The Kirkwall museum, part 2 – textiles (and serendipity)

The Orkney Museum in Kirkwall requires two posts to even hint at what's there. Part 1, about textile tools, was here.

Now let's look at just a few of the fiber-related items in the collection.


Very early in the museum visit, a very early textile.


One of the by-far most interesting items is the Orkney Hood. The original is in the Edinburgh Museum. Made of wool, it dates from somewhere between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE and was found in a bog in the 19th century.


It seems to have been put together out of scraps of fabric, for a child: the fabrics are more sophisticated than the construction, and it is small. The Orkney Museum in Kirkwall displays an exquisite reproduction made by experimental archaeologist Jacqui Wood in 2002. Nearby is a thorough explanation of how it was constructed (you'd want to sit and read this overview for at least an hour: although you can actually experience some of the information from the comfort of your own computer here—with more tablet weaving).

Bogs preserve textiles. This is what is called the Huntsgarth clothing, found in a child's grave from the 18th century: swaddling clothes and a Scotch bonnet.


Farther along, a contemporary tapestry triptych worth visiting in person. It's entitled "St Magnus Earl of Orkney" and was woven by Leila Thomson, completed in 1998.


Obviously, I couldn't get much of a photograph. You get an overlay of me, trying to get a hint of the piece. Leila Thomson's work is at the Hoxa Gallery, another place in Orkney that I knew about before my trip but didn't have an opportunity to visit. Work that is breathtaking on the web has got to be near-miraculous in person.

The line between craft and art blessedly blurs throughout the Orkney Museum. In another area, there are examples of lovely functional knitwear.


While some of the techniques are similar to those of other Northern European knitting traditions, they have their own distinctive qualities in color use and patterning. The knitted garments above are from the 1940s through 1970s, made by Mrs. Tulloch, Cathie Wilson, and Hughina Ritch.

If I'd known more of what I was looking at (that is, if I'd had lots more time to spend in the museum), I would have gotten a better photo of the lower part of the case, where you can almost see needle cases and crochet by Hettie Scott, mentioned in the previous post, in the 1930s.


The 16th through 19th centuries featured tremendous amounts of white and intricate textiles, knitted, crocheted, embroidered . . . 


. . . woven . . .


 . . . linen above, also much cotton . . . 


. . . skipping along here almost irresponsibly, but so many textiles, so little time. . . . 

These stockings are said to be made of bog cotton.


I'd sure like to know more about them. Especially having been introduced to bog cotton.


Admittedly that photo was taken in fall and the "cotton" seems more plentiful in spring, but has anyone actually worked with it to know its suitability to knitting as fine and intricate as those stockings? And how would it wear?

[Edited to add a comment from Elizabeth Lovick via Facebook: "It is NOT possible to spin bog cotton—as soon as you touch it, it crumbles to nothing. . . . I will try again to get [the signage] changed…" Bog cotton apparently has had a few semi-practical uses, but stockings clearly aren't one of them. As an aside, Liz's new book, The Magic of Shetland Lace, is a winner.]

When I left the museum, I had lots of questions. . . . I'll have to go back. . . . 


. . . in part to see all the terrific stuff I glanced past as I focused on matters pertaining to fiber, even though I didn't do them justice, either.

I was captivated by this wooden Noah's ark:


I kept looking more closely. . . .





But I couldn't stay all day.

I haven't even shown you the scale models of some of the area's buildings at specific times in history.

Something that I can't go back and see another time is the special exhibit of woodcarving that was on display. It featured the work of Reynold Eunson.



The carvings were breathtaking,


and I loved seeing the drawings as well.


The room was full of both, and all I lacked was enough time to really spend adequate attention on them. There are more delicious photos on Facebook here.

I wonder what special exhibit will be in place next time? And I'll need to plan even more days in Orkney for exploring. I've just begun to get the gist of what's there.

(It's true: I haven't even shown you North Ronaldsay yet. That will also take more than one post.)

%d bloggers like this: