We asked our contributors:
What draws them to the wild weather and wild fibres of the west?
‘Go West, young man’ is a phrase often credited to the American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley concerning America's expansion westward. No one has yet proven who first used this phrase in print, but it certainly captures the independent, free thinking, adventurous lives of Heidi Bjørnsdotter Thorvik from Norway, and Nicola Kilmartin in the Falkland Islands. They share a desire to create beauty from meagre,
locally available natural resources, and their spirit is admirable. Unfortunately, a hunger for wealth and adventure has historically resulted in a disregard for indiginous peoples. However, during the last century we witnessed growing engagement with the value of indiginous cultures. Initial attempts to bring such works to public attention had mixed results, despite the beauty of what had been created. This was the case with the remarkable printed textiles produced in the 1950-60s at the Kinngait Studios, on Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. More recently, we have seen the adaptation of the Cowichan sweater and their confirmation as national symbol when worn by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. There has also been a heartening increase of appreciation of Coast Salish weaving by museums, as well as interest in the contemporary work of former professional snow boarder and Kwakwaka’wakw Meghann O’Brien. Perhaps the most gratifying examples of cultural heritage are those that are alive and well today, such as the handknit gloves from Sanquhar Dumfries and Galloway, or the Irish aran sweater, that have travelled the world and gained favour with Hollywood stars and the political elite. We also turn to societies with an ingrained respect for their material history such as Samurai warriors, and the Ainu people of Northern Japan with their beautiful graphic robes. Finally, in this issue we explore the needle as a narrative tool, telling the story of the Glasgow Girls, Ireland’s Ros tapestry, and the camaraderie of stitching in Tracey Chevalier’s new novel A Single Thread.
PATRICIA CLEVELAND PECK
Polly Leonard, Founder
EMMA ROSE BARBER
I suspect I am not a typical textile aficionado. I came to the world of natural fibres as the result of my pasture full of cashmere goats. The twenty years I spent tending my herd, combing their cashmere, and eventually spinning it into usable yarn launched a global curiosity about the origins of all natural fibres. Every thread, every stitch and every inch of design, ultimately begins in a field, or a forest, somewhere in the world. As the editor of Wild Fibers, I have fallen in love with countless textiles. But for me, my favorite fibre is the one that is still on the goat.
As a student in Dublin back in the days of long winters and coal fires, an essential garment was a sweater. There was a passing vogue for going down to the Guinness brewery and getting a bargeman to sell one of their iconic navy ganseys off his back but in the end we nearly all settled for an aran sweater. Originally knitted for fishermen on the Aran Isles with complex clan patterns which helped identify the wearer if drowned, these hefty garments proved perfect for students. They are also almost indestructible. I kept mine for years.
The older I get, the more I am attracted to the wild, wet, desolate, windy coast-lines of western regions such as Ireland and the craggy shores of Columbia in Canada. Places where I can feel the harshness of the elements, where the rain can beat down on my body. And the older I get, the colder I get; so I am very drawn to thick, bulky, rough-edged textiles that I can wrap myself in to stay warm. Textiles that evoke the brown, grey, misty purple colours of wet stone and muddy hills, such that you might find on these Western shores.
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