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ISLANDS OF DESIGN

Hidden Treasures

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In 1867 one of the oldest and best-preserved samples of textiles in Britain was found in Orkney.  The unusually designed and rare artefact was found in a peat bog near the farm of Groatsetter, in Tankerness.  Radiocarbon testing has dated it from the Iron Age between AD250 - AD615.

Known as the ‘Orkney Hood’ it is a fringed woollen hooded cloak which is believed to have been designed for a child. It is in remarkable condition for an article of clothing that is nearing 2,000 years old. The lack of oxygen in the peat bog helped to nearly halt decay and keep it preserved. Testing has shown that the wool had not been dyed and came from naturally brown fleeces, possibly a Shetland breed. The fringed section is thought to have been recycled from an earlier garment and shows some Danish influences.

The ‘Sheshader Thing’ is an interesting piece of textile found in the peat at Sheshader, Isle of Lewis.   The 'thing' is made from a compressed pad of cattle hair with several cords of twisted wool and plaited horse hair attached.  It is dated to between 3200 and 2900 years ago. Its purpose is unknown and the use of different fibres in the one item is unusual. There have been many suggestions of how it could have been worn, possibly for ceremonial events.

More information from The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework

 

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Secret Designs

 

One of the most extraordinary designers from the Outer Hebrides was Angus MacPhee. He was known as the Weaver of Grass and astonishingly created jackets, trousers, boots and other clothing from grass. 

Angus was born in South Uist in 1916 and served in the Second World War. When he returned home he was diagnosed with a schizophrenic illness and he was admitted to Craig Dunain Hospital in Inverness, and this is where he remained for 50 years. His wonderful creations were not discovered until 1979 when they were found hidden behind a hedgerow by a visiting artist. As Angus remained mute throughout his stay in hospital, little is known about the inspiration for his woven designs.

Angus’s designs are similar to woven shoes found in both Orkney and Shetland, In Shetland they were sometimes used as slippers called smukks. They would be handmade as required, and replaced when they were worn-out. Sections were hand-twisted of straw, then plaited together. 

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