Deanston home of one of the Primary Schools I’m working with for A Kist in Thyme, is an old mill town on the river Teith, the mill which dates back to 1785 is now Deanston Distillery and visitor centre, but is still plays a very central role in the village, it’s vast rectangular structure dominates the dainty village and brings coach loads of visitors in, keen to sample the famous single malt.
As I said it’s not always been a distillery…for nearly 200 years the building was a cotton mill, manufacturing sheets and cotton lace.
But look a little further back and there appears to be evidence to suggest that even before the current building was built Deanston was still involved in the Scottish fabric industry, it seems to have started out in flax production, something that many people have told me isn’t true…but the distillery itself has evidence to the contrary…and it would make sense (more on that shortly) Perthshire the county the area borders grew flax successfully for a very long time.
The class I was working with on this occasion was a composite, as small village schools in rural Scotland often are…P4 to P7…around 18 children in total aged between 7 andf 12, they were a great group, really focused and interested. They were studying sustainability this term, so the villages connection to Scotland’s changing fabric industry was a really interesting subject for me and fitted in beautifully.
With the local connection to flax, this story was one of the first I used for this session, I augmented mine with folklore about witches counting flaxseeds before entering a house and poured piles of the smooth brown seeds onto the children’s table, but the story is so perfect for this session I left it very much as it is here and the website has a useful list of other resources: http://www.distributionaccess.com/new/pdf/P50172-029.pdf
Tobar an Dualchais has great archive material about the flax industry in Scotland, memories of the ‘retting pits’ sat alongside the story perfectly highlighting the inherent facts, bringing it home...http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/1543/10
It also gifted me fantastic flax based remedies from the fields of Perthshire from Betsy White who in this great archive recording talks about the traveller lifestyle and shares great plant based remedies: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/82053/29, we talked about the modern uses for flax as a digestive aid and passed around my granny’s linen tablecloth.
But when the mill was built the area moved away from flax embracing the new fashion for cotton…we chat about the reasons they may have done this and why it eventually stopped being economically viable…we ponder the import of fibres….I share the story behind my WWII silk parachute, silk imported from India, as cotton was for many years…
We look through fabric sample cards and i ask the question which fabrics offer a sustainable option, asomeone has spotted the nettle fabric, it’s unexpectedly soft and luxurious…
This leads me naturally to a third story I told…my favourite…Seven Swans, there is no need to retell it here….it is so widely known, but it also feels like my very own, it is one of my all time favourite stories and it’s a story that says so much…it makes me tingle and occasionally shed a tear as I tell it…I love that story.
Betsy White’s thoughts also include the use of young nettles as food, one of the foraged plant foods that my community groups have also mentioned, one lady also remembered hearing about nettle fabric as a child during WWII, she’d thought it was still used in Scotland (this is a memory I’ve encountered before in other groups), but now isn’t sure as she’d read it was German’s who used it…but whichever version is true nettles used in fabric, paper, soup and as a Spring tonic is something familiar to many of us and the children love the idea.
A lady asked me at the session with the Kilmadock Society the other week how nettles were prepared for fabric as she recalled someone trying to source 6 foot high plus plants for fabric making in the last few weeks and had thought now hers were reaching a peak she might give it a go…this lead me to research creating nettle fabric in detail and i found this great website; http://www.nettlecraft.com/, Ive ordered the book, but meanwhile I now knew what I’d long suspected nettles needed retting like flax….the children were interested in all this information, they quickly saw the connections.
There were thoughts on sustainability, on working with the things that naturally thrived in our environment, on shorter distances between suppliers, producers and consumers….we talked about specialisation and diversifying, about supplying small speciality high quality amounts of goods, one girl mentioned mthat maybe everyone just needed less of things…less waste she pondered would help.
We made our way outside….wrapping a box with recycled sari silk…ribbons from India…representing the journey made by fibres to the mill in a bygone age, the children took strips of paper, including strips of paper made from recycled cotton and with the aim of working on their own went and wrote a line or two, maybe their thoughts on sustainability, a short poem, their favourite story, a thought they would like to share about the session, there was no wrong answer, they were free to write..
the first children back helped me weave the box loom with barley to represent the present day distillery, we added some leaves and plants from the school grounds and then started to weave the paper slips, the words and thoughts in amongst the barley.
The end result was gorgeous…
I’m planning on putting this into a deep frame and keeping it, my hope is I can get further funding in order to display all these gorgeous creations and the Kist itself once completed into an exhibition accompanied by a small book.
If you are able to help to achieve this or would like to book sessions for your school or group connected to the project please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org