This page details information further to the 2023 fleece & fibre internship opportunities extended to Heriot Watt University textile students in this document:
Completed applications need to be submitted no later than Friday, 5th May 2023 at 5pm, and successful applicants will be notified on Monday, 8th May.
About At Birkhill House CIC
At Birkhill House CIC is home to 18 Huacaya alpacas and a flock of rare breed Castlemilk Moorit sheep. There will be the opportunity to work with their fleeces to create a personal project. We will be able to offer information and guidance on all of the fibre available here.
Equipment here includes fleece picker, drum carders, wool combs, looms and spinning wheels plus an abundance of other equipment. All of our alpaca fleece has been fibre tested at the lab for quality and micron count and those reports are here, along with samples. We also have a large quantity of different breeds of sheep wool, some of which has been donated to us.
There is a small workshop space available and the successful applicant will be able to make use of this.
If you have any questions, feel free to email Lara Armitage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fleece & Fibre interns 2022
During the Summer of 2022, we welcomed Robin Smith & Maisie Keery from Heriot Watt University textiles department as our two fleece & fibre interns. To read about Robin's experiences here and the inspiration she took for her independent project, read her full report below.
"My experience at Birkhill House was really positive. The internship was so informative. I've learned and understood so many new skills and crafts, which I'm more than excited about trying - like continuing my research and experimenting with spinning. This internship has now made it possible for me to honour my heritage in Isle of Skye and help out the shearing farmers from the village. I'm able to work sustainably and I have been given the chance to work at all times - such as spinning on trains! Now having the skills I've got opens so many doors for socialising, respecting traditional crafts and experimenting, as I'm trying to spin with various alternative fibres. The workshops I took part in were super good for my confidence - by giving me the opportunity to help out with teaching, learning and supporting other creative individuals."
- Maisie Keery
Fleece & Fibre intern 2021
Last year's fleece and fibre intern was Magdalena Sobula, who offered so much of her time and knowledge and gained so much from her experience here as well. Her personal project was a beautiful, thoughtful woven exploration of some of the family groups in our alpaca herd. Magdalena enjoyed her time here so much that she continued to volunteer her time through the Autumn and Winter months. In February of 2022, we were successful in our application to the National Lottery Community Fund, which means that we are now able to employ her on a part time basis for the next 12 months. We are overjoyed!
Here, Magdalena shares her impressions of Birkhill and reflects on her time spent as part of our team:
Magdalena Sobula, MA in Design for Fashion and Textiles
My Master’s research project, which I undertook in 2020 at Heriot-Watt University, focused solely on British alpaca fibre and how it fits with slow fashion principles. I wanted my final collection to showcase the extensive colour palette of natural alpaca fibre. The internship opportunity with At Birkhill House happened in the exactly right moment for me to understand the production and processing of this luxury fibre with plenty of hands-on experience.
My internship started on the shearing day, arguably the most important and stressful day for any alpaca owner. Still, Lara found the time to introduce me to all her alpacas and tell me their life stories. I was immediately intrigued by ‘family connections’, how one alpaca was an excellent mum while another was just not motherly material.
I got to know alpaca fibre up close and personal. I helped to skirt the fleeces, which greatly expanded my understanding of how fibre actually grows. I have attended webinars on skirting and understanding fibre but nothing compares to being able to put the knowledge into practice.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to tell alpaca stories through fibre, yarn and weave. I decided to design and make two wallhangings, representing two mothers and their kids: Agatha and her daughter Lilidh and Jessie and her son Percy. The other angle I wanted to include in my designs was how the fibre was growing, fed from the land the alpacas were grazing. I spent time in the fields, talking to alpacas, observing them while I collected grasses, flowers and other plant material to incorporate into my weaves. One of my favourite moments was watching Agatha resting in the field of buttercups. She looked so chilled and comfortable. Now in my mind buttercups are Agatha’s signature flowers.
Following the theme ‘from ground up’, I hand spun separately fibre from mother’s legs and bodies (they have a different structure and feel) and some of the fibre from their children's first fleeces. It is known that cria (baby alpaca) fleece is at least 60 percent fed by the mother, both during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When all my materials were collected and all the yarns spun I started weaving them together. Both pieces follow the same order: from the bottom it’s leg fibre with collected plants, moving into mother’s body and neck fibre and finally cria’s fibre at the top. For Agatha and Lilidh there is a distinctive line (the line follows the curve of alpaca neck), separating their parts which represents how Agatha was quickly fed up with her motherly duties. On the second piece Jessie’s and Percy’s parts are blended, the yarns are woven together symbolising how closely these two were before Percy had to be weaned off.
My internship was an amazing time for me. At the beginning, when I was still finishing my Master’s degree, Birkhill House was a sanctuary for me where I was able to focus and reflect on myself as a crafter, artist and researcher. I was given a full freedom with what I want to create which was a welcomed change after years of working to specific briefs. I feel that I have succeeded in capturing the place and the stories in my weaves and my biggest satisfaction is that every single tiny bit of the wallhangings comes from Birkhill House, even the sticks they hang on are from the fields alpaca graze on (and Percy totally helped me choose his).