Spring newsletter


This is the Cianalas project An Lanntair newsletter for Spring 19

I’m Paula Brown

Purvai, drumming, singing and a potential new project
Since last summer’s Purvai South Asian arts festival at An Lanntair, where we toured festival performances around care and day centres, we have continued working with Dal on developing this work.

Best practice teaches us that doing something to or for people is not quite as good as doing something with people, so we developed the work into participatory drumming and singing sessions. The height of best practice is to facilitate work by the community, and when Gaelic speaking elders started leading the session with their own songs, we recognised the value of this work and we are actively working towards a new project along these lines.

Working with Lucy Robertson and Dementia Friendly East Lothian

Work funded by DEEP between two friendship groups in Lewis and East Lothian has continued this Spring. The Cianalas project is rooted in research this time and Lucy Robertson’s PhD research at Duncan of Jordanstone into textiles for wellbeing has brought us wonderful opportunities to look at personhood, our past, present and future through soft circuits and thermochemic inks. We are looking in to how we share what makes us unique and connected through creating books to share, filled with our new designs.



The Material Culture of Basketry, Bloomsbury

Our Woven Communities project work with Dawn Susan and Dr Stephanie Bunn has flourished into an academic book, which will be published later this year. Jon MacLeod and myself have each written a section of the book. It is called The Material Culture of Basketry and will be published by Bloomsbury.

Lewis Hou has been back

He held a well attended double session at Western Isles Library for Science Ceilidh and in collaboration with our project with Maggie Smith, fresh back from speaking for us at Skye at Aros with Luminate.

I had a lengthy Skype meeting with Erica on the Science Ceilidh team, to contribute to their evaluation.


Barvas ware

Beach firing day – Our Barvas Ware project in collaboration with Museum Nan Eilean and Western Isles Libraries had a paper kiln firing day on Bosta Beach. Ceramicist Jana Grimm joined us with Helene from the Library team.

For Dementia Awareness Week 2019, 3rd – 9th June, we will be showcasing some pieces of this work at An Lanntair.


BBC Alba news An La

In March, the BBC Alba team filmed us for an An La slot about our memory boxes in collaboration with Western Isles Library and Museum Nan Eilean. Maggie Smith worked with the box, talking about the project and the contents.

Aros on Skye for Luminate with Maggie

Maggie and I travelled to Aros on Skye to give talks on ‘what makes a good art project for older people and people living with dementia?’

It was a thought inspiring day with a great opportunity to catch up with the local Alzheimer’s Scotland and NHS team as well as local projects. Caroline Dear was exhibiting, so I managed to get a personalised Artist’s talk!

Maggie gave a wonderful talk about her cultural Gaelic project work, complete with scarves and we enjoyed a q&a time at the end, before meeting for dinner to continue conversations.

The event was supported by Luminate and we will be welcoming Luminate back in June, when we will have Eyes as Big as Plates on the island, as part of the Luminate festival.

DEEP gathering in Inverness is this weekend, on Sunday  28th April at Evanton Woods, our dementia friendly woodland.

In September we will be hosting a DEEP gathering as we did last April – let me know if you would like to attend. DEEP can be a friendship group gathering or it can be grass roots campaigning. If you have dementia and want to be part of a national network of friends, let me know.

Life Changes Trust local events

Aberdeen – the Aberdeen event was very helpful to start imagining what the Western Isles event might look like in September. Representation from local government, housing, police, local groups, services. It was an informative, inspiring and helpful day.

Life Changes Trust work began with a meeting on our event in September. Meetings in Benbecula mean spectacular flights! There will be a three day event across the Western Isles in September. Work on planning continues!

New Play Based on Research about Self Management for Dementia

Ron is creating a new play with support from  An Lanntair, Louise for dance choreography and Rachel for performance direction  – additional funding from DEEP has been awarded to support performance and set design. This play details Ron’s research project around AI and self management of dementia.

Ron’s research work features in the Journal of Dementia Care right now.


New Deep Ness Group

There is a new Deep group coming in Ness headed up by Ron Coleman,  with a jewellery making class and a tango class from An Lanntair.

Tuesday Ceilidh

As ever the hospital ceilidh continues each Tuesday. The Chest, Heart and Stroke Association have joined the partnership with NHS Western Isles, Alzheimer Scotland and An Lanntair Cianalas Project.

Lucy Robertson has been including the ward ceilidh in her sessions of intelligent textiles, including thermochromic ink and soft circuits.

Valentines – this ceilidh featured love poetry, roses and chocolate. We had heart shaped balloon decorations too. Chat was about love, marriage and sweethearts.

Dal & 3rd birthday

We had 20 people at the Tuesday Ceilidh 3rd birthday party this week! Dal offered a fusion of Gaelic and Swahili folk songs, with everyone offering their recollections of lyrics and requests for songs. Dal drummed to a waulking song and Mull of Kintyre, while we heard tales of singing men in Glasgow pubs, ceilidh gatherings at homes at 9pm until gone 1am the next day ‘and we didn’t mind getting up early the next day because we remembered the night before’.
Romantic lyrics were discussed, giving voice to all kinds of experiences. ‘you had one man for life’…… ‘there were sailors and when they were gone, we’d be cheating on them!’…. ‘you had to try them ALL out’
(Raucous laughter)
That was a party 🎈
with NHS Western Isles, Alzheimer Scotland – Western Isles, An Lanntair

Barra and South Uist

Duncan has been working on local music, singing and imagery, photography and reminiscence on Barra for us for almost three years. He is working on the Transport Memory Box and podcasts with the community now, as well as ceilidhs across Barra and South Uist.

We have also been linking our Between Islands work at An Lanntair with Sacred Heart Care Centre and the beautiful yarns and patterns between the two islands.  We have been working with traditional Shetland and Uist yarns and patterns and connecting the two communities through work and family ties.

Winter 18/19

Over the winter we offered several screenings and sessions around local crofting films

Celebrated the old new year at the museum on 12th January with Maggie Smith and Euan Macleod.

We worked with Dawn Susan and Dal over several sessions

Lots of ceilidh trail sessions and studio recordings of local village songs and tunes. CD and podcast will be available in the Autumn.

Coming in the Summer/Autumn:

Nevis Ensemble – live music at Western Isles Hospital, August Bank Holiday. Click link for Nevis Ensemble

Curious Shoes performances in care centres – click to visit the website  27th and 28th June

Eyes as Big as PlatesLuminate brochureportrait photography project and exhibition


Would you like to take part in one of our latest art projects and have your portrait taken?

Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing collaborative project by the Norwegian-Finnish artist duo Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen.

Over the course 27th of May to the 4th of June Riita and Karoline will be inviting older islanders to have their own outdoor portraits taken using the different landscapes and materials around them. If you would like find out about having your portrait done please get in touch with Jon Macleod at jon@lanntair.com

On Thurday the 30th of May Eyes as Big as Plates will be giving an artist talk in the community room at An Lanntair. The talk is free but booking is essential.

Luminate: Scotland’s creative ageing organisation

#creativeageing #anlanntair #luminate #festival #highlands #stornoway #olderpeople

DEEP gathering for summer on the mainland in June

DEEP gathering 10th/11th Sept in Lewis

LCT engagement and conference in Sept across the Western Isles 17th/18th/19th Sept.




Links and social media

Instagram @cianalas_an_lanntair

Twitter @dfclanntair

Facebook @cianalas

Deep website https://www.dementiavoices.org.uk/

LCT website www.lifechangestrust.org.uk

Big lottery website https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/funding/programmes?location=scotland

2018 Retrospective Newsletter and a look ahead to 2019.

Cianalas Project 2018 Retrospective Newsletter

Wasn’t 2018 a wonderfully creative and busy year? I was looking back over the year as a whole and thought a retrospective newsletter would be a good idea, together with a brief look at early 2019. I hope that this brings back happy memories for you and inspires you to enjoy more creative and cultural opportunities in 2019.


In January, Kate Macdonald was working intergenerational with Cothrom Og Nursery and Sacred Heart Care Centre to create a beautiful, hand made book with residents and children together.


She also offered regular sessions at Trianaid home and Margaret Joan MacIsaac worked at Taigh Chearsabhagh on tea and reminiscence sessions with Kate.

We shared some playful dance and cultural movement sessions with Maggie Smith and Tango Champion, Louise Davidson.

Also in January, we offered requested and well loved Guitar lessons for carers at Lewis Retirement Centre with Hazel Mansfield.


We were launching our Memory Box set at the time, with a viewing and handling session at Tarbert Library.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.58.42

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

Maggie Smith ran a Crofting Memories session in Harris with some artefacts, which we used to inform the Crofting Memory Box.

We offered Me Time craft sessions at Scalpay Community Centre.

On January 24th, Paul Thomas from DEEP presented thoughts and feedback from the Western Isles from people living with dementia at the Cross Party Group for Dementia at Holyrood.

Maggie Smith interviewed Angus Macarthur about his life working the land at Breasclete.

We put out an academic poster call for our Cuimhne event in April 18.


Tea and Reminiscence this month was at Griminish with Kate MacDonald, on a fishing theme to contribute to the fishing memory box.

Kate held a sing along and movement session at Trianaid with local music.

We held Art Ceilidhs and Me Time sessions at An Lanntair – Dawn Susan offered willow weaving and rope making this month.

We took a dance and cultural movement session to Leverburgh with Maggie Smith and Louise Davidson.


There were tea in the day room sessions at Benbecula hospital.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital. He also started working with a new Men’s group there.

We offered Me Time craft sessions at Scalpay Community Centre.

We held Art Ceilidhs and Me Time sessions at An Lanntair.

Lucy Robertson put out her pattern and a call for local people to make a sonic flock of birds for our Cuimhne event in April.

Basic bird pattern

We discovered that we were successful with project continuation funding in partnership from Life Changes Trust and BIG Lottery. The project is to focus on research in the next two years but much of it will look similar.

Tickets went on sale for Cuimhne.

Maggie Smith and I were working on a fortnightly ceilidh session at Dun Eisden care home, celebrating local knowledge in ceilidh songs, traditional songs, local versions of songs and occasionally some English verses and versions of songs. A plan is hatching around ceilidh work – more news later in the year.

We held a weaving session with dawn Susan in the gallery amongst Lois Walpole’s having Ghosts exhibition, which was related to using washed up rope to remake items.

Delivering completed cushions to Harris House


Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

We offered Me Time craft sessions at Scalpay Community Centre.

We held a family ceilidh at St Mary’s Hall in Griminish, with Ceolas and Tagsa Uist brought along so many people to enjoy the session. There is a film of this, which we commissioned Uist Film to make for us. Link here.

Hierarchy of best practice thoughts – what does best practice look like? 

Hierarchy of Best Practice

guitar classes

Planning the memory tree

March 20th easter ceilidh biscuits at the hospital

6th March, our Uists & Benbecula team attended Playlist for Life training.

The Life Changes Trust gathering was on 12th March and we attended, taking a stall.

Our Scalpay fortnightly sessions this month were Lino printing with Gill Thompson and sewing projects with Chris Hammacott.

On 19th & 20th March, Jo from Tagsa Uist came up to visit and tag along with us in our work.


We held the Cuimhne event at An Lanntair and Scalpay, plus the DEEP Gathering for Scotland. Video.

Cuimhne video by Kate Macleod

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

We held a day-long  Craft Fayre at Scalpay Community Hall, taking along the DEEP group to enjoy it, along with demonstrations and the opportunity to work with working Artists, and the Scariest Piper came along to play for us too.

Maggie Smith completed her wonderful Toil Injunn book, which is a beautiful celebration of Gaelic culture, as told by local people, with some wonderful images.

Spring flower arranging in Ness with Chris Hammacott

Jack and John playlist was launched – click the link below to listen to the podcasts on our Soundcloud – two engineers chatting about Yorkshire, life, engineering, war work and some unexpected twists! Jack is Jack Manchester and John is John Maher, VW performance tuning engineer, photographer and drummer with Buzzcocks!

Jack & John – new podcast playlist for #Cuimhne event

We offered a drop spindle spinning session at the Tuesday ceilidh at Western Isles Hospital on April 10th.

We went to Harris House on 9th April with Dawn Susan and her baskets.


We ran three sessions in one day with Scottish Ballet, which was a welcome challenge, involving work with a day centre and two care centres, collective dance, demonstrations and mini performances, talks and some live music.

Scottish Ballet three times in one day!

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

We framed Gill Thompson’s collograph prints made at Western Isles Hospital on Clisham Ward.

on May 29th, I took the wind cockerel from Cuimhne along to the ward ceilidh at Western Isles Hospital.

Mhairi Law_Cuimhne-31

We evaluated the Arora project and commenced work on the new Cianalas project.


Dementia awareness week – sonic flock tour, ceilidhs, sanctuary wallpaper installation at Western Isles Hospital, and the memory boxes were on display at Lews Castle.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

22nd June we took Chris Hammacott’s print making to North Tolsta with baking.

We went to the Highland learning event with Life Changes Trust and spoke about the project.


We began to share An Lanntair’s Purvai South Asian arts event across the islands this month, with Kathak dance on the hospital ward, with sessions in care and day centres of dance and drumming, Tabla and folk singing and storytelling about the event and how it led to Buckingham Palace!

We shared the Museum Barvas Ware Handling collection across the community and started to make our own versions in small community groups with Jana Grimm, even making a new 3d print version with the library team.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

We installed the memory tree at Western Isles Hospital sanctuary space.

Tuesday July 10th, we took Dawn Susan and her baskets to North Tolsta, to the Dementia friendly cafe with Alzheimer Scotland.

July 17th, we had a reminiscence session at the Tuesday Ceilidh on the ward.


In August, we started a new Social Group at Leurbost Community Hall, which we ran from August to December. Roseanne Macleod will be taking this forward as a regular craft group at Leurbost.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

August 14th, we took Kanchan Maradan to the Tuesday Ceilidh, offering a Kathak dance performance from Purvai.

on 21st August we accompanied three people from Lewis to the DEEP gathering event in Aberdeen over two days.


We learned that we were successful with two funding applications to DEEP, (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project), of which we are members as a community, through the project. A £2000 Influencing Grant to record live events and investigate broadcasting live and recorded events to more isolated members of the community. Plus a £7500 Working Together grant to work with Dementia Friendly East Lothian and Lucy Robertson, our recent PhD student from Duncan of Jordanstone. This new project will focus on building and maintaining friendships between the groups with intelligent textiles and digital technology. It will build on our previous Digital Dining work with the group.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

19th September was Lochs Social group.

25th September, Lesley from BIG lottery came along to the Tuesday Ceilidh and other sessions and Louise Davidson offered movement/dance.


Duncan took some time off for family caring this month

23rd October, Lewis Hou began his week long collaboration with us, starting at the Tuesday Ceilidh with a Science Ceilidh session, plus we held eleven more events by the end of the week.

Science Ceilidh week


17th October was Lochs Social Group


Between Islands work began in the community with a textiles project with Margaret Joan MacIsaac and a lady from Shetland, now living in a care centre in South Uist.


Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

21st November was Lochs Social Group


3rd December, we went to Leverburgh Home to share Dawn Susan’s baskets.

4th December was Gill Thompson’s Christmas wrapping and card printing workshop. We all enjoyed a festive lunch in the cafe bar at mid day.

5th December was Dawn Susan’s willow weaving course day to make festive decorations. Again, we all enjoyed a festive mid day lunch at the An Lanntair cafe bar.

We started recording Ceilidh Trail songs at Wee Studio. Podcasts available shortly.

On 10th December, Life Changes Trust held their gathering at Glasgow Concert Hall. We attended with two people from the Western Isles.

on 17th December, we held a festive planning lunch at An Lanntair for a family involved with the project, to look back over the year and to look ahead to 2019.

Duncan offered reminiscence, singing, traditional music and photography sessions at Cobhair Bharraigh and St Brendan’s home and hospital.

Also this year, some professional development:

Paula updated her Food Hygiene certificate to last for a further three years and completed an online course with Future Learn, written in part by people living with dementia:

Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives.


Thanks to you all

Thanks to every single person who has contributed their time and company to our sessions this year, to all of the much loved and dedicated An Lanntair team, to our partner organisations who work tirelessly for the community, to everyone who has read and shared our posts and tweets and to everyone who has volunteered their time and baking. You are all treasures.

Wishing you all the happiest of New Years and the very best of health for 2019.

Looking ahead to 2019

2019 Started right away with a session of Purvai with Dal at Solas then with Dal and Catherine at Leverburgh 3rd Jan

We have been looking at sock knitting with a lady living in a care centre in Leverburgh. We have been looking at heel patterns and yarns in particular, and we have a pattern for you to try.

Lochs Social has now moved to become a craft group with Roseanne Macleod.

Our Dark Skies wall hanging made by Chris Hammacott and the residents of Harris House is now in place, there will be events around this in February.


Barvas Ware work continues shortly with a firing session.

Our Ceilidh Trail continues with more Wee Studio recording sessions and community ceilidhs. The next community ceilidh is at Museum Nan Eilean, Lews Castle on the Old New Year 12th January, 2-4pm  with Euan and Maggie. Songs, stories, rhymes to welcome in the old new year.

Hospital Tuesday ceilidhs continue with support from us once a month.

Dawn Susan is at Solas and North Tolsta with us for Alzheimer Scotland on Tuesday 8th January and at Grianan that morning.

Duncan is working on a recorded interview with Murdo MacDonald about his life in the Merchant Navy.

There are film events at Dun Berisay and Blar Buidhe with Maggie Smith on Wednesday and Thursday 9th and 10th January.

On 23rd Jan, we are supporting a man living with dementia in Lewis to attend and speak at the Cross Party Group for Dementia at Holyrood, Edinburgh.

The last week in Jan, Lucy Robertson comes to the islands to commence work with our new Working together DEEP grant. This work has already started in East Lothian. She will be back with us at the end of March as well.

Mhairi Law_Cuimhne-130

In March, Paula and Maggie have been asked to speak at an event for Luminate, at Aros in Skye.

There will be a Life Changes Trust gathering in March, June, September and December in 2019, which we will attend – please let us know if you are interested in coming along.

There will be Scottish DEEP gatherings to attend in 2019, please let us know if you would like to attend any of those.

Sept 2019 -There will be a 3 day event with Life Changes Trust in Stornoway and Uist. Details will be announced shortly.

Bloomsbury are publishing a book entitled ‘The Material Culture of Basketry’, in which Jon Macleod and Paula Brown have written a section and submitted images about the project involvement with Woven Communities, in collaboration with the University of St Andrews.

Paula updated her Food Hygiene certificate to last for a further three years and completed an online course with Future Learn, written in part by people living with dementia:

Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives.


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.