we did not understand the significance of these items. I felt that the evidence of what had influenced me to jump into the deep end with my own business creating hand crafted products had been lost.

However, on my 30th birthday my Mum and Dad gave me two photos; the two pictures that had been taken by the photographer back in the 1920s of my Great Granny at work. One shows her dyeing the wool in the byre whilst the other shows her sitting outside the byre spinning wool. Not only do I have lovely pictures of my amazing Granny, but I would also like to point out her amazing sense of style; I just love the print on her overalls and the pretty little shoes!

I love Skye. It feels like home and one day I hope to move there to carry on my Great Granny’s legacy and that of the other inspiring women in my family. I think it also goes to show that artisans can find inspiration from many varied sources and sometimes those influences creep up on us in the most unexpected ways.