Friday, 7 August 2015

Iceland | the overview


Midnight in Akureyri

Daily kit - bikini, tea and knits

On the road north


Standing over Godafoss



Lake Myvatn


Belching mud pits...

... at Namaskard




Floating bergs...

... and pebbles at Jökulsárlón

Lovely sheep at Vagnsstaðir

The view south from the top of Vatnajökull 

On top of Vatnajökull  

Black sands, Vik

Volcanic waterfall at Vik



101 Reykjavik

Iceland. We've been back for over two months. I've started writing this post several times, then deleted it and walked away. There are two overarching reasons for my reticence.

#1 I find it really difficult to express how beautiful the place is. I have a whole notebook of scrawled observations - mainly attempts to describe the light, the way the landscape is constantly shifting, and the colours that I didn't know existed - but I can't express it all here. On one hand, it seems lazy not to even try but, on the other, the 'show, don't tell' approach just feels like the right way to go.

#2 On a practical level, carving up 10 days, 2000km of road, many long walks and numerous geological wonders into one blog post is an impossible task. This post is a look at the landscapes, which are still on my mind most of the time. Posts dedicated to craft (read: lots of lovely woolly stuff) and architecture will follow. Meantime, here it is. Iceland, the overview.

I want to go back already.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

North lands

With less than 24 hours left until I leave for 10 days travelling Iceland, I'm procrastinating from packing by mulling over recent photos from my road trip up north. I spent several days in Inverness and various small towns in Sutherland - Tain, Dornoch, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale - researching jewellery made from Scottish gold. I was there for work, scouring museums and castles for historical jewels for a paper I'm giving at the Costume Society conference, 'Power of Gold', at the V&A at July.

In between research visits, I got a chance to walk around some of the areas related to the nineteenth-century Sutherland gold rush. The trip marked the furthest north I've been on the Scottish mainland. When you spend most of your life living in Shetland, urban spaces or warmer climes are often more appealing destinations than nooks in the north east (beautiful as those nooks may be), so I was delighted to get the chance to visit. Here are some photos taken on wanders around the hills and burns of the gorgeous Helmsdale and Kildonan area. 

I expect that my instagram feed will be full of mountains, glaciers and icebergs over the next little while, and I'll be back here soon with landscapes from much further north. Meantime, all top tips for Iceland are more than welcome - any suggestions?

All photographs were taken in and around Helmsdale. This trip was part-funded by a travel award from the Design History SocietyYou can find out more about the Gold Rush from Timespan

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sumburgh Head | Shetland

I went on a puffin seeking expedition at Sumburgh Head last weekend. Armed with a mammoth picnic and numerous flasks of tea, the whole family set out to explore on Saturday morning. I've made this trip many times, since I was really little, but even at the right time of year the tammie norries can be elusive. I was sceptical about our chances, but we hadn't gone far before we spotted a little group. They put on some show, dancing and bashing their beautiful beaks together and parading around right in front of us.

After admiring the puffins for a while (and taking *far* too many photos), we headed further up the cliffs to the Lighthouse and visitor centre, which reopened last summer after a huge project to restore the light and its cluster of outbuildings. Each building houses a stand-alone exhibition. We listened to bird and whale noises in the Marine Life Centre, pressed buttons on interactive displays in the engine room and sounded the (pretend but deafening) foghorn over and over, prompting delighted giggles from the little humans in our group. We climbed up to the old foghorn via a lovely new spiral staircase, past the original ladder that we were never allowed up as bairns (such a treat to finally get to the top). From there, we looked out toward Fair Isle on the horizon, and watched seabirds swoop and dive around the cliffs below.

While this was my first visit to Sumburgh Head since the work was finished, everyone else in the group had been up at least once since it opened last summer. They pulled me around, urging me to listen to the orcas, to look at the forge and tools in the smithy workshop, and to come into the secret radar hut to learn about how its staff foiled a potentially disastrous attack on the British Naval fleet during the Second World War. After hours of exploring and a picnic with a panoramic view in the education room, we headed down to the beach and looked back at the lighthouse in the distance.

You fly or sail past Sumburgh Head on your way between Shetland and mainland Scotland. It is a beacon of home. Every time I see it, I remember how it looked from the sky one day when I was a fashion student in my late-teens, on a journey home from uni. The sea was dark purple, the sky mauve streaked with lava-orange, and the whitewashed lighthouse buildings teetered on the edge of the maroon cliffs. Full of inspiration, I went home and sketched a taffeta dress that never quite made it to the sewing machine. I'm sure I'll get around to making it some day.

The Sumburgh Head renovations have given new life to a this dear old place, while managing to avoid taking anything away from its charm. It's a wonderful nature reserve, a fascinating insight into the light itself and the everyday lives of the keepers and their families, and a giant playground. If you get a chance to go, do not pass it up. Meantime, you can follow @SumburghHead on twitter and keep an eye on the birds with the live PuffinCam.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The New Craftsmen

I finally got along to The New Craftsmen in London last weekend. The Mayfair shop contains work from over seventy of Britain's makers in a beautiful space which was, at one time, a leather goods workshop. Alongside the finished pieces, craftspeople design and make work, giving visitors a chance to understand the materials, skills and processes that go in to some of the objects on sale.

Some of my favourite makers from Scotland are involved including Hannah McAndrew (pottery), Ebba Goring (jewellery), Scarlett Cohen French (jewellery) and Grant McCaig (silver). Shetland is represented with work from Mati Ventrillon (knitwear), who was recently featured in my article on Fair Isle for a special knit edition of Selvedge. Orkney features too with sheepskins from Isle of Auskerry. Hooray for amazing craft from all over the UK under the one roof.

It's the presence and visibility of materials and craftspeople that makes this place really special. Seeing and hearing the process and watching objects come into being means that it's almost impossible to leave without something. I would have happily gone home with Dalston-based Gareth Neal's Brogdar, a modern take on the Orkney chair. But, alas, it was not to be. 

I fell in love with some silk fish stuffed with gorgeous lavender by Rose de Borman. Rose hand paints on silk, drawing inspiration from folk-art and traditional techniques inspired by her day-job sourcing antique fabrics. Choosing between them was tough. In the end I went for a lovely little guy that looks like a mackerel (perhaps not a surprising choice for a Shetlander) who is now happy and at home on our Edinburgh fireplace.

Hannah McAndrew 2 Rose de Borman 3&4 Gareth Neal 5 Ebba Goring 6 Stuart Carey 7 Iva Polachova (white pieces) and Nicola Tassie (brown mug) 8 Iva Polachova 9 Catarina Riccabona 10 Mourne Textiles 11&12 A happy Rose de Borman mackerel in Edinburgh