The Kirkwall museum, part 1 – tools

Did I start this post a month ago? I did, indeed. Life has been intervening. I still have a pile o' deadlines that I need to pay attention to. This morning, however, I will give myself the treat of starting this particular post about:

The Orkney Museum in Kirkwall, Orkney

. . . another place where I only managed to get an overview. But wow, the bits that I caught! It's a quirky museum, built into what used to be a house, and you go up, down, and around to get from one space to another. It would be easy to get lost, and that reinforces the sense of discovery. It's like there are magic staircases and hidden doors in walls that lead to other worlds.

I'm not finding a picture in my collection of the real entrance to the place, which I'd like to show, but there's one here, along with a lot of other good information about the site. Access to the museum is through that lovely archway. Step through it into the courtyard for the first view in my photo collection:


The rest of the photos will be out of sequence, and, except for the final handful (in the next post), all relate to textiles. I decided to show you first tools (today) and then textiles (next post, I trust . . . it's almost complete). And then a couple of glimpses of favorite non-textile items. You could spend hours in this museum with a given focus and come out stunned and entranced (time for a restoring cuppa across the street and down a bit at The Reel).

Whereas in many museums textiles are either an afterthought or are sorted out into their own basement corner, fiber exists as a recurring theme throughout the Orkney Museum, which is organized by time periods. This panel comes from one of the final rooms, but the combination of modern and historic (the rune image, graphic motif, and stories of individuals within the social and economic context) echoes the integration of textiles throughout the distinct eras.


The inset photo of the woman shows Hettie Scott. Born without arms, she was an accomplished embroiderer, using her feet. A bit more about Hettie in the next post. The information in this museum continually blew my mind. You could easily spend several days in it. I had a quick trip through—somewhere between one and two hours. (Definitely lost track of time.)


As I've mentioned before, Orkney's history is very deep. The tools and stories begin with bone implements, plant dyes, and upright looms.


Bones and stones: amazing materials out of which to make functional tools.


The spindle whorls are stone. The batten, next to them, was made from whalebone, likely used for weaving on an upright loom, and dates to the third century BCE (not all that old for this part of the world!). The next two pointed tools are awls; the small item just right of the center is a bodkin, with a bobbin below it. On the right at the far back are needles, and in front of them are three pins.

More spindle whorls—as I recall, these were in the Pictish section—about the fourth century CE.


In the same area there was a whorl inscribed with with ogham writing, used for recording both Pictish and Irish texts. Although found in a Pictish site, the language here is Irish.


I'll step forward a moment to the exhibit of contemporary Orkney craft, which is extraordinary, to show a piece of jewelry that you can buy, inspired by that spindle whorl:


That's a Sheila Fleet piece. There are several fantastic jewelry producers in Orkney.

Calling John Mullarkey! (I thought of you the instant I saw this, John.) Here's a bone weaving tablet:


It was in the Viking area, along with more whorls, needles, needle cases, and other treasures. It is exquisite. I want a whole set of them. And I'm grateful to have cardboard weaving tablets. They work, although with less flair and grace. (There will be another note, and a link, about tablet weaving in the textiles post.)

Moving forward a few centuries, due to lack of time. . . .

This iron spinning wheel was made by a blacksmith named, I think Robert Dick. (The last part of his surname was hidden behind an artifact.)


A more typically constructed wheel for which I forgot to snap a picture of the identification information (Liz?):


These were in an exhibit of the linen industry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


And this amazing wheel was in the drawing room of Baikie House (remodeled 1820), representing the building that now holds the museum when it was a residence.


I love the contrast between the ornate carving and the slatted treadle. Was the treadle original, or perhaps a replacement? (This said by someone who's worn out a treadle and needed to replace it.) Perhaps not. The text says the wheel was purchased with the help of a grant and was "influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. Made by John Logie for Lady Eliza D'Oyly Burroughs of Trumland House in Rousay."

And now I need to take a breath before we continue by looking at sample textiles in the museum. (I love the rug in that photo of the wheel just above. There's fiber work hiding everywhere, including in plain sight but not noted on the interpretive panels.)

More to come. . . .

I don't think I've mentioned yet that this splendid institution does not have an admission fee. It does have a lovely small shop with well-selected items for sale. . . .