Expressive oo and a boat: The Shetland Schools Craft Residency
Author(s): Hazel Hughson
Copyright holder(s): Hazel Hughson: With thanks to The New Shetlander magazine
After dropping her luggage off in her Ollaberry crofthouse, her temporary home for the next three months, Jeanette returned to Lerwick to begin research for her new role as craft artist-in-residence for Mossbank, Brae and Olnafirth Primary Schools. Jeanette's first day in Shetland was spent with knitters and textile enthusiasts of all ages, including the Peerie Unst Knitters, at Shetland Arts Trust's 'Knitting for all' - an afternoon of experimental knitting and skills exchanges.
It was a good beginning for Shetland's first textile craft residency, and set the pace for the following busy months. Jeanette worked with school pupils during the week and took workshops in the community at weekends.
The Shetland Schools craft residency was part-funded by an award from the Scottish Arts Council's project to support a number of Craft Residencies in Schools over three years. A Scotland-wide initiative, it aims to improve pupils' understanding and experience of contemporary craftmaking, through interaction with professional craftspeople.
Our Shetland residency was a successful collaboration between the SIC Education Service and the Shetland Arts Trust, whose application had outlined a craft residency to explore wool, the familiar material used in Shetland textiles, and to apply fresh new skills to make three dimensional contemporary crafts, in non-functional or functional forms, with school pupils.
In general, craft residencies encourage an understanding of the processes involved in working three-dimensional objects. Making craft requires creativity and a thought process, as well as dexterity and practical skill. The properties of materials are learned through exploration, ideas or concept are considered, design is resolved through problem solving and spatial awareness.
For the Shetland residency it was time to revisit our indigenous and familiar wool as a raw material for creativity in schools, to learn skills to complement our woven and knitted structures. Residency work was linked to existing textile skills by enabling the schools area knitting instructor, Margaret Manson, to work alongside Jeanette.
The residency would specialise in exploring Shetland wool for feltmaking. Like knitting and weaving, feltmaking is an ancient textile skill with endless contemporary uses, and wool is an under-valued material. This contemporary development of indigenous craft received approval from the Scottish Arts Council, who awarded the residency project maximum 80% funding.
Jeanette was given a large studio in Mossbank Primary School and travelled for three months to Mossbank, Brae and Olnafirth, teaching creative feltmaking to 200 pupils in classes from Primaries 1 to 7 in each of the three schools.
Extra projects evolved, building on the response in the schools. A special feltmaking lesson was given to some Nursery pupils, and Jeanette led an extra feltmaking workshop, towards the end of the residency, for all the pupils in Ollaberry School.
Feltmaking appeals to children. The results can be magical; colour and wool are selected, the fleece laid out in coloured layers and shapes, hot water is added and friction applied with pressure, to fuse and entangle the fibres together by rolling the material in a textured mat for the right amount of time to make a permanent supple cloth. Three-dimensional seamless forms can be felted around a template. Structures can be rolled by hand. Felt can be cut and shaped, sewn and reformed. Felting can fuse and transform knitted or woven structures, and suits embroidered embellishment.
For the residency and workshops a palette of fleece in over forty beautiful dyed and natural colours was selected locally from Jamieson's spinning mill in Sandness. By the end of the residency around sixty kilos of fleece had been transformed by the schoolchildren and Jeanette. They combined wool with silks, glitter, sequins, yarns stones, shells and plaster; the felted work was shaped, chopped up and elasticated to make jewellery; stamped, stitched, woven and fused with knitting, plaster of Paris and cement fondue.
[NOTE: Photo here of 'Felted seamless smucks by Wilma Cluness.']
Children learned to card wool, sew felt jewellery, form vessels and structures, making skilful and expressive woollen crafts.
At Olnafirth School a visiting artist, Wilma Cluness, had been commissioned to make sculptural gargoyles for the school walls. The result was a collaboration, artists and pupils working together to make playground figureheads in cement with felted woollen adornments.
Early in the residency Jeanette visited schools to develop a residency theme, to connect with other school projects, and relate to Shetland's history and culture. 'Boat - a textile journey' was chosen as the theme, representing a discovery and a journey, because boats brought textile influences, new ideas and cultures to Shetland. Boats have shipped out most of Shetland's commercial woollen products for centuries, and continue to connect us to the rest of the world. A boat is a suitable symbol for contemporary textiles, as they have many parts made of fibres and textiles, in ropes, nets, flags, fenders, lobster pots and sails.
A boat was found. An elderly but colourful Shetland boat, the Thelma, arrived at Mossbank School. A focus and a vessel for holding the craftwork, propped up in the school sculpture garden, she inspired the making of felt fish, octopus, shellfish, sea anemones and felt nets. Thelma was to have a more public role at the end of the residency.
[NOTE: Photo here of 'Pharaoh, a hat']
The residency plan had allocated studio time for Jeanette's own work. A series of sculptural and theatrical hats, 'Queens of the afterlife', were created in felted Shetland wool and bone fragments, influenced by Jeanette's many car journeys through the fissured peaty surface and colours of the Shetland landscape. The hat collection was shown in Hatwalk 2005, an annual charity catwalk exhibition of millinery in Edinburgh.
To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mossbank Primary School there was a special drop-in feltmaking workshop in the school studio. Over thirty children and parents joined in, along with two school guests from the Gambia, who enjoyed making felt and took some equipment and Shetland fleece home to their own school, to introduce feltmaking to Gambian children.
The creative textile skills of teaching staff from all Shetland Schools have been enhanced though the Schools craft residency. Jeanette Sendler held workshops for the art staff and all the schools knitting instructors. The close collaboration in school between artist and knitting instructor, formed during the schools residency, will add feltmaking to shared resources for teaching creative textile techniques, by combining knitting and feltmaking, and the exploration of wool.
During the schools residency Jeanette was available for weekend community workshops in feltmaking techniques, and held informal feltmaking sessions for interested groups in Unst Heritage Centre and the Eshaness Community Centre. She visited the Shetland Embroiderers Guild to give a workshop in Sumburgh, and gave illustrated talks on her research trips on 'Feltmaking in Central Asia' to an audience in Isleburgh Community Centre, and at the Puffin Inn in Fair Isle for the whole Fair Isle community.
With the assistance of the Shetland College Textile Department, and additional Arts Trust support for materials and organisation, two popular weekend workshops took place in the Shetland College. Artists, knitters and other textile enthusiasts gathered to develop individual work, designing and making felted handbags, jewellery, smucks, flowers and the lightweight felting techniques of cobweb, and 'grid' structures - and 'Nuno' felting, which involves fusing fabrics into felted wool. Shetland fleece was fused with metallic and exotic fibres, in these techniques to make vast and voluminous scarves and wraps.
The workshops were inspirational for local designers, textile artists and knitters. Here are some comments: 'I would never have believed you could get such delicate items from feltmaking'; 'The days were so pleasantly inspirational it made you want to go home and get bags of raw wool and get going'; 'Ideas were coming for new products I can use for my business, it was very inspirational.'
After the lambing season was over, in May, a group of craftmakers and artists in Fair Isle worked jointly with Shetland Arts Trust, to organise their own workshop visit from Jeanette. She spent a few days in the island, teaching new feltmaking techniques and enhancing the textile skills and product range made by the islanders.
The final public exhibition of craft textiles, produced by all the pupils of Brae, Mossbank and Olnafirth, took place in Lerwick in June, on Victoria Pier during the 'Johnsmas foy'. A midsummer party with food, music and a boating theme, the foy was a suitable place for Thelma to be exhibited. She was loaded with her surprising cargo of new and expressive woollen sea creatures, surrounded by schoolbairns' portrait flags, next to a lobsterpot of exotic felted stones. The boat exhibition showed the creativity and new skills enjoyed by pupils and brought appreciative public comments: 'Really interesting work, it's good to see craftwork promoted in schools'; 'Speechless with wonder, our sheep's wool used in a new and vibrant way.'
[NOTE: Photo here of 'Felting at the foy; artist Jeanette Sendler front right.']
The craft residency was finally celebrated at the foy by a challenge to Jeanette Sendler to 'felt a sail in a day': a big project. She collaborated with local artists, children and passing volunteers. Jeanette and local artists, Barbara and Wilma Cluness undertook the challenge, using gallons of hot water, kilos of wool and a fund of creative energy. The 5x4 feet felted woollen sail was finished in time, and was unfurled on the pier. It incorporates motifs and symbols on both sides, and will shortly return to schools for embellishment and exhibition.
The first craft residency has achieved much more than it objectives, thanks to the experience and skills of the selected artist, Jeanette, and a receptive school community. New textile developments will continue, as natural and colourful wool is easily accessible in Shetland.
The Scottish Arts Council recently awarded Shetland another Schools Craft Residency. A progression from the exploration of wool as an indigenous material, the second residency will focus on making craft in a combination of materials. The next resident craftmaker will work with primary pupils, using our traditional basketmaking techniques and structures as a reference for making contemporary craft. These efficient 3D techniques are undervalued, and require research. They can be used in many different materials and craft forms, as jewellery, containers, or furniture; in metals, plastics, or natural materials. The creative possibilities are endless.
Note: The Scottish Arts Council's support of contemporary craft development, originating from indigenous cultures, offered an opportunity to link a schools craft residency to Shetland Arts Trust's Indigenous Craft Project. Shetland Arts Trust provided the purpose and theory behind the residency and supplied the artist's brief. So the craft residency represents a successful and fruitful collaboration between the local Arts and Education services.
The SIC Education Service's Creative Links Officer managed the overall project, co-ordinated all schools and educational activities, provided workshops for teaching staff, supported the artist, and the logistics of the boat exhibition. The Shetland Arts Trust Craft Officer sourced materials, gave technical support, supported film documentation, organised community workshops and talks, and integrated the artist into the community .
The Shetland Schools Craft Residency, Shetland hats in Hatwalk 2005, Shetland feltmaking community Workshops, 'Boat - a textile journey', and 'Felting a sail in a day' at the Johnsmas Foy, can be seen on www.sendler.co.uk
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Expressive oo and a boat: The Shetland Schools Craft Residency. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved May 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1397.
"Expressive oo and a boat: The Shetland Schools Craft Residency." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021. Web. May 2021. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1397.
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