Donna takes us behind the scenes of her new woven throws and cushions, inspired by childhood memories of her most treasured place, Pennan.
The Pennan throws and cushions are woven in the UK, in a small mill in Bristol. Made from 100% lambswool, the Pennan design is based on traditional handwoven weaving techniques, and is inspired by a small Scottish fishing village on the Aberdeenshire coast near where I grew up.
A village frozen in time
Pennan is a unique place. Nestled into the surrounding cliffs, it can never get any bigger. It seems to have been frozen in time. My grandma used to take me there as a girl, and we’d spend hours walking along its long pebbly beach, collecting stones and sea glass worn smooth by the waves and exploring the abandoned fishing boats. Even now, Pennan is my most treasured place. It feels so remote, a million miles away from the chaos of London life!
Fruits of the Sea
The Pennan design, with its exaggerated floats and strands of chunky wool, is reminiscent of the sea’s waves, and its muted shades of green and yellow are inspired by the beautiful colours of the landscape of North East Scotland.
Pennan is also the village where the film Local Hero was shot in the 1970s. It’s a story about a rich American oil company employee who is sent to a fictional version of the village, Ferness, to buy up the town for his company, spelling the end of traditional village life.
We’re very happy to announce that the Aberdeenshire Tartan is now complete! You may remember reading about the start of this project in one of our earlier blog posts here.
Commissioned by the Aberdeenshire Council for the Be Part of The Picture Project, the new Aberdeenshire tartan was designed by Donna Wilson with the help of local schoolchildren of the county. The children were asked to present the colours they felt best represented their area of Aberdeenshire.
With these suggestions, Donna designed Aberdeenshire’s new tartan featuring colours that draw directly from Aberdeenshire’s rich natural surroundings as well as elements of their cultural heritage, and which is completely unique to its namesake!
The colours that are featured in the tartan are: Old Meldrum – A gold/copper inspired by the stills at the Glengarioch Distillery, and as one pupil point out- it’s also the colour of whisky! Stonehaven – A pinky red seen in Aberdeenshire sunsets, and a colour often spotted at the infamous ‘Aunt Betty’s’ sweetshop in Stonehaven. Aboyne – A frosty lichen green found in the Ladywood Forest. Fraserburgh – A lilac/blue symbolising the seas and skies around Fraserburgh. Kintore – A forest green from all the woodlands around Kintore. Harvest – A barley colour that reminded Donna of the farm where she grew up, and her favourite time of year. Peterhead – A minty green from the seas and sea spray of Peterhead.
Here’s a great video about the project, put together by the brilliant creative team Oliver’s Island, who accompanied Donna on her visits to the schools and the mill.
As a Scottish designer who grew up in Aberdeen, Donna feels very honoured to have been asked to design this very special tartan.
She adds: “Tartan is such an important part of our tradition and heritage, and we should never lose that. I hope to be able to make a difference to the manufacturers who will be weaving it and create something that will be a lasting symbol of Aberdeenshire.”
Donna is proud to be involved in the Be Part of the Picture project as it a program about celebrating the strengths of Aberdeenshire and showcasing the region as a place of beauty. The programme uses cultural and economic development projects to engage with local people and boost the sense of pride in Aberdeenshire’s communities.
Donna is pictured above with Aberdeenshire Provost Jill Webster in the Banffshire Journal.
We’re proud to say that the tartan is woven in Scotland and is now available by the meter, as well as in two very special scarves hand-finished in Donna’s London studio.
If you have ever wondered how tartan is made, here are some photos of a mill I visited this week in Scotland. I love visiting factories, and most of these mills have amazing clanky old Victorian machinery that still work, so many skilled workers, and lots of colourful wool!
Designing a tartan is something as a Scottish designer I’m very honored to have been asked to do, especially for my home county. So where do you start?…. (above are two drawings of tartan by pupils at Old Meldrum Primary school.)
A little bit of background: I’ve have been commisioned by Aberdeenshire council as part of they’re placemaking project which aims to change the way Aberdeenshire is seen by communities, visitors, and businesses alike. Their programme, titled Be Part of the Picture, will showcase the region as a place of beauty, quality and innovation, using a range of creative engagement projects to explore all that Aberdeenshire, as a distinctive area in its own right, has to offer.
My job as a designer is to design a brand new tartan that is completely unique and best represents Aberdeenshire, and to do this I really wanted the local community to be part of it. So I have been visiting schools and setting them a brief so that they actually choose the colours which are specific to their own area, then I’ll feed these into the design. The school involved are from all around the county : Aboyne School (Marr),Dales Park School (Buchan),Kintore School (Meldrum),Lochpots School (Banff and Buchan),Meldrum Primary (Garioch) and Mill O’Forest Primary (Kincardine and Mearns) and were chosen as they had very little visiting people to them.
The first part of the process is now underway, I did a little presentation to them about my own work and my journey from being at school myself to being a designer,then set them the brief. It was so refreshing working with kids, and everyone including the teachers were so enthusiastic. it was great fun, and I love the random questions that they asked me…. like have I ever made a panda hat? and what’s the most original creature I had designed? It did make me think we are far too inhibited as adults and worry about what others think too much, children just say what the first thing that comes into their heads, it is great!.
I have no idea what they will come up with yet as I’m still awaiting some of the colours, but the idea is that 6 schools, will go out, the photos of their area, really focusing on what is unique to their area, and then create a mood board. From that they have to really look at the colours that appear in the photograph and recreate them with paints. I wanted to encourage them to look with fresh eyes at their own countryside and environments, and think about colour. not their favorite colour, or colours they think things are, but what’s really there.
I have always bee inspired by colour, and having grown up in Aberdeenshire, I think it had a very special light, I wanted the kids to realise that skies are not necessarily blue, they can be pink or lavender, and trees are not a green straight from the tube they can be blues greys all mixed in together.
I will keep you posted on the next stage which will be gathering up all the colour, designing then having it made!
For more information about the placemaking project of Aberdeenshire go to http://bepartofthepicture.com/.
Last Weekend I went to Scotland to visti my family, and visited the Portsoy Salmon Bothy where my sister works. I met a lovely lady called Edith who knitted Fishermen’s Guernsey’s (fisherman’s sweaters/jumpers/jerseys!)
I was totally intrigued- these Guernsey’s take about three months to knit, because of all the different stitches and finest needles used. They are knitted on the round with three needles, and no side seams! Very dense and weatherproof.
Each Guernsey had different patterns depending on the wearer and which town they were from, some had marriage lines. I think the above one is a Portsoy patterns and the one below is Peterhead (could be wrong there)
Traditionally they had shorter arms, as the bottom part of their arms would frequently get wet with sea water, and they were longer than jumpers now, so that their backs wouldn’t get cold.
Here’s an old picture of the fisherman’s wives who knitted them whilst waiting for their husbands to come back from sea, they were knitted with a lot of love.
The also knitted thick long johns, with a piece of cotton stitched in around the top… I’d like a pair of these!
Edith does take on commissions, but not too many as they are a lot of work, but the good news is, she’s going to write a book about the history, the stories and tales and the knitting patterns. I’ll let you know when it comes out.
For more information about the salmon bothy go to www.salmonbothy.org.uk
I first met Elaine, when I was working on the beautiful Orkney Islands, for Scottish accessories company Tait and Style. Elaine was an out worker for Ingrid. When I set up my own company, I asked Elaine if she’d like any more work, and she enthusiastically accepted.
Ever since 2004 we have been sending Elaine packages of knitted fabric ( We still knit all the fabric for the creatures in the studio in London) and Elaine sends us packages of finished creatures. It’s always exciting to receive Elaine’s packages, normally in bags or odd boxes she finds around Stromness! She is so fast, and always makes the creatures so well.
Recently she began to count up all the creatures she has made over the years…… I can’t believe that there are 1451 Cyril Squirrel Foxes somewhere around the world! So we wanted to say a big thank you to Elaine, and all our other out workers around the UK- Kate, Gemma, Navida, Josie, Heather, Holly, Claire-Anne, Amy, Glendaveny Teddy Bears.