Crafting Futures: at Braemar

This is the second in my series of posts about the Applied Arts Scotland / British Council residency I took part in last September, and the collaborative work I’m now developing as a result. After leaving Lewis, and returning to the mainland, our group met up with superlatively creative and enabling Lynne Hocking-Mennie, and with her capable hands behind the wheel of our minibus, pootled our way through some stunning highland scenery to Braemar. While I’ve spent a lot of time walking in the Hebrides, the Cairngorms are not a part of Scotland I know very well at all, and it was wonderful to be able to learn more about the area from Lynne and Fiona, who are lucky enough to call this beautiful part of Scotland home.

Happily holed up in our wee hoosey, there was much more time for chatting, learning, walking, and reflection.

We rambled about the hills . . .

. . . and lanes. . .

. . .and I got to enjoy some stimulating conversations with my collaboration partner, Pilar.

As we walked, Pilar and I discussed our different approaches to design (more of her work later!), Harry Potter, migration and immigration, the eating of pigeons, her love of Olivia Coleman, and the representation of indigeneity in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. We also talked a lot about the huge differences between Pilar’s familiar Mexican landscapes and the very unfamiliar spaces she was now discovering in Scotland. We discussed Highland flora and fauna, pausing to examine mushrooms, lichen, birch bark, pine cones, bog cotton, and the last September blooms of tormentil. We picked juniper berries, and later found a bottle of Scottish gin for Pilar to take home from the village shop.

On a group trip, we transformed our plant finds with a spot of outdoor weaving.

Dalila enjoyed sampling the local blackberries and blaeberries

and Fiona picked tansy, which we took back to the house, and used to dye some yarn.

And we spent a lovely day just chatting and skill sharing. I learned a lot about natural dyeing and weaving from Sol; about using waste materials in small-scale manufacturing from Dalila, and about shoe design from Pilar. I showed Pilar how to knit, and Fiona shared her superlative french knot skills with us all.

During this part of the residency, we also got to visit Belinda Rose (whose work had a profound impact on me); had a tour around the Barn (a place that’s setting a benchmark for situating high-quality making and design at the heart of local communities) and learned about how newly-commissioned art, objects and textiles came to play such a huge role in the redesign of luxury hostelry, the Fife Arms.

All of this was incredibly inspiring, but most inspiring of all was simply being able to spend time with, talk to, and learn from, these brilliant women.

The first half of 2019 was a very difficult time for me. I was really happy and grateful to be invited on the residency, but I was still carefully watching my mental health, had some concerns about how I’d manage physically (my post-stroke body is so often weird and unreliable) and was also just generally rather nervous about spending time with a bunch of women I’d never met before. I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly did not think I’d immediately feel so at ease in the company of my new friends, nor did I imagine that, as a group, we’d quickly develop such a profound sense of shared trust and mutual support. We listened carefully to one another. We gave each other space. We talked about things that were deep and difficult alongside things that were daft and trivial. We shared the things we loved. We helped one another out. For this reason alone – and setting all of the many other wonderful, inspiring, creative things which are emerging from my experience of Crafting Futures to one side – the residency has been of enormous value to me personally, as a just a hugely heartening and enriching thing to do.

The residency has already had an enormous influence on my own practice, taking me in new creative directions, as well as providing an inspiring platform upon which Pilar and I are now developing our new collaborative project. More of which anon!

Thanks so much Carol, Lynne, Netty and Daniella, who supported our residency with their driving, translating, workshop directing, trip organising, cooking, and tireless good humour. And a huge thanks most of all to my wonderful Crafting Futures comrades, Fiona, Pilar, Sol and Dalila.