At Birkhill House CIC was delighted to be able to offer this fully funded 12-week weaving programme for P7-S6, with funding and support from Creative Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and Youth Borders. We teamed up with Beyond Earlston youth group to create a vibrant and unique programme surrounding the art of weaving. Young people learned lots of different techniques, using a variety of materials whilst also making time to hang out and have fun with the animals. The first half of the project was made up of stand-alone sessions exploring different materials and the second part focussed on upcycling derelict trampoline frames to make huge weaving looms.
A big thanks to Beyond Earlston for being such an amazing partner organisation, to our funders and, most of all, to the young people - for stepping outside their comfort zones to learn new skills and make new friends. You guys rock!
Friday 2nd July 2021
The first session was a fantastic kick-off to the programme, starting with a check-in, weaving colour coded cellophane strands onto homemade frames to create a mood picture. We would be doing this at the beginning and end of each session to gauge how everyone was feeling.
We then stood up one of the trampoline frames on its legs, spread ourselves around the edge and tossed balls of reclaimed and donated yarns back and forth over and over, shouting out our names, our home towns, our favourite films & songs and the most disgusting foods we have ever tasted until we knew a bit more about each other and had created a web that a spider would have envied. We carried it to the barn and tied it up on the back wall. This too was to gauge feedback from our young people, ensuring that their voices were being heard. They were given card strips and asked to choose a word to describe their state of mind and how they felt about the session.
Next we learned a bit about the rich weaving history in the Borders and wove some pot holders with upcycled t-shirts. And then we finished by running the kids through the dog agility weavers! Hilarious results and three lucky winners took home some art pen sets. Snacks in the sunshine and some alpaca spotting was the perfect end. We checked out with our cellophane strands. Two very different pictures were already emerging!
Traditional Loom Weaving
Friday 9th July 2021
In week two of our programme, Borders-based professional weaver Janis Embleton joined us to teach our young people traditional loom weaving. Janis has years of experience teaching both young people and adults and had brought all sorts of yarns to suit everyone's tastes. She demonstrated how to use the shuttle and helped everyone get to grips with the rhythm and pace of loom weaving. It was a very meditative session - with a bit of time for visiting with the cats and hens at the end of the session.
We were so glad to be able to gift each participant his/her/their loom at the end of the session to keep, as well as yarn to make new creations at home. In this way, we hoped that everyone would be able to take a piece of the calm away and use their new found skill to create more masterpieces.
We spent time at the end thinking about how we felt after our weaving and choosing appropriate coloured cellophane strips (reclaimed from the Borders Scrap Store) to reflect those feelings. We also took a moment to jot down a word about the session and add it to our feedback trampoline frame.
Weaving with Paper
Friday 16th July 2021
We started our third instalment by making a GIANT collaborative woven creation (approximately 30x15ft), using offcuts of silage wrap, old broken slip 'n' slides and unused tarps. A huge amount of collaborative effort went into weaving the strips together, which wasn't easy, as it was roasting hot that day. An acquaintance came with his drone to take aerial pictures whilst the young people lazed about on their upcycled creation, slurping ice lollies and feeling quite proud of their hard work. That image made the Southern Reporter!
We also experimented with weaving paper, which resulted in some beautiful artworks. We used papers created by Lucy Baxandall, of Tidekettle Paper in Berwick-upon -Tweed. By cutting the papers into strips - some straight, some wavy - we discovered that we could make amazingly detailed and textured masterpieces.
More ice lollies and a cool shower for the alpacas finished off another really lovely day in the sun.
Friday 23rd July 2021
After working with her luscious papers in week three, we invited Lucy Baxandall, of Tidekettle Paper in Berwick-upon-Tweed, to show us how to make such beautiful papers.
What a fascinating process! Everyone loved “hogging the vats” and learning to “couch” the paper. Because it was another scorcher of a day, it was soothing to mix the cold water in the vats and keep the pulp stirred up. We learned how to make single colour sheets and then moved onto mixed colours and adding little effects - like strings and bits of maps and other papers to create "art papers". Some were fast and some were slow but everyone managed to go away with a decent selection of papers and a new skill for their toolkit.
Lucy was a fabulous teacher, the sun shone down, the ice lollies were refreshing and the alpacas, as always, loved the hosepipe. We simply had to call "Ladies!" from the top of the paddock and they would come running.
Friday 30th July 2021
In week five, we spent a lovely afternoon on the banks of the Tweed. Starting with a walk in the woods, we collected sticks to build our own looms. We did this by tethering four sticks together with twine and then using more twine to create warp strings. We then hunted around for as many different grasses and flowers as we could find and began the process of weaving them into our handmade looms.
It was so relaxing listening to the water flow by as we worked. A big thank you to Emily Cropton from the Destination Tweed Connecting Threads project, who joined us to talk about the River Tweed and its role in Scotland’s textile industry and also to Carys Dawes, the Willow Warbler, who was on hand to help with the weaving.
We discussed working with natural materials and the idea of impermanence, a la Andy Goldsworthy and his technique of creating his masterpieces entirely from found natural materials, leaving them in situ and letting them degrade back down into nature. Some of the young people were so inspired by this idea that they floated their creations away down the river - for others to see along the way and, ultimately, for them to break apart and rejoin the natural environment.
Weaving with Natural Fibres
Friday 6th August 2021
Duns-based weaver and natural dyer Eta Ingham Lawrie joined us in week six of the project to demonstrate her unique free weaving style and help us to create gorgeous pieces of our own, using natural fibres, hand processed and dyed by Eta. We were completely spoiled for choice! All of the colours were like sweeties for our eyes and the textures were varied and sumptuous.
We were back on traditional looms - this time ones that Eta had made herself - and we all found the process so relaxing and calming.
What was really interesting is how very different everyone's finished pieces were. It's incredible that with the same materials on offer, there can be such a vast array of different finished creations. Everyone had lovely pieces of art to take home at the end, inspired by Eta’s incredible creations.
We also discussed how, halfway through the project, our feedback trampoline was really starting to fill up. Words that featured more than once were "fun", "happy", "proud", "calming" and "confident".
Friday 13th August 2021
This was the seventh and final session before we moved on to the Plastic Fantastic sessions. Willow Warbler Carys Dawes visited and showed us how to make these nifty willow plates.
From soaking the willow to creating willow rings and planning our patterns, there was much to learn.
We definitely had to work hard for our finished pieces - wielding the secateurs with care and coaxing the willow to do our bidding.
Carys was a fab teacher and the vibe was very chilled. You could even say it was meditative. Feedback on the web trampoline included words like "relaxing", "calming" and "enjoyable".
As it was the last of our stand-alone weaving sessions before moving onto the communal trampolines, we celebrated with chocolate and, as usual, plenty of cuddles with the cats. The alpacas were on-hand to lend us their curious gazes. We were pretty sure they approved of our finished woven plates.
Part 2: Plastic Fantastic: trampoline weaving
This idea germinated years ago. At Birkhill House CIC director Lara Armitage noticed a lot of unloved trampolines in back gardens and took a notion to begin collecting these from people more than willing to part with rusting eyesores that were no longer used. Somehow, the frames seemed like they could be useful for something. This was all happening alongside her induction into being an alpaca and sheep owner and noticing the pile up of feed bags, balers twine and other farm detritus that smallholding entails. All of a sudden, it occurred to her that these were the necessary weaving materials to transform her collection of trampolines from piles of pipes and springs into gigantic looms for works of art. Beyond Earlston youth group agreed and further consultation with young people indicated that the idea was a go-er. The rest, as they say, is history...
Friday 20th August - Friday 17th September 2021
We worked on these colourful looms over a period of five weeks. Week one was spent sorting the feed bags, balers twine and other materials into colours, washing them and then cutting them into continuous strips (going round and round and round again). Then we coiled them all up and made a start on our frames. For the next three weeks, we worked away on our giant looms, creating awesome, vibrant works of art. Week five was finishing touches and ironing the backs to secure the plastic strips in place. We then had a big end-of-project barbecue to celebrate to celebrate our stunning success.
Born in Scotland, an attraction near Ancrum in the Scottish Borders, very kindly agreed to display them and, as of November 2021, they were being installed there to create an art trail with a map, featuring a story that the young people put together with the help of professional storyteller Allison Galbraith. Visit Born in Scotland to walk the "Dream Weaver" trail.