Hand Memory

Hand Memory – Jon Macleod

We are almost one year into the project now and we have begun to make progress on what we have set out to achieve. As part of our remit for the Life Changes Trust we have been asked to look at ‘culturally specific memory’ and the role of an oral tradition in the delayed onset of dementia’. We have been looking at how we can work with oral memories that are specifically relevant to people living in the Western Isles and how those memories can be used as a tool in reminiscence sessions (for our travelling box scheme), as source material for local and national archives and as an inspiration for storytellers, musicians and artists to create new work in conjunction with people living with dementia.

Waulking tweed 3Waulking Tweed – Barra 1965 recorded by T.Knudsen (© School of Scottish Studies archive)

Another aspect of our recent work has been to look at ‘hand memory’. What remains in the ‘memory of the hands’ from a lifetime of use, once the memory of the mind may have become less reliable.

We have conducted sessions that recall common local work tasks from the past such as – net mending, spinning, weaving and preparing local delicacies and staples like herring.

hands 3Spinning and carding workshop – Harris house – Tarbert 2014 (© Jon Macleod)

These sessions also create haptic stimulation* (touch) a vital form of non- verbal communication that has the added benefit of creating a calming and non disruptive form of stimulation – like stoking an animal. This is something we are hoping to explore further in conjunction with academic research and practitioners using ‘intelligent textiles’. These are textiles that utilise a range of new technologies that can for example embed sound and light into fabrics that react in response to being touched.

hands 5Spinning and carding workshop – Harris house -Tarbert 2014 (© Jon Macleod)



Net mending workshop – Blar Buidhe – 2015 (© Paula Brown)



hands 8Setting nets – Lewis 2015 (© Jon Macleod)

We will also further explore the potential of Sensory memory, the memory of sights, sounds, taste and smell that allows individuals to retain impressions of sensory memory information long after the original stimulus has ceased.

 As part of our research into craft skill memories,  An Lanntair DFC have recently been part of a successful funding bid in a collaborative project with Dr. Stephanie Bunn at St.Andrews University and 4 Scottish Museums. Dr. Bunn has pioneered studies into basketry and weaving knowledge and techniques in her own research and as part of the ‘Woven Communities’ project **. This project fits in with our exploration into haptic stimulation and hand memory but also from the point of view of drawing on craft skills to elicit memories and life histories, and to explore their value in cognition, and how the value of an oral tradition in the community can provide another role for the elderly in those communities whose memories and memory skill is a valuable resource not only for their immediate community but for museums, archives, academics and contemporary craft makers. Also vital in this process is the database of photos, information and embedded knowledge contained within the local Comun Eachdraidh (Historical societies), Hebridean Connections digital resource and the extensive archive at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.

Weaving MarramPlad weaving with marram rope – Peninerine – South Uist – 1953 – W.Kissling (© School of Scottish Studies archive)

In particular we are looking at the memory, knowledge and techniques involved in the use of marram grass, in the making of baskets, rope and weaving in the Outer Hebrides. For example the Ciosan (a small, closely woven basket), Plata-Mhuilinn (a form of grain basket), Muran sguab (a small scrubbing brush) ***

Weaving marram grass

Rope making with bent grass (Marram) Peninerine – South Uist  1953 – W.Kissling (© School of Scottish Studies archive)


* The word ‘Haptic’ comes from the Greek ‘haptikos’ relating to the sense of touch

** http://wovencommunities.org/

*** http://wovencommunities.org/material/bent-grass-or-marram/

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