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!