Lairg Local History Society - 'Crofts, Crottle and Cakes'!

A hands-on talk - no powerpoints for this - instead,  I'm bringing a selection of my artworks, and will of course, feature
 my current self-directed project on house dresses and wrap aprons!  

" This photo sums up my memories of gran..." Linda Travis shares a few precious memories - and wrap aprons.

My aunty Linda Travis (nee Davis) posted me a wonderful collection of photos 
".....salvaged from an old leather suitcase my dad left..."

".... First photo is my grandmother - granma Davis (Margaret Elliot born in Newcastle in 1885), my fathers mother with her 4th child, Thelma, my aunt. I never saw Thelma in an apron, she had been Miss Preston and went in for celebrity  contests. She looked after my gran and grandad even after she married, she didn't leave home.....

...Grandma was rarely seen not wearing her wrap-over....

.....Second photo is of grandma and her 2nd child, my Uncle Bill who went to live and work in Chicago, sent here by 'Goss Printing Works', to set up a printing and machinery business. Came back in the 70's.  3rd photo is Felix (cat) and Themla. Gran was big on cats...."

"...... a full-length photo of gran in her wrap-over apron, usually accompanied with cardigan and complete with full fit slippers. This photo sums up my memories of gran. Every Sunday the family would gather at grans for a full roast dinner. She would make the gravin in a large roasting tin and a spoon that she rotated in circles (getting rid of  Bisto lunps I guess), which caused short gyrations of the apron - as you can see, she's a big lass...."

"...... Gran on the patio with my other grandad (grandad  France) who was joining us for Whitsunday lunch 1956. In the foreground is Thelma with Tony my cousin..."

".... I can't be absolutely sure who these people are,very likely grans side of the family in Newcastle. Bothe wearing workdresses....."

"... My grandad, head engineer at Preston 'Dick Kerr' traction engines mainly, was often sent to far off countries to set up sales of trains , assess and provide training needs in Buenos Aries / Portugal etc.  I'm guessing these people may be Latin American?  Pictured with grandad in his workshop overall. However  that is certainly another wrapover on the woman. Note the hip pocket - same style as my grans...."

Crottle once used as a dye for the famed Gairloch hose.

My crottle (lichen) inspired wrap apron, original drawings and
 photographs from Gairloch Museum and Lairg Historical Society Archive are to be exhibited at Inverewe Botanical Gardens  from 6th April to 9th May.

Crottle once used as a dye for the famed Gairloch hose.
This is what I found out:

In 1863,  Dowager Lady Mackenzie purchased the land at Inverewe - Her son, Osgood Mackenzie started the gardens, and was continued by his daugther Mairi, until it was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1952.

During the famine years (1840's), Dowager Lady Mackenzie applied for funds from the Destitution Board to enable the women of Gairloch area  to learn the skills of spining, dyeing, knitting and weaving. It was reported that over 100 women were involved and their products were prized.

Joanne B Kaar - crottle (lichens once used as a dye) inspired design on a traditional wrap style apron .
Combining work clothing with the activitiy.

The Gairloch hose
An extract from  "Gairloch In North-West Ross-Shire,  Its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants, and Natural History With A Guide to Gairloch and Loch Maree And a Map and  Illustrations
Author: John H. Dixon  1886.
Chapter VI Language and dress.

"....Gairloch is justly celebrated for its hose, which are knitted in immense variety of pattern and colour, some being in imitation of old forms of tartan. In the old days the hose worn with the Highland costume were cut from the same web as the tartan of which other parts of the dress were made, but now all hose are knitted. The "diced" patterns are relics of the old tartans.
The Dowager Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch writes as follows regarding the Gairloch hose:—"At my first visit to Gairloch, in 1837, I employed a lady from Skye who was staying at Kerrysdale to instruct twelve young women in knitting nice stockings with dice and other fancy patterns. When I came to act as trustee, and to live constantly at Flowerdale, I started the manufacture of the Gairloch stockings in earnest, having spinners, dyers, and knitters, all taught and superintended during the ten years I resided there; on my leaving and going abroad, Sir Kenneth gave the concern into the hands of the head gamekeeper, Mr George Ross. Now, dozens of pairs are brought by the women to the hotels and steamers, and large quantities go to Inverness, Edinburgh, and London; £100 worth has been sold in one shop....."

And what did they use to dye their yarn?

Below is an extract from "The Clans, Septs & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands" by Frank Adam First published in 1908.

click text below to enlarge.

Theres a few photographs of women in the Gairloch area wearing floral house dresses /wrap aprons. These photos are in the collection of Gairloch Heritage Museum . Click here to see one of the photographs.


Combining work clothing with the activitiy.

Joanne B Kaar - crottle inspired design on a traditional wrap style apron. Combining work clothing with the activitiy

The wrap-apron was often worn by women doing chores in and around the home. In the Scottish Highlands and Islands, this included dyeing wool with crottle. 

Crottle  or  crotal  (gaelic) is a Scottish term for lichens that were traditionally used as a dye.

Inverewe Botanical Gardens - BBC Alba, Exhibition and residency news 2019.

I’m excited to have been invited back to Inverewe Botanic Gardens, a National Trust for Scotland Property, as artist-in-residence throughout 2019.

This will be a collaborative residency working with other invited artists with a variety of disciplines.

The residency starts with an exhibition of our previous artwork in April 2019.  

.I plan to exhibit my lichen inspired artwork including framed original drawings,

and my new 'crottle' wrap-apron.

The wrap-apron was often worn by women doing chores in and around the home. In the Scottish Highlands and Islands, this included dyeing wool with crottle. 

Crottle  or  crotal  (gaelic) is a Scottish term for lichens that were traditionally used as a dye. These lichens have been recorded in Inverewe Botanical Gardens.

BBC Alba will be following our progress throughout the year, for their programme, An La.

wrap apron

New Wrap apron - on location at Mary Anns Cottage, Dunnet Caithness - thanks to my model, Sophie Kinghorn  - 2019.
Taking away the colour, this could be the 1930's.

New Wrap apron - on location at Mary Anns Cottage, Dunnet Caithness - thanks to my model, Sophie Kinghorn.

My New  crottle  inspired patterned  Wrap apron - on location at Mary Anns Cottage, Dunnet Caithness -  thanks to my model, Sophie Kinghorn.

wrap apron

New Wrap apron - on location at Mary Anns Cottage, Dunnet Caithness - thanks to my model, Sophie Kinghorn  - 2019.
Taking away the colour, this could be the 1930's.


New Wrap apron - on location at Mary Anns Cottage, Dunnet Caithness - thanks to my model, Sophie Kinghorn  - 2019.
Taking away the colour, this could be the 1930's.


Women and work clothing - at Tate Modern, London.

Thanks to Joy McCarthy for tracking down these in Tate Modern.

Women and work clothing.

Click here to see a series of photographs by Olga Chernysheva, Chris Killip and Helga Paris that were part of the Workers display 
in the artists and society show at Tate Modern, London.

Wash Day in 1960's Newfoundland - housedresses with Sheila Hallett

Sheila Hallett recalls wash day in 1960's Newfoundland.  
Click here to read her article in the Newfoundland Quarterly - housedresses feature! 

St. John's, Newfoundland in 2016 while I was artist in residence for the Crafts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador as keynote speaker at the conference 'Using Crafts To Tell A Story'.


Margie Angel from St.John's, Newfoundland remembers............. 'dusters'.

Margie Angel from St.John's, Newfoundland remembers.............

".....I have been thinking about the house dress idea and have only one memory first hand. My mother had a cleaning lady who came to town (St.John') from ‘the bay’ once a week for the day.

She would come in the back door and her ‘house dress’ hung in the porch so she would come in and take off her coat and put this on before I would ever see her. I never had a name for it...maybe an apron..but it was different from the apron my mother would wear because it was over the shoulders and covered front and back.

I have recollection of other women wearing them and were called ‘dusters’. Is that the same thing? They wore them around the house over their slip and would remove it and put on a dress if they went outside the house......"

A few photos below of St.John's and nearby 'The Battery', from my 2016 craft residency for the Crafts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland - wrap aprons and pinnys and flour sacks

Vivian Bannister from Woody Point, Newfoundland 

'.....I  remember my great aunt wearing wrap apron when I was a young girl..It think they were made out of flour bags bleach and dye with onions skeins , or beets juice ,dandlin...she wore hers though the week to keep her dress clean.......

.........I was only a young girl of 9 or 10 she used her apron for so many things like picking up small wood chips to lite the fire gathering eggs , veggie form the garden. it kept her dress clean. ......

......The large cotton bags the flour came in after the flour was used up ,was wash and bleach and many things were made out of it. I still a set of pillow case that was given to me many yrs ago ......"

Woody Point, Newfoundland - photo from my 2016 Craft Residency
 for the Crafts Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Kim Marshall from Portugal Cove, Newfoundland.

'.......pretty sure I remember women wearing wrap aprons while making bread: mixing, kneading, etc. I just remember floral prints, so purchased fabric....."


Newfoundland - wrap aprons and pinnys

Shawn O'Hagan, a textile artist from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland was in touch with more nuggets of information. It's all starting to add up. If you have any memories of house dresses or wrap aprons worn where you live, have them stashed in your cupboards, or are a fan of wearing them now, do get in touch.


Shawn "....Keith’s mum Florence Hiscock (nee Dower) told me she’d seen these aprons at the local bargain store so I had to go and check them out.

She remembers the wrap around aprons from Conche on the northern peninsula growing up in the ‘30’s and 40’s. They were only worn in the house or outside to fetch water but not for other outdoor work. ......Florence says they were called pinnys. Often they would be made from old bed sheets because new fabric was scarce and expensive......."


Making a wrap apron - cutting out the fabric.

Bias binding tacked in place.

I used an original vintage wrap apron sent to me by my aunt, Linda Travis, as a guide for my new design.  The original is in the photo below.


Fabric for making a wrap apron - using my own design inspired by crottle (lichen once used as a dye).

Lichen sayings and superstition in the Scottish Highlands.

Inspired by traditional Scottish Highland sayings, this one refers to the money made by scraping crottle (lichen) from stones and sold to the dye industry.

A superstition from the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland - any fisherman wearing clothing dyed using crottle (lichen), were in danger of drowning or causing a shipwreck.


crottle spoons

Inspired by the metal spoons once used to scrape crottle (lichen for dye), off rocks, and seeing the punched metal number tags in Inverewe Botanical Gardens, I've been experimenting with old spoons, a hammer and metal punch to make lichen inspired marks.

 There's also quite an impressive set of cuttlery at Inverewe House - something for just about every occasion. 


And repeat.

Ochrolechia tartarea
fabric design
wrap apron in the making


Wrap apron and pinny - my collection continues to grow.

What fabulous colours and patterns.  
This wrap apron and pinny are a gift from Linda Travis, my aunty in Devon. 

Purchased in Devon, both garments are original vintage clothing - but which decade?? 


A Caithness Collection - house dresses, Wrap aprons, pinnies - all worn by one remarkable woman.

21 aprons, pinnies and tabards, all ironed, folded, packed away neatly in storage boxes, and labelled.

When I first became fascinated by wrap aprons and all their variations over time and  in different countries, I hadn't anticipated  the most comprehensive collection, all worn by one remarkable woman, being quite so close to home.   Now in her 80's, Sheila Moir from Scarfskerry, Caithness, just a few miles from me, is well known for her photography, but when  she invited me over to see her aprons,  I wasn't expecting to see such a fantastic collection of garments unfold before me. 

Sheila used to be a clippie (bus conductress) in Caithness, and when she returned home from work, she'd slip an apron on over her uniform. 

With a huge thank you to Sheila, I'm now custodian of this collection. 

A wrap apron. 

This is Sheila, a few years ago, at Castlehill Heritage Centre in Caithness. She's with artist/basketmaker, Tim Johnson. They are both holding  heather creels (once used to carry fish).  Click here to read more these heather creels.


The Summer Walkers, Travelling People and Pearl-Fishers in the Highlands of Scotland

 '"...During the Second World War we were one of the very few families that travelled, so there was good business to be done. By that time Ailidh Dall could no longer make tin, so everything depended on my mother selling round the doors. She took whatever was wanted and needed bringing in - overalls, trousers, shirts, socks, underwear, needles, pins, brushes, combs, frock-coats for the women. All the Highland women wore them then - with the flower patterns on..."
 Essie Stewart recalling the kinds of things hawked by her mother, Mary Stewart. 
From page 6 of  'The Summer Walkers' by  Timothy Neat, Published by Canongate (1996) Edinburgh. 
ISBN 10: 0862415764   ISBN 13: 9780862415761  

'The Summer Walkers' is the name the crofters of Scotland's northwest Highlands gave the traveling people—the itinerant tinsmiths, horse-dealers, hawkers, and pearl-fishers—who made their living on the road. They are not gypsies, but are indigenous Gaelic-speaking Scots, who, to this day, remain heirs of a vital and ancient culture.


Thanks to Rhona Ramsay (currently PhD student at Stirling University,  studying  the material culture of Gypsy/Travellers in Scottish museums)  for forwarding the info and also making contact with Essie Stewart.  Essie e-mailed me a bit more detial on those house coats:

".. My  memory is  this,  the  older  ladies  wore  cross/ over  overalls in  dark  colours and  the  younger  ladies  wore  much  brighter  floral  coloured  overalls still  the  cross/over  type.       The  frock- coat  was  just  like  a  button  through  dress  with  long  sleeves.  They  could  be  either  dark  or  brighter  coloured.  And  they  were  for  best,  e.g  when   visitors  were  coming  to  call...."