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Mornings in Kirkwall

On my way to work, I walk over the flood wall. A heightened strip of land between Kirkwall and The Peedie Sea (‘peedie’ is the Orcadian word for small). The sea buffers right up to the piles of rock, protecting Kirkwall. As you walk, you can see that the sea isn’t actually higher than a lot of Kirkwall which is stretched out before you.

I was looking through my photos this week, and I noticed that since coming up last October, I’ve taken countless pictures of this view, all of them of the different, shifting skies and changing seasons. I’ve loved putting these together, as you can see the shifting seasons, and how different they are.

The first time I walked out to the harbour when I first arrived in Orkney. The sun was low and so was the wind!

The first time it snowed in Orkney on the seafront, we’ve not had snow like this this year, just a lot of hail.

Spring in Orkney, you can just see the sailboats out on the jetty.

Thank you for reading! Orkney Cloth x

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Yesnaby Day Out

It was a chilly mid winter afternoon, the sun set low. Walkers were already out of their cars and ambling along the cliffs. The sky a cool blue, and the sea a frothy, foaming expanse. We could just about make out mainland Scotland from the headland. We walked down to the bay (you may recognise it from our Yesnaby look book) Where the sea has carved out several notched beaches. These bays are usually home to a few nomadic seals, and nesting fulmars which rise out from no where.

From here, we walked up to Yesnaby Castle, a large sea stack, where the paths veers dangerously close to the edge (a good reason to abruptly return around and head back to the warmth of the car!)

Instead, we climbed up past the gate, and took the path right around the coast towards the headland. I always find this hill very confusing, as it looks as if you could happen upon the edge at any moment. But taking the path to the right, it’s easy to see the edge and keep well away. We climbed over the top and were welcomed with the most biggest expanse of cliff, sea and sky, with the hill sloping down to meet the water. The sound of the sea was gloriously loud, a sound which is usually muffled by the wind. 

On the hill, there were lichens and grasses which were the colours of peppermint, wild bleached grasses. These are colours I’m savouring for spring. I’m hoping to use them again in upcoming collections.

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Orkney.com | Studio Visit

We had a very special guest a few weeks ago, and we can finally share that it was Orkney.com. We hope you enjoy the article, which can be found here, and more importantly, give you an insight into our process and our studio.

We’ve got ourselves a little studio out in Hatston, which is just outside of Kirkwall, where we currently rent a hand loom. It’s the perfect space for now, as it’s got a huge square window, meaning it’s lovely and light. We’ve filled it with all our plants which were dying at home (they’re still not looking too heathy even now!) It’s been brilliant to have a studio to call our own, and to fill with all of our cloth, samples, yarn and loom all in one place. We’re going to need somewhere a little bigger for our new loom, but for now, it’s perfect. We’ll let you know how our search for a loom and studio progresses over the coming months. If you know of any spaces which you think would suit us, please get in contact!

It was great to have our first visitor to the studio, Orkney.com’s Fionn Mcarthur who looks after the Digital Media Orkney project. Check out his work at  Startpoint Media. We’ve put all of his pictures below for you to browse.

For us, this article and it’s accompanying images were all about why reviving weaving in Orkney now is so important. There is a great deal of change within the textile industry, with a real emphasise on where and how products are made. Our aim is, by drawing attention to our weaving process which focuses on craftsmanship, customers will understand the time and energy which goes into making our products.

We are focusing on making as sustainable product as we can, and encourage people to buy less, and consume better. We’re hoping that our small business up here in Orkney can help shift the textile industry attitude from more is more, to less and better. A slow, handwoven textile, which is woven in house, made with locally produced wool, and finished in the highlands, is a product with a small carbon footprint, but which hopes to make a big difference to the way we shop, and think about the textiles industry. Take a look at the pictures below to get a feel of the craftsmanship which goes into making every single piece of our cloth!

For each pick in the cloth (horizontal line of thread) a shuttle has to be passed along the length of cloth. It is then beaten into place. In this cloth I’m weaving, there’s about 15 picks per inch. So you can imagine that it adds up pretty quickly over metres and metres of cloth.

The weft (horizontal thread which makes up the cloth) has to be packed into the cloth at just the right angle. To do this, I’m pulling the shuttle up at an angle to ensure perfect selvedges (edges of the cloth) every single time.

Details from the studio: coloured yarns from Knoll, and piles of woven cloth as well as samples. Sampling is the most important part of my process, and one of the most rewarding. As well as testing different weights of cloth, we’re also testing its drape, softness and suitability for the products we’re making. Each square in a sampler is a potential different pattern. As someone who can be very indecisive, this can be a bit of a problem!

And last but not least, the importance of surrounding yourself with work you love in your studio. This large scale cyanotype was done by Jack Whitwell (my other half!) As an artist and an art lover, I find having things in my studio which I love, makes working so much easier.

A big thank you to Orkney.com for covering our plans to revive weaving in Orkney, and to Fionn Mcarther for taking such lovely photographs which detail our process so well. Check out the rest of his work here.

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Winter in Yesnaby | Lookbook

I love nothing more than nosing at other brands lookbooks. I always think that they add a story to a collection. We toyed with the idea of shooting the products in the studio, but in all honesty the light just wasn’t good enough! I based the collection on winter light, so we took the products to a place best known for its light- dried grasses which seem golden, and water that can either be Mediterranean in colour, or blackish blue.

Yesnaby is on the West mainland, and has some of the most spectacular cliffs in Orkney. They almost seem to roll towards the sea, so it’s quite difficult to see the edge (a good reason to stay well away!) They’ve been etched away by the growling tide, and most of them have formed unnatural looking curves, which project the sea up and over the headlands. The cliffs here are so old, it feels like your walking on ancient land with its red tinted soil and loose rocks scattering the surface. It’s quite an eerie place to me, which is why it felt like such a good place to shot the collection. I didn’t want to photos to be too romantic, so a rugged and raw landscape suited the aesthetic we were aiming for. It’s such a delight to put our products out in the world, and seeing what they look like in their surroundings. I find it fascinating that the colours from around us end up in the products themselves. Even the yellow, which I was worried would be too bright, settles in to the dried out, wind battered grasses.

I ventured out early on a Saturday morning, along with Akmal and Jack who had been roped in to take photos and model scarves. The wind direction was good, and although it was blowing softly, it looked like a good day out towards Yesnaby. The sun hadn’t come up yet either, which we wanted to avoid for as long as possible. Somehow having the rising sun amongst the cliffs just didn’t seem right.

When we got to Yesnaby, all loaded in Akmal’s car, the wind was blowing a gale. The water was an inky blue, and was thrashing the cliffs. We were all surprised. There were a few other brave walkers out on the cliffs, but most were hunkered down in their cars. We braved the weather and ventured down the paths leading to a sheltered bay. The sea was so rough, it had foamed up and turned white at the base of the cliffs, creating a foam that came in gusts like snow. It was all so surreal.

Every time I go to Yesnaby, I am acutely aware of how dangerous the cliffs are. They always make me feel so dizzy even going near the edge, so we avoided it all together. As we got down to the bay, we were a little more sheltered, and the beach was covered in heaps of red seaweed. A perfect photo opportunity. We enjoyed putting this look book together as it was a chance to merge pictures of the landscape within the products shots to tie it all together.

In the future, we’re hoping to use a film camera for our look books. Jack is an analogue photographer, so next time, when the weather isn’t so rough, we’ll be using film. I love the graininess of these photo’s, it’s like you can almost sense the force of the weather in them. So take a look below, and let us know what you think!

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Hello!

Welcome to my first journal entry! I wanted the journal to be a place on the website where you get to see behind the scenes. I’ll be keeping you updating with my weaving progress, loom search, my inspiration and places to visit amongst other things.

As an avid reader of blogs, I thought this would be a good time to start my own. With the Crowdfund campaign now coming to an end, I thought it would be a good chance to introduce myself and make this my official first post. 

So hello! I’m India Johnson. I didn’t take the usual path to weaving, as I studied Fine Art at Newcastle University. I specialised in painting and printmaking, but my designs often found themselves on textiles. After graduating in 2018, I began to look further afield for where I might like to end up, when I found a Graduate Weaving Placement in Orkney (possibly the furthest place I could’ve gone!) I’d never been up to Orkney, but I loved the sound of the remote and wild landscape, and its ties to tradition and their strong heritage of textiles. Commercial weaving had all but died out, and the placement sought to revive the tradition through teaching hand weaving. I joined Orkney Creative Hub in October 2018, and the placement with ScotGrad lasted a year. After teaching my own programme of workshops in the Loom Room, I knew there was something about weaving that I absolutely loved.

After the placement had finished, I decided to stay up in Orkney. I love living on the island, and it continues to inspire me everyday. Having a background as an artist, I find it’s an amazing place to paint and draw, and this will always be something I continue to do alongside my weaving. I still teach hand weaving classes freelance which I love, but my passion is commercial weaving, and how it can be made more sustainable.

So began the thought to start my own weaving company. I wanted to create contemporary textiles inspired by the place I live, but with sustainability in mind. With so many of us becoming increasingly aware of where and how are clothes are made, I thought this was the right time to get Orkney Cloth off the ground! I wanted people to feel like not only were the investing in a quality product that will last, but also contributing to a wider purpose- investing in the skills and craftsmanship which go into weaving.

I’m passionate about sustainability, and can’t wait to develop Orkney Cloth into an exciting social enterprise, where our mission is to produce contemporary textiles with as little impact on the environment as possible. I’m hoping that by reviving weaving, we’ll encourage others to follow suit too, and train and educate people in the importance of this amazing craft.

And so we’re up to present day! Thank you for taking the time to read my first journal entry, they’ll be many more to come so keep an eye out. I’m so excited to keep you updated on the journey to find a new loom, and all the other exciting things that are coming up this year!

Love, India x