Cianalas Winter Newsletter

Here’s the Cianalas Winter Newsletter, there will be a spoken word version later. Enjoy!



The Ceilidh Trail has started with a wonderful session at Lews Castle, where 34 of us gathered to share traditional songs and memories of them.

We have also held one recording session day at Wee Studio, where we recorded ten songs, which we will share with everyone shortly, but there will be more sessions. If you know any local village songs and anything about them, please get in touch and let us know.


The next ceilidh in the trail will be at Grinneabhat in Bragar on Saturday 8th December at 7pm. All are welcome. Please bring any songs or stories that you have about them, any knowledge as to who wrote the song and who it is about, if relevant. The idea for this trail came from working with people living in or attending care and day centres, how they communicated with each other through local songs. We aim, as a community, to celebrate, sing and share these songs together.

There will be several more events across all of the islands – dates through into the Spring will follow on our Facebook page.


Our contribution to the February ‘Dark Skies’ festival event at An Lanntair is a beautiful textiles ‘window’ hanging piece of the night sky and fishing boats by Chris Hammacott and the recollections of the residents of Harris House. Pictures coming up later! We are going to show the work to the residents on December 6th and there will be a series of free online art classes for everyone from us in February.


We are planning a Gaelic blessing over a peat fire and a filming session to complete the Barvas Ware exploration project and we will be firing the Raku pieces we made as a community.

Paula is attending the Life Changes Trust gathering in Glasgow on 11th December with two people affected by dementia on the islands. If you live with dementia and would like to attend future DEEP or Life Changes Trust gatherings, or conferences relating to dementia, please get in touch because there is often funding, support and expenses available for you to attend.

The next Lochs Social Group at Leurbost Community Centre is on Weds 19th December at 2pm. Come along if you are from Lochs, live in Lochs now, or would like to spend time with the lovely people of Lochs. There is always something to do and some tea and home baking. It’s free. See you there!

Thank you all for a wonderful 2018 – if I don’t see you before Christmas, have a wonderful time and a very happy new year.


The international photography project Eyes as Big as Plates is coming to the UK for the first time through our project in June 19. There will be an opportunity shortly to let us know if you would like to take part. The project was initially showcased at our Cuimhne exhibition in April this year, you may remember the striking images of people who had created striking head dresses and other wearable items from natural materials and had been photographed as they chose in their landscape. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with international artists and photographers to celebrate your connection with the landscape.


Curious Shoes is touring care and day centres with us in June 19 as well, which is a glorious theatre piece, designed to engage people living with dementia and their families.

Life Changes Trust is organising a three day event in September 2019, across Lewis and the Uists, which will comprise an engagement day for people living with dementia, families and those in their wider circle of care, there will be a creative engagement day and a conference day.

Bloomsbury are publishing a book with a section written by our team, relating to the Woven Communities work that we did with the University of St Andrews. More news as we hear a publication date and that the title is finalised. It relates to the material culture of basketry.



We worked in collaboration with Lewis Hou from Science Ceilidh during October. Lewis is a Neuroscientist, interested in bilingualism and music and how they support the brain. We looked at the size and shape of various brains, such as a baby and adult human brain, a dog, cat, sheep, cow, rabbit and Lewis had a scan and 3d print of his own brain (not to scale, although some naughty people commented on the small size of it!) . Lewis’s own brain is particularly interesting as he is a fiddle player and the area of the brain relating to his left hand, the hand where he creates the note patterns on the violin fingerboard, is particularly well developed through so much physical use.

We held twelve events around care and day centres, the Library, An Lanntair, Lewis Retirement Centre, Cearns, the Museum and the Western Isles Hospital. This was wonderful as we had opportunities for formal teaching at the Library and the Hospital, more relaxed dancing (Canadian Brain Dance) and fiddle playing at care and day centres, intergenerational working between groups in Grianan and an opportunity for musical public engagement at the Friday Ceilidh and An Lanntair’s Las Ignite festival Open Mic.

Lewis is coming back to the islands to work with children through Fun Palaces next year. His work and influence continues, though – see Purvai work below.

PURVAI WORK CONTINUED (with a little Science Ceilidh flavour)

Dal returned to the islands and came to  Grianan and to Tarbert to Harris House, to share the singing and drumming from  An Lanntair’s South Asian Arts Festival, Purvai. We learned a new song this time, with dance movements, and there was enthusiastic singing and dancing from both sessions. I put Dal in touch with Lewis Hou from Science Ceilidh because I could just see the thought patterns happening as Dal switched drumming patterns, switched languages with singing, teaching us repetetive patterns in Swahili and drumming patterns. This illustrated very well how bilingualism and multilingualism supports the brain, as Lewis had taught us earlier in the year.

One group of older gentleman formed a ‘rhythm section’, while younger girls danced and it was a joyful, intergenerational experience at Grianan.

In Tarbert, a lady was given the ‘ha-ha’ part to sing, and she did this beautifully, each time the part of the song came around. Another lady got up and danced, everyone had a go at drumming and we all enjoyed the ‘switching’ Lewis had talked about being so beneficial to the brain in language, but I was seeing it here in drumming patterns and descant sections. ‘You’re a monkey’, one lady laughed, as Dal switched the drumming pattern yet again, just as we got into the groove of a song.

The mood in the room was joyful for long after the session. One of the care team from Grianan was telling me that she was still singing the last Akele song we learned from August. Apologies, you will have more earworms now! ‘We should form a band!’ somebody shouted. Yes. We should.


We were awarded £7500 from DEEP to work together with Dementia Friendly East Lothian, with Lucy Robertson, PhD student from Duncan of Jordanstone. We have started this work at Cockenzie House, East Lothian, and have looked at friendships between the groups, some through DEEP membership, some through our Cuimhne event in April this year. There are also connections in skills, such as willow weaving and we have looked, initially, at growing willow in the gardens and in making films to support people with new shills, to go with kits that Lucy will create. For now, Lucy is introducing the groups at Cockenzie House with Sue Northrop, to the possibilities with textiles, themes, technology and making. She will be coming to Lewis in January to work with children as well as adults, sometimes intergenerationally, to explore how we will take this project forward.


We have a new Vimeo channel, which we will be able to use to share instructional arts/making videos, live events and recorded events with everyone, through our £2000 DEEP Influencing grant. The aim of this grant is to uphold the human rights of more isolated people to be included in evening classes, lifelong education, community and cultural events and to be more connected as a community. We started by filming a community ceilidh and attempting a live stream at the Retirement centre in Stornoway in August and October. We are also sharing songs, podcasts and stories through our Library Memory Boxes.

We have been supporting a new Women Folk group with Hazel Mansfield at Marybank Transport Group Room once a month for three months, with room hire fees, to get them started. It’s a warm and welcoming group for women who love to gather and sing, or just to gather and listen.


We have been to Leverburgh Care Home twice this season, once with baskets and once to make rope. During the basket session, one lady, who is 95, leapt out of her chair and wanted to wear the creel. She put the strap across her shoulders and danced around the room with it as though she were twenty. She wanted us to fill it with peats! I took a little video of her gorgeous, joyful celebration of her culture.

Oddly enough, during Dawn Susan’s Christmas decoration making session, a relative of this lady was on the course and she was telling me how much it meant to her family to see their relative so joyfully performing to her friends and neighbours at the home and how her sense of self seemed to have returned. It is often a time of conflicting emotions, when a relative moves into a care setting and it was very heart warming to hear that such a little thing of recording a tiny moment was able to help a family in that situation.


Our Creative Care Practitioner on Barra, Duncan Mackinnon, continues to work on reminiscence, traditional song and photography in Barra. He has a recording device now, to work with creating a digital collection of local stories to share. We are looking forward to hearing those stories!


Gill Thompson brought some gorgeous print making teaching so that we could make our own cards and wraps for Christmas on Tuesday 4th December at An Lanntair. I bought some tickets through the project. It was a beautiful day of collaboration, encouragement, sharing and creating. We enjoyed a lovely, hearty veggie and lentil soup with home made bread in the An Lanntair restaurant at lunchtime.

Dawn Susan offered a Christmas decoration willow weaving class on Weds 5th December and again, I bought some tickets through the project. We learned how to make a basic Christmas tree, then a more complex one, and finally a big star to hang on the front door. One lady, from South Africa, made the most gorgeous, complex willow fish and another lady, from Bournemouth and Uig, was working on an impressive star. I made a cute Christmas tree for my mantelpiece. The soup of the day at An Lanntair was cream of mushroom and was completely wonderful. This was the course, where I met a lady, who was a relative of a lady we had worked with in Leverburgh. It was so lovely  to hear about our work through the eyes of family.


Socks from Leverburgh and a Fair Isle Kep in South Uist

I visited Mary Kate in Leverburgh on Monday 3rd December, taking with me a gift of a bag of balled up Harris Tweed wool in a pretty blue fleck, which I found in the charity shop in Tarbert for £12.

After the initial surprise and gratitude, Mary Kate wondered why it wasn’t in hanks. I explained that I had seen a ball winding machine in the shop, so I think that to save space, the volunteers there wind up the wool into balls and bag it up. Mary Kate savoured the aroma and admired the flecked pattern. And promised to knit me a pair of socks in gratitude. And she gave me her pattern, orally, which I have transcribed and detailed below.

Knit yourself a pair of Mary Kate’s socks from the pattern at the bottom of the page. No tape measure required! I have transcribed the pattern as she showed me and explained to me, but I am no knitting pattern writer.


Another knitting project at the moment relates to An Lanntair’s Between Islands work, and a wonderful textiles student from Shetland, Megan Smith. She created a wonderful tabard pattern that was on display through Between Islands on the Mezzanine Gallery at An Lanntair recently and I was admiring it each time I walked past.

It connected in my mind with an old (sorry, Kath!) school friend I have on Shetland and how we keep in touch through knitting lately. I had bought a Fair Isle Fisherman’s Kep pattern from Fair Isle Museum recently and have been knitting colour work for the first time. I remembered a lovely lady that I met and worked with through our Woven Communities work in South Uist, who is originally from Shetland. A keen knitter, she knits daily and talks about the patterns and stitches.

I bought and sent the pattern to South Uist and contacted Megan, who was keen to make a connection. I contacted Margaret Joan MacIsaac, a keen knitter who supported our project work with the Sonic Flock on South Uist and she was equally keen to support and knew the lady’s granddaughter, who is also a keen knitter. The manager of the care centre was excited about the pattern and I sent down the Shetland yarn for the kep. I also sent down some local croft plant dyed Lewis yarn for her, as a talking point. I selected some bright blues and whites, a little black and red, all from Shetland wool, so that it will feel, smell and knit in a traditional way and the colour contrast will be strong. The conversation will happen across video conferencing and it will be a lovely opportunity to have traditional Shetland wool to hand with a traditional pattern, talk about the stitches, the Muckle Flooers etc. and hear the local accent, gather keen knitters together between islands and talk about shared experiences.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether anyone knits the traditional kep and what happens with the conversation.

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For a men’s sock, size 9

I estimated Mary Kate’s needles to be about 4mm, a set of 4 double pointed needles.

Cast on 60 stitches


Knit one purl one rib for one index finger length for the cuff.

I put a stitch marker in at this point, so I always know the beginning of the round, as I use a short circular needle. Not Mary Kate, she has an eye for where she is in her pattern 🙂


Stocking stitch (knit every row) for one and a half middle finger length for the leg.

Make the reinforced heel.

lay the sock flat and find the middle.

You need the middle 30 stitches on one double pointed needle. Because I use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of each round, I knit across 15 stitches and then start to knit across my 30 stitches on one double pointed needle. You can do this as best works for you and your needles but you need the middle 30 stitches knitted on to a double pointed needle to knit the heel flap.

The heel flap should be half a middle finger deep. To the knuckle.

Row 1: Knit 1, Slip 1, Knit 1, Slitp 1 to the end

Row 2: Purl across the whole row

repeat until the heel is deep enough.

This gives a raised stripe that is thicker. Mark Kate also reinforces a heel with sewing thread and sometimes with a piece of an old stocking, for Harris Tweed wool socks, which are lovely but wear thin in heavy boots too quickly, so reinforcing helps.

The other way Mary Kate showed me was to make a diamond heel pattern, where row 1 and 2 are the same but  row three is knitting and slipping opposite slip one, knit one, in order to give a diamond pattern.

Turn the heel

Row 1: Slip 1, purl 16, purl 2 together, slip one

Row 2: Slip 1, knit 5, knit 2 together (or slip two stitches across and then knit into the back of them both to make a neater knit 2 together) knit 1

Row 3: Slip 1, purl 6, purl 2 together, purl 1

Row 4: Slip 1, purl 7, knit 2 together (or sl sl knit them together) Knit 1

Look from row 2, how the numbers of stitches increase 5,6,7. Continue in this way until all of the heel stitches have been used.

Taking one stitch from each side like this pulls the heel into a corner.

Pick up stitches

Knit across and pick up 19 stitches from each side of the heel flap using the slipped stitches.

Decrease for the triangular gusset

Remember that I used a stitch marker to show the beginning of the round that I knit?

It comes in handy here.

Mary Kate’s experience carries her through this stage.

Arrange your needles like this if using double pointed needles or place markers for a circular needle.

One needle for the top of the foot, one needle for the heel and one needle each for the picked up stitches on each side of the foot.

Row one: Knit to three stitches before the marker or the beginning where you cast on. Knit two together, knit one. Slip marker across.

Row two: Knit to next marker, slip marker, knit to three stitches before the marker.

Row three: knit two together, knit one, slip marker, knit to next marker, slip marker.

Repeat rows two and three.

Continue decreasing one stitch each side of the ankle on every other row until you have 60 stitches back on your needles to knit the foot.

Knit the foot

Make sure you have 60 stitches back on your needles and knit stocking stitch for one and a half middle finger lengths before decreasing for the toes.

Decrease for the toes

You need 32 stitches to graft the toe and you need to end up with being able to divide remaining stitches to 16 stitches on each double pointed needle. You need to decrease evenly by one stitch either side of the toe every other row until you get there. That is 4 stitches decreased  (one evenly each side of the foot) on every other round.

Row 1: knit one, knit two together, knit 24 stitches, knit 2 together, knit one, place a marker or start a new needle. Knit one, knit two together, knit 24, knit 2 together, knit 1.

Row 2: Knit one round, slipping any markers or moving across the needles. No decreases.

Row 3:  Decrease one at each end as before, knitting two together, slip the marker or go on to the underside of the foot and do this again.

continue knitting across one row and decreasing either side of the foot across the next round until you get to 32 stitches.

Divide these stitches evenly across front and back on to double pointed needles, making sure the heel is dead central. 16 stitches on each needle.

Graft the toe with a flat stitch (Mary Kate sometimes uses this to neaten a shoulder seam, too).

You have half the stitches on each double pointed needle to make a neat front and back.

You put your threaded wool darning needle in to the front needle’s furthest right hand stitch purl wise and pull the wool through but don’t slip it off the needle.

**You put the needle in the stitch on the back dpn knit wise and go through, but don’t slip it off the needle.

Put the darning needle knit wise into the first stitch on the front needle and slip it off.

put the darning needle purl wise right through the front right hand stitch purl wise and don’t slip it off.

Put the needle purl wise into the next back dpn stitch knit wise and slip it off.

Then put the wool needle knit wise into the next stitch on the back needle and pull the wool through but on’t slip it off.

Repeat from ** until you have two stitches left, then weave the wool back through and fasten off.

NOTE – I have heard this called a Kitchener Stitch, if you want to look up a tutorial!

Barvas Ware Project Continues

Here are two sets of images relating to the progress of the Barvas Ware project with Museum Nan Eilean and Western Isles Libraries.

The white pieces are the 3d print pieces that Helene at Western Isles Libraries at Stornoway did from the Museum Nan Eilean Barvas Ware Handling Collection. They will be painted.

The other set of images are by Jon Macleod and are from the first test firing on a peat fire of some of the community made pieces where we re-made and re-imagined Barvas Ware pieces in Raku clay with Ceramicist Jana Grimm.

There will be public sessions for firing the pieces shortly and a film created to share of a Gaelic blessing.

When the project is complete, we will exhibit all of the pieces and some will be added to our Memory Boxes, which are with Western Isles Libraries.

Ceilidh Trail work begins

Our collaboration Ceilidh Trail project begins across Lewis shortly in November and December 18, which will then trail through Harris in January and into North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra from February into March 19.

The project partners are An Lanntair, Museum Nan Eilean, Ceolas, Tagsa Uibhist, our Creative Care Practitioners, A new Co-ordinator for the Uists,
and the series of events will include:

Care and day centre events, not open to the public but open to residents, staff, visitors
Kitchen ceilidhs – public
Community centre ceilidhs – public
Work with schools – not public
Museum event – public
Work with existing festivals and events – public

Dates will be announced shortly and there will be an ‘event’ listing on our facebook page Cianalas

The Idea – From the community
The idea came from the community – working to share traditional ceilidh songs in care centres with Maggie Smith, as she has been blogging about for some time, songs, lyrics, poetry have all been enthusiastically shared through our project sessionsMoments blog here too.

The next part of the research came about when Euan Macleod, Museum Nan Eilean Development Officer, came and sang to some people staying on Clisham Ward at Western Isles Hospital (as you can see from our Autumn Newsletter). One of the ladies was unable to hold a conversation but was absolutely engaging with local, traditional songs and made a request for her favourite song, for Euan to learn for her, which he did. At the next ceilidh at Horshader Shop on the West Side of Lewis, the song he had been asked to learn for the lady in hospital was performed again and it connected with another lady at the next ceilidh. ‘Oh, that’s an old, old song. My Mother used to sing it to me’, she smiled, joining in with tears in her eyes. We realised that even though people can be quite isolated, living in care centres, the potential to share local knowledge and  connect with each other exists through traditional song and tunes. A shared cultural awareness and lyrical diversity between villages.

Initially, our podcasts on our Soundcloud account started to collect some songs and stories in Gaelic and English, and this is where the exploration of recording the songs and stories began. We have booked a recording session at Wee Studio to capture some of the songs and stories from the Ceilidh trail under studio conditions but we will also do some live recordings and filming out on the trail in the community and collect some specific lyrics and stories behind songs as we go.

Jon Macleod has been out across the islands meeting project partners to set dates in each area, which will be announced shortly. We will have local musicians in each area contributing their own local knowledge to the ceilidhs.

Please have a look at the event listings when they are announced, and come along to share your knowledge and memory of local, traditional songs, the stories behind who wrote and sang them and where they came from. All are welcome to the public events.

Initial events are at:
Thursday 22nd November 18, 2-4pm at Museum Nan Eilean, Lews Castle. No booking required.

In planning for a suitable date – Grinneabhat, Bragar. No booking required.

Blar Buidhe early in December – date TBC – for residents, staff and family/visitors.


Science Ceilidh week

Lewis Hou from Science Ceilidh was here in October and we held twelve events together:

Isles FM
Gaelic class
Hospital ceilidh
Blar Buidhe
Solas, Grianan, Ardseielach groups,
An Lantair open mic
Stornoway Library
Museum traditional songs event
Friday Ceilidh at the Retirement Centre
Live streaming event
Western Isles Hospital staff event in the Education Centre
Planning meetings in An Lanntair, the Library and at the airport for future events with Fun Palaces.

Lewis is a Neuroscientist and Educator, working with Science Ceilidh, which won Hands Up For Trad Community Music Organisation of the Year 2018. The events that we held here introduced the brain, the size of it, how different parts of the brain physically change relating to movement and how scanning picks up blood flow to different areas of the brain. We looked at how music impacts on the brain and how learning a second language at any age, even another language very similar to one that we already speak, positively supports the brain to recover better from stroke and perhaps protect the brain for some years from some of the impacts of dementia.

Research and resources can be found on the Science Ceilidh website and Lewis Hou (contactable through the website) is happy to hear and respond to your questions if you would like to get in touch.

Some of our project work this year is relating to research and academic partnerships, so this was an important collaboration to undertake for that reason but mostly, it was brilliant fun! We danced the ‘Canadian Brain Dance’ and enjoyed some wonderful traditional music.

Some of the hilarious comments reflected the fun of the sessions ‘ohh this must be a Niseach brain’ ‘is your brain really that small?’ ‘oh my brain is MUCH bigger than that, I am such an intelligent lady’.

One particularly moving moment was where a young man attending a day centre was able to perform to and entertain the others in the group, singing along with Lewis. He clearly experienced a lot of enjoyment from singing, dancing and entertaining his friends and neighbours, who enjoyed his contribution enormously, with smiles, laughter and joining in. The intergenerational aspect of this group was also wonderful, with ages from teens to nineties, all engaging with the science aspects as well as the music and dancing.

Autumn newsletter 18

This is the Cianalas An Lanntair Dementia Friendly Community newsletter for Autumn 18, including all of the news from the summer. Spoken word link to Soundcloud here

It’s 1st October already and a decided chill in the air, which has been the talk of the office this morning. It is mid-year evaluation time, with statistics gathering and report writing, too.

We are currently working on completing the Barvas Ware project, which we have been working on all summer, handling and re-making pieces. The Autumn season will see some 3d printing in collaboration with the Library and Museum services and a beach firing Raku-style afternoon as we complete the dried pieces. Look out for our session events, which will be listed on our facebook page.

We have started drafting our section of ‘The Material Culture of Basketry’, published by  Bloomsbury through our Woven Communities project with the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. We will pass on news of when this will be available as we hear about it.

Maggie Smith has been working on two series of events, the Lochs Social Group, which is a monthly event at North Lochs Community Centre (Next event Weds 17th October), plus a Gaelic singing group at Dun Eisdean care centre in Stornoway every fortnight on a Saturday. This is linking in to our Ceilidh Trail project, which is starting later in the Autumn. Again, events will be listed on facebook.

We have been successful with two funding pots from DEEP, The Influencing Grant is for £2000 for filming community, heritage and arts events in order to share them with people who are unable to attend and the second one is a Working Together grant for £7500, for working with Lucy Robertson (our PhD student in sonic textiles from Duncan of Jordanstoun) and Dementia Friendly East Lothian, on creative ways to build and maintain friendships. Our filming project has already begun with Kate Macleod making a lovely film of the Bayhead Friday ceilidh, which we will share shortly.

Our Digital Dining project was presented to the DEEP gathering in Aberdeen, which we attended with two people living with dementia from the islands. The next step with the Digital Dining project is to support people one to one to connect with friends through digital conferencing technology.

Our dance project through DEEP is just finishing now, Louise Davidson will be undertaking one more dance session with us with Maggie Smith and Muriel Anne Macleod, in order to complete the filming of the project and then there will be a filming session of interviews with Maggie and Louise, in order to support people working in care centres to confidently offer future appropriate movement sessions.

We have supported Alzheimer Scotland cafe and day centre sessions over the summer with arts/cultural activity from Chris Hammacott, Dawn Susan, Euan Macleod and Jana Grimm.

Chris Hammacott completed the Memory Tree wall hanging with us for the Sanctuary space at Western Isles Hospital over the summer and it has been used to leave mementoes and tributes to lost loved ones with the pinned on butterflies, leaves, dragonflies, and the ribbons. We also printed up and installed Alf Sludden’s image of Cliff Beach in vinyl format in the Sanctuary.

The Sonic Flock project is completed, with the delivery of some wonderful, tweeting birds, which we have distributed to the groups who were interested in receiving one. One blackbird joined in with a dance session at Bethesda care centre and another is perched among the resources at Western Isles Hospital. The project has developed into the new funded project by DEEP, so we can expect more innovation and creativity in communication and self-expression through this project into next year.

This summer, we began the ceilidh trail project, through the input and responses of the people we have been working with. Euan Macleod came to sing Gaelic songs on Clisham ward and he was asked for some requests, which he learned in preparation for the event. At the next community ceilidh, which we held on the west side of Lewis, at Horshader Shop, we noticed a wonderful connection between two women as Euan performed the songs he was requested to learn for this group and we noticed that a lady connected with the song as one that her mother sang to her. The communication between one lady living in hospital and another lady living in a care centre, unable to meet in person, was so moving that the ceilidh trail idea grew from this. A series of ceilidhs involving traditional, local songs, with village variations, additional verses and lyrics, across all of the islands, in order to perform, record and share local knowledge and the joy of a ceilidh gathering.

Our peat cutting project concluded with a picnic and a peat walk with a creel made by Dawn Susan at Shawbost, the village where the gentleman who taught her to weave baskets was from. A mini cruach was attempted. Much to the hilarity of those who know how to build a proper one.



During August, we shared the Purvai South Asian Arts Festival from An Lanntair with several sessions involving Tabla drumming, Kathak dance and some intergenerational working with Grianan and Solas. We shared the festival in several care centres and in hospital. We even did a little DriveTime radio session with Pearse on Isles FM.

We have been working on our Dark Skies wall hanging at Harris House with Chris Hammacott. The residents have talked at length about views from windows out across bays, where fishing boat lights could be seen and conversations between boats and the harbour team heard from tuned in radios on the windowsill. Tilly lamps were very much part of night time memories, in the window, seen from inside or outside. Chris came along to a planning session with a mood board and some textures, fabrics, and we have been making recordings to install in the completed piece. The hanging will be installed around December and there will be an event around the Dark Skies festival in February 19.


The Tuesday ceilidh happens every week at Western Isles Hospital. Alzheimer Scotland have created a lovely film about the event, which you can see here. Over the Summer into Autumn, we have taken along the Purvai festival event with Kanchan Maradan, a sewing box event with Chris Hammacott, Louise Davidson, a dancer, one of our funders, Lesley Galbraith and the handling collection of the Barvas Ware. Alzheimer Scotland has also created a film about their community cafe sessions, which we are featured in as we frequently offer arts opportunities at these cafes.

The Life Changes Trust Gathering is on 10th December in Perth, if anybody would like to come with us. DEEP gatherings happen several times a year as well.

Next year, we are planning an entire year of photography. We will be calling upon several people working in photographic arts and print making to support a year of photographic discussion and intergenerational exploration as a community. This will culminate in the Eyes as Big as Plates international portrait photography project, which was first featured in our Cuimhne exhibition.

So that’s it for the Autumn newsletter, there will be a new one as we head into winter – please look out for our events relating to completing the Barvas Ware project with a beach firing day and a 3D printing session at the library. There will be an exhibition of completed pieces too. The ceilidh trail will be starting up shortly, so there will be a planned series of events across all of the islands coming up, in collaboration with Ceolas in South Uist.

Just a little footnote – there is an online course on arts and dementia with futurelearn that I’ve just completed. It has a lot of university research content and content from people living with dementia. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in dementia and the arts.


From crofting to crafting

With loss, isolation and loneliness being the focus of Cianalas, it made sense for the first event I coordinate for this project, to be in my home area of North Lochs, Isle of Lewis.

Research has indicated that loneliness and isolation at times hasten the onset of Dementia. In the Western Isles we have an aging population in a rural area, with little social interaction now a days, for a generation which grew up, in and out of one another houses. In a close knit crofting community where labour, troubles and sorrow were shared.

But in 2018, isolation could be a result of losing a long term partner, ill health, living with a younger generation who do not have the crofting lifetime and lifestyle experience, or those being removed from the familiarity of their first language. I often hear “Chan fhaic mi duine a bhruidhneas mo chànan fhìn rium”.

I could think of many people I knew who could benefit from a monthly social gathering, but how to reach them?

There are many community centres on the island which are not being used as a centre for the community. This is due to many reasons. The North Lochs Community Centre at Creagan Dubh, Leurbost is accessible and available.

How to reach out to people who are isolated? By definition they do not see many people in a week, or don’t do social media. Co dhiù. ’S e obair latha toiseachadh. Perhaps word of mouth will be the best way.

Having a gathering in a local centre mid-afternoon to reminisce, dabble with some hand crafts and have some entertainment goodness me…to a crofter … unthinkable!

But life has changed and thinking outside the box is what island life has to be about now. I realise it will take several monthly events, to formulate and define the monthly gathering, for those behind the just ajar doors.

At the first event we had yarns, a laugh or two, and lots of new information about people and things. Euan the museum officer brought some pottery, made in Barvas a long long time ago. One of the items looked like a flat. This brought back memories of the teapot with loose tea stewing on the stove all day and the cailleachs cooling the liquid and drinking out of a flat.

This prompted the story of a cailleach who was allocated a flat on Murray Place. The cailleach who lived in the top flat was very house-proud and hoovered all day and all night.

The first floor cailleach sent a letter to the Council, “Can you take Mrs MacRae off the top of me and put her on top off someone else”

The next event is planned for Wednesday 19th September at 2pm. Spread the word, all ages welcome to come and share new interesting things happening locally.

by Maggie Smith

Colourful image by Mairi M Martin Photography

Barvas Ware and Incomers

The theme of incomer was prominent this week, both because the ridiculously talented Alex Boyd published my portrait with my husband online as part of his series on the contribution of incomers to the islands but also because I was working with the amazing Jana on the Barvas Ware Project this week. Jana is originally from Germany (as is Alex, coincidentally) and one of the themes from documents Euan, Development Officer for Museum Nan Eilean, shared with us was about Barvas Ware latterly being made for anthropology tourists.

Purvai has also been a big feature with the Colin Mackenzie link with India, and the wonderful arts festival at An Lanntair. Much of the past fortnight has involved sharing Kathak dance from Kanchan and Tabla drumming with Dal across care and day centres.

Many of the older people we have been working with are not native to the islands, having moved here for work or family support at some point. None of us this week, not even those born here, had seen or experienced Barvas Ware before this project and we have all been able to explore and learn about it together.

Two people from the Barvas area attending the day centre, were able to give information to Euan about the pottery during handling sessions three weeks ago, which was very exciting.

Jana has a beautiful approach to language, learning Gaelic words as we go along from older first-language Gaelic speakers. We talk about techniques, first trying a pinch pot and then moving on to coiling. ‘You sausage it’, she explains.

‘I love the way you use sausage as a verb’, I smile.

Jana laughs, ‘sausageing, yes!’, as she demonstrates how to smooth the coils together. ‘You don’t press it, that compresses the clay, you just go up and down with your fingers.’

‘I’m not artistic at all’, confesses Bella, who is ninety and sculpting a plate with her bare hands in Raku clay.

‘I think that everyone is artistic and creative,’ says Jana, ‘maybe somebody at school, maybe one teacher, told them they aren’t creative, or not so good at this or that but we are all creative in different ways.’ I completely agree. We all decorate our homes and choose what to wear and how to have our hair. And being ‘good’ at something can, I think, mean eagerness to explore and learn about the medium.

Jana talked about Raku clay with us, how it features tiny pieces of fired clay, which strengthen the object when exposed to extreme temperatures and stress in open fire firing. She explains that the Japanese Raku technique also includes shocking the fired clay in cold water, and that Barvas Ware technique involved milk glazing, for the fat to seal the porous, fired surface.

Jana talks about her failures with exploding pieces in her fire but that it can be avoided if there is no air or gaps in the piece and if all of the areas on a piece are approximately the same depth. ‘But I was able  to use the broken pieces for my own Raku clay so it wasn’t wasted.’ she laughs.

We came up with some authentic Barvas type shapes and some experimental sculptures as part of three sessions in two care homes and a day centre. All three settings had enjoyed a visit from Euan with the Museum Barvas Ware handling collection recently, so we had all experienced the authentic pieces in advance.

We tried out the distinctive, decorative patterns with cutting at the edges and made plates, bowls, milk jugs, cups and teapots. ‘Did you know,’ asks Jana, ‘that Barvas Ware teapots had no useful spout?’ as she creates a beautiful, usable spout on her own, creating a flower of toothpick holes through the clay, where she attaches her spout. ‘A teapot is one of the hardest things to make, getting the proportions right to pour liquid out of the spout neatly. Our tea sets and mugs are mostly made with plaster moulds and slip clay, a wet clay mixture, now. Then you can reproduce a good design over and over again. This is too hard with hand building. A good ceramicist can do quite a good job but it will never be quite the same.’

Jana also talks about the tourism aspect of the pottery. ‘You can tell it was made for tourists if it wasn’t usable as a teapot.’ This corroborates Euan’s thoughts on the sugar bowl being unlikely to be in general, crofting use on tables in homes at that time, and that it was more copied from English designs for the tourist trade, a far removed piece from the original croggans, used as practical vessels for holding and transporting food, perhaps soup for lunch.

The rest of the Barvas Ware project will involve a community making day or two at the museum, a library 3D printing session, digging some authentic local clay and remaking Barvas Ware pieces with that and firing the completed, air dried pieces in a peat fire on a beach.

Rachael Thomas and Helen Pickles, current and former staff at the Highland Folk Museum have written informative blogs about Barvas Ware and the re-making of it on their High Life Highland blog and are generously supporting us with their knowledge as we navigate our re-making.

Donald Angus, staff at Solas Day Centre, followed what the clay wanted to do and folded it on to itself, creating a Barvas Pasty, much to the amusement of the group. ‘I’ve learned so much about clay today!’, he says, grinning.

We had some fantastic sculptural explorations of the clay, too.

New Lochs Social Group

I’ve been living on Lewis for four years now. It’s not an immense island but there are still tucked away villages that I haven’t yet discovered.

I thought that Leurbost was largely in the area (from Stornoway) turning right after the cottages past the garage opposite the school but no, there is a turning further up on the left, which offers some breathtaking views over the hills, even on a wet day, and hosts a lovely community centre hall.

Maggie Smith had booked the hall for the purposes of starting a new social group to help tackle loss, isolation and loneliness, one of the key themes of our BIG Lottery funder, and important for our work with Life Changes Trust, too.

Maggie welcomes us all with a warm greeting and an explanation of the project and funders ‘It’s really an excuse to get together’, she smiles, before introducing us all.

Chris Hammacott demonstrated block print work on to fabric, we heard all about the glorious yellow Austin Seven outside, Roddy talked about how he came by his 1920 melodeon and played and sang for us and Euan, Museum Development Officer, shared the wonderful Barvas Ware handling collection with us all.

Roddy told several hilarious stories about how Gaelic speakers struggled with English after moving to Stornoway and he sang local songs alongside adapted versions of more National/international songs. He played a beautiful medley of traditional songs too.

There was gorgeous home baking, which ten of us enjoyed along with the music, the artefacts, the print making and at the end, we had a closer look at the glorious, sunshine yellow car.

Mairi took photographs to record the event.

The next session is mid September Weds 19th. All are welcome, bring a friend or neighbour and it’s free. We will have Mhairi Law with us in September, print making cyanotypes and offering photography support for our walk.