Wednesday, 31 December 2008
I would like to wish all my customers a
Happy New Year.
I have been spending the holiday season away from the sewing machines. Mostly I have been in "domestic mode" cooking meals for millions of people, changing bedsheets for the constant stream of overnight visitors etc. But in between all that, I have been sitting a the computer working on the new Anna Macneil catalogue for 2009. I hope to have it completed within the next two or three weeks when it will be uploaded to the website. This year it will be in two different formats - an interactive one which you can explore within your web browser and a simpler one that you can download and print off.
Prices are having to go up - the cost of Harris Tweed has risen sharply over the last year and my other costs are rising too, so I can't absorb these increases. However, until I get the new catalogue completed, you can order at 2008 prices.
The photographs are of a scarf I made recently. It is hand made felt made as a lattice, with the fringe tassles incorporated into the felt. I made a matching scarf ring which fastens with a small magnetic catch, and also a co-ordinating brooch. More details will be on the website soon.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
We are well into winter now and today there was a reasonable snowfall - enough to give us the chance to get good photographs of a wrap we made recently that has a real Christmassy feel to it. This wrap is made of a length of Harris Tweed that has a red warp and green weft and the appliqué on the silk-lined patch pockets is red tweed stitched with green thread. The wrap costs £52 and can be bought through my website : Anna Macneil. The hat Mary is wearing is our Anna style - a warm headhugger designed to keep you warm in the harshest of weather and also available from the website. For items ordered as Christmas presents, I am offering a gift-wrap service where I can send the parcel direct to the person you are buying it for to save time and save you postage - UK postage is included in the price. For overseas postage please email me for a quote, but it usually only adds a few pounds to the price.
The cats were intrigued by the snow and came into the garden to help with the photography session. Mungo was not particularly adventurous today - just wanted to be kept warm - but Maggie got quite brave with her attempt to walk across the frozen pond.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
This has been enabled through an Act of Parliament and will be an official authority on the subject of registered tartans - and also where one has to apply to in the future to have a new tartan registered.
Since I was going to a posh function in a posh place, I decided to treat myself to a new posh frock! It is ages since I have made myself anything smart to wear - too busy making things for other people! The invitation said Dress : tartan - so I thought I better make it a tartan dress. The main fabric is plain red wool and the tartan appliqué is the Morrison Dress in the modern colours - hard to see in the photograph, but it is red with checks in bottle green, black and white. The stitching is bottle green to match the tartan. The dress is fully lined and very comfortable to wear. It attracted lots of favourable comments - of course it would have looked much better on someone who is 6 inches taller and 6 inches narrower!
I was invited to the function because I am a member of the Scottish Tartans Authority - a very useful resource for me in my ecclesiastical work where I use so many different tartans. The most recent stole that I have made was using the Clergy tartan. A telephone call to the STA provided the information that the Clergy tartan is unique in being the only profession specific tartan. The motifs on this stole are based on some ancient artefacts associated with the two parishes served by the Church of Scotland minister who commissioned it. The chalice design is from the St Angus stone in the Church at Blaquidder (of Rob Roy fame) and is known as the Cup of Salvation. The crozier and bell are relics associated with St Fillan - an 8th century Irish saint who travelled widely in Scotland and is associated with the minister's other parish - Killin. The crosier and bell are on display in the National Museum of Scotland. When I was working on the design I had to work from photographs and sketches that I had been given, but since I was in Edinburgh, I took the time yesterday to visit the museum and see the pieces for myself - very impressive and interesting, well worth the visit.
Craft Fair this weekend - 29th and 30th November 2008
If you are in the area, come along to Brodie Castle for a Victorian style Christmas Fair. I will have my "Anna Macneil" stall there - and will probably be wearing my new dress! I will have bags & purses, hats & scarves, wraps, wallhangings and cushions for sale as well as our very popular Shetland Angels. So - if you live within shouting distance, why not come along and do all your Christmas shopping!
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Our location for this session was the shoreline between Invergordon and Alness in Ross-shire just 40 minutes drive north of Inverness. We will get the good photographs from Martin in due course, and they will be put on the Anna Macneil website. In the meantime, here are a couple of pictures that demonstrate what my very versatile daughter can do besides sewing and embroidery - like climbing trees and clambering over rocks!
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Over the last few days Mary and I have been busy making wraps for two shops. As the sun was shining today we took a little while off from sewing and went down to the Ness Islands to do some photography. Pictured here is one of my new designs - knotwork with little spirals in some of the spaces. You can see some of the other photographs that we took by visiting our website - Anna Macneil. Some of the wraps have been sent to the Braemar Highland Heritage Centre and others will shortly be winging their way across the Atlantic to Texas where they will be on sale at Things Celtic in Austin.
Friday, 29 August 2008
Left you can see the handbag, which also has a large velcro closing pocket on the back (below) and another velcro-closing pocket inside.
While playing with designing this bag I allowed myself to be diverted and experimented with making a zipped wallet. I made a zip-pull to match the button that closes the handbag. I shall have to experiment a bit more with this as the idea works well. I can see a range of bags with zip pockets appearing in our range in the near future.
To see our current range, download the catalogue from our website at Anna Macneil.
The folding shopping bag was designed for my mother. She wanted to have something that could fit in her handbag when not in use, but be completely secure after she had filled it up with shopping when she comes across to Inverness for the day. As it is made from Harris Tweed, it doesn't fold flat, but it does tuck up into a comparatively small space.
The bag stays folded by means of a magnetic catch at either end of the top zipper panel - keeps the ends of the zip neat when the bag is in use as there are corresponding catches on the sides of the bag. The handle straps are long enough to allow the bag to be carried on the shoulder, but short enough to make it easy to carry as a shopping bag.
As the bag is fully lined, with a stiffened base and embroidered on both sides, this would not be a cheap bag to make on a commercial basis, but if someone is willing to pay £65 I can make it in whatever colour and design is wanted.
The computer bag has a foam padded lining to keep the laptop safe, with inside pockets to hold all the extra bits and pieces such as charger, mouse etc. The shoulder strap can clip on and off making it easier to stow inside a larger bag when flying.
The portfolio bag is simply an extra-wide shoulder bag such as the one you can see on my website, with the addition of a flap over the top and fastened with a magnetic catch to keep the bag closed.
If you have a need for a specialised bag, let me know and we can see what we can come up with!
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
I have tried three different methods with the one design. Left and middle, a very thin layer of orange clay was cut on the laser cutting machine and the pieces laid onto a brown clay base. One is the negative shape, the other the positive - so no waste! In the middle button, there is a middle layer of marbled brown and beige clay between the orange and brown clays. For the button on the right, there is an engraved line as well as the cut lines, to create the border which shows the "unders and overs". Once the pieces were all in place, the triangular shapes were cut with a tissue blade. I laid the buttons upside down and fixed brass button backs in place with a small ring of clay before baking in the oven. The technique needs a bit of refinement, but I think it has potential. In due course, some of these buttons will appear on my bags, but I think there is too much work for it to be generally cost effective - most of the buttons will continue to be simple marbled colours and hand-shaped.
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
June started off with Highlands Open Studios week - not a resounding success in terms of visitor numbers, but enough to keep me occupied, and most of the time the weather was kind. As I was working in my "studio" in the garden making felt, that was important. I got some good pieces made that week. Some of them are now on display at the Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness and others at Morven Gallery on the Isle of Lewis.
During that week my mother went into hospital to get a new hip joint, so a lot of the rest of June was taken up with looking after her, but late in June, my sister took her home to Lewis and last week I went over there myself for a few days. I am pleased to report that the operation has been a resounding success.
While on Lewis I took the time to find out for myself what is happening in the Harris Tweed industry. As Harris Tweed is the main ingredient in my work, it is important to know what is going on. The good news is that the mills at Carloway and Shawbost are both fully operational - the bad news is that they have so much work trying to keep the big customers supplied that they have not got stocks to sell to people like me - but it will come in time. At the moment I have plenty of stock, so there is not much of a problem just now - just one or two colours that I am running low on.
These next two months are going to be non-stop work trying to get current orders met and build up enough stock to see me through September when I am off to Australia for 3 weeks.
Saturday, 31 May 2008
I will be working in my "studio" in my garden along with painter Liberty Bligh. This will be an opportunity to indulge myself and concentrate on the textile art side of my work rather than the more routine things. I have a selection of our "Anna Macneil" range of products on display as well as many one-off pieces.
Visitors will have the opportunity to play chess or draughts with my large tweed & felt sets. Also on offer is the chance to try your hand at needle-felting or simply to watch me at work.
Today I am planning to weave the fringing for a stole commission. The fringe is constructed using a miniature peg-loom weaving technique that allows me to create a bullion style fringe that matches the tartan used for the stole - in this case, the Orkney tartan.
For more details of my ecclesiastical work visit my website - Ecclesiastical Embroidery.
So I am off outside now (a cold damp, misty start to the day - let's hope it improves!) to set up the signs to direct people to my studio. Do come and visit if you can. If you can't manage to visit in person, visit the relevant websites to see my work.
Friday, 9 May 2008
However - it won't be all play. I am in the process of creating an itinerary for giving talks and workshops. If you would be interested in hosting me to give a talk while I am there please get in touch. At the moment I have firm commitments in Adelaide for two talks and a workshop over the weekend of 18th to 21st September. I will be in Sydney for the week 8th to 12th September, with the wedding on the 13th, so if you know of a group in that area, let me know. So, at the moment, the available times for traveling beyond Sydney are 14th to 18th and 22nd to 25th, then on 26th it is homeward bound and no doubt back into the rush of orders for the run up to Christmas.
For more information about talks and workshops that I offer visit the website. For those in other corners of the world, or indeed much nearer home, if you want to book me to do a talk, I am open to offers - but for September, the offers have to come from Australia.
Our new floral designs proved popular and the corset belts were a huge success. My waist is considerably wider than it use to be, but even on me, it was enough to attract a lot of attention with a couple of bespoke orders as well as some orders for shops.
Now we are busy filling all those orders we took at the show and there are going to be several more retail outlets selling our things. As we get the orders out to shops I will add them to the "shops" page on our website. New venues include Aultbea in the north west and Banchory and Braemar in the east. A consignment of belts has already gone over to Belgium, another order is being delivered to a local shop tomorrow morning and I envisage it being non-stop work from now till the end of the summer!
However, just because we are busy shouldn't prevent you putting in an order - 24 hours a day is a flexible concept!
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Two weeks ago we had snow on the hills - a thick blanket of white making the landscape wonderful. It was followed by a few days of glorious sunshine that was definitely T-shirt weather and my workroom was like a sweat-shop with the sun streaming in the window. However, it did get us busy with producing more of our Moor & Machair designs for the family business, Anna Macneil - you can see examples of the new purses and cushions on our website.
Now we are back to snow again........ although the fall last night has melted away here at sea level, I suspect the hills are covered in white.
After a few days of spending time at the computer - designing and then putting information on the website, I decided that the time had come that I really did have to create a better work space for the computers. I work between two computers because I like using a Mac for all my design work, but I need to use a Windows platform to run the embroidery machines and laser cutting machine that allow me to translate my ideas into the pieces of art and fashion accessories that earn my living. So yesterday was spent clearing everything off the two make-shift desks, vacuuming in spaces that had not seen a hoover in a few too many years, cutting a board to size and shape for the space for my new desk and then working out again which wires went where to re-assemble the computers. They are now both up and running again and I have a nice continuous desktop that holds both computers plus scanner, graphics tablets, telephone, etc. The only problem is that there is a rather large pile of paperwork - un-opened credit card statements and the like - that needs to be sorted through! Which of course is why I am sitting here typing rather than doing what I ought to do!
Another thing that re-surfaced in the tidy-up was a book - GoLive Classroom in a Book. The intention is that I learn how to build a website myself rather than working from a template designed by my husband, He is very obliging, but of course, when you are getting something for nothing, you tend to go to the bottom of the pile compared with the paying customers. He has set up a holding page for me while I work out how to best present things - so you can visit and bookmark the site for future reference. http://www.ruth-black.co.uk
The aim of this new site is to give me space to show things that are one-off art pieces rather than the commercially orientated fashion accessories or my ecclesiastical work........... Things like my "Standing Stone" - a full size, free-standing interpretation of the Aldbar stone in Brechin Cathedral - an ancient Pictish sculptured stone with a lovely intricate knotwork and key pattern ringed cross. In this new website I hope to provide photographs of exhibtion work, down-loadable books that have accompanied my previous exhibitions, information about talks and classes and generally what I am up to in the way of textile art. So, watch this space......!
Thursday, 28 February 2008
I also took the time to visit an old favourite of mine - the museum's display of the Lewis Chessmen. This is a collection of chess pieces believed to be 12th Norse that were found on the Isle of Lewis in the early part of the 19th century. I spent a lot of time in the museum photographing and drawing some of the pieces.
A number of years ago I made a chess set with an embroidered Harris Tweed "board" and solid hand-made felt pieces. A glimpse of this set can be seen on my website. Now I want to try and make a similar sort of thing, but having both board and pieces based on the Lewis Chessmen. Many people have made reproductions of these wonderful characters, but I have never heard of a textile version. There are several technical problems that I have to sort out, to say nothing of finalising the designs, so it could be a long-term project. In the meantime, if you would like an embroidered Harris Tweed chessboard with 4cm squares and hand-made felt drafts pieces let me know - cost is £65 and for this you get something that is decorative and unique. Or if you are a serious collector, you might like to purchase my big chess set at £800. Let me know and I will send photographs.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
I will be there on stand K2 - with a good view out the window towards the surrounding countryside.
That's what I said a few days ago, but the show organiser has had to make some changes to accommodate more exhibitors who are wanting smaller stands. So - yes, I will still be there, but instead of the nice view out of the window, I have to content myself with a good view of the door! My stand number is B2, just inside the entrance to the Osprey Arena so you can't miss me!
Any buyers out there who want to stock our products, come along to the show. You can pre-register at the Aviemore Trade Show website, or if you contact me ( email@example.com ) with your details I will post you a buyers invitation. Please be awared that this show is for trade only and proof of trading will be requested. If you can't make it to the show, email me for details of our range and a wholesale pricelist.
I am often asked what it is that makes a fabric Harris Tweed.
Harris Tweed is known across the world as a hard-wearing woollen fabric traditionally used to make mens' sports jackets, but there is a lot more to it than that.
Certification is managed by the Harris Tweed Authority which is based in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. To qualify as Harris Tweed a cloth must meet the following criteria:-
- it must be 100% pure new wool.
- all the wool must come from
- all parts of the process of making the cloth (cleaning, carding and spinning the yarn, preparing the warps, weaving and finishing) must be carried out in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
- the cloth must be hand-woven at the weaver's own home.
- it must meet the quality requirements set by the HTA.
Hand-woven is a bit of a misnomer. It really means that the weaving must be done on a loom that is powered by the weaver - no electrical or mechanical powering. There are two types of loom commonly in use for weaving Harris Tweed. The traditional Hattersley loom is used for making the single width tweed (75cm). It is powered by two foot pedals that get pumped up and down. In recent years many weavers have moved over to a rapier loom so that they can produce double width cloth (150cm) . This type is also operated by foot pedal, but in this case they are rather like the pedals on a bicycle and it is not quite such physically demanding work as the Hattersley loom. In both types, the pattern is controlled by means of a chain with different holes that give instructions to raise or lower the 4 heddles.
The main weave patterns used are either a simple twill or a herringbone although other weaves are used for some tweeds. When these different weave structures are combined with varying colours of yarns arranged in different patterns it means there is an almost infinite variety of tweeds available.
Traditional earth-toned colours tend to be what springs to mind for those who don't know much about Harris Tweed, but there are tweeds produced across the whole spectrum, from pastels to brights, from neutral colours to vivid rainbow shades. There are lots of plain self-coloured tweed produced (twill weave) as well as patterned, but "self-coloured" is another misnomer. The wool fibre is dyed prior to carding and spinning. Different qualities of fibre pick up the dyes to a greater or lesser extent and these will all be mixed in together in the final yarn. Also, small amounts of other colours will be added to the mix for carding so in any given tweed you will find at least 4 or 5 different colours and shades of fibre. (To see what I mean, look at the photographs on the HTA website.) For example, a green tweed will likely have blue, yellow and brown fibres along with 2 or 3 shades of green. These mixes make for very lively looking fabrics - nothing "flat" about Harris Tweed.
We try to keep about 100 different colours and patterns in stock at any given time, but this stock is constantly changing. We tend to buy fairly small quantities of each colour so that we can give our customers lots to choose from, but that does mean that repeats are not easy. We are unlikely to be able to match anything that is more than a couple of years old. In addition, last year a Yorkshire company bought up the main mill on the islands - Kenneth Mackenzies and they are now only producing tweed for making up their own range of clothing. As many of our plain tweeds came from there, we are now having to source elsewhere. Fortunately, this change of direction opened the way for two other mills on the Isle of Lewis to re-open under new managements - Harris Tweed Textiles Ltd and Harris Tweed Hebrides. Both these companies are now catering for makers such as myself and new colour ranges are coming on stream.
There are also several independant weavers and whenever possible I try to source tweed from them. My next trip across to the islands is likely to be in early April. I go mainly to visit my mother, but we both really enjoy visiting the weavers and mills and selecting tweeds - it feels like Christmas when we get back to her house and start opening up all the gorgeous tweeds we have found. My appliqué technique gives me lots of scope to team up different tweeds - whether I go for tone on tone or strong contrasts, the scope is endless and exciting. Look through our website and you will get an idea of the range of colours. Or download the catalogue and browse at leisure - in the introduction you will find out a bit more about Harris Tweed and see a photograph of a small selection of the tweeds from a previous shopping trip.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
A low sun causes difficulties for me. Yes, my workroom (my "sweatshop"!) is lovely and bright, but the screens on computers, sewing machines and embroidery machines are much more difficult to see. I find myself sitting at awkward angles and squinting. However, we see little enough of the sun through the winter that I am NOT complaining!
We had a very productive day today (does sunshine speed us up?) with Mary making up several shoulderbags and me making lots of silk-lined tweed scarves. The scarves all have to be pressed and have the fringed ends brushed and trimmed, but we are well on the way to completing the next big order. These will all be winging their way to Iona Abbey for sale in the Abbey shop.
The Isle of Iona was the base chosen by St Columba when he came to bring the Christian message to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland over 14 centuries ago. The island hosts an impressive collection of Celtic sculpture some of which has provided inspiration for some of my Celtic designs.
The island is also a typical Hebridean island with regards to its flora. This year we are developing a new range of designs to complement the Celtic designs for which we are well known. This new range is called "Moor and Machair". Most people think of moorland as rather bleak and barren with little more than miles of peat and heather, but it plays host to a wealth of beautiful flowers such as the heath spotted orchid, tormentil and bog asphodel. Machair is the Gaelic name for the sandy fertile grassland found between the beautiful sandy beaches for which Scotland is renowned and the moor. In summer the machair is ablaze with colour from swathes of flowers such as birds' foot trefoil, red clover, lady's bedstraw and harebells. In our new embroidery designs we are taking these tiny flowers, analyzing the structures and developing designs that are large enough for the detail to be easily seen. So far we have designs for the wild rose, Rosa rugosa, harebells, Campanula rotundifolia - often called a bluebell in Scotland - tormentil, Potentilla erecta, bog cotton and bogbean. Have a look at the website to see some examples. More designs are being developed but it takes time to do the drawings, transfer them to the computer, digitize the embroidery instructions, test them out and then actually make them up into things that people will want to buy. If you have a favourite that you want us to work on, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, 10 February 2008
The particular examples of my work on display are two very different Celtic Cross wallhangings and a priest's stole.
One wallhanging is a knotwork cross created using an inlay technique from hand-made felt and embellished with beading and free motion machine embroidery.
The second wallhanging is made from Harris Tweed and is based on the ancient St Martin's cross on the Isle of Iona. It is made using applique and machine embroidery, with and fringe along the bottom edge made of hand twisted tassles.
To see other examples of my wallhangings, visit "Anna Macneil"
The stole is a green stole with embroidery over the entire surface. The embroidery is a knotwork design that has small crosses formed by the spaces in the knotwork. This interlace design is made with tartan (Scottish Odyssey) and the stole is lined with the same tartan. It has a hand woven fringe along the bottom edges - or at least it will have when I've finished weaving it!
To see other examples of priest's stoles, visit "Ecclesiastical Embroidery".
Today I have been working on another stole - a commission. I have got all the embroidery done, but now have to weave the fringe and do all the hand stitching.
Friday, 8 February 2008
In 2007 stained glass artist Gail Steele of Half-A-Moon organised a new event to help address this problem. At this show you will only find products made in Scotland - no far east imports, no tat.
The show is aimed at anyone with a retail outlet selling quality gifts, art and crafts. It attracts buyers from all over the world who are looking for things from Scotland as well as Scottish buyers looking for stock for local shops. It is a trade only show, not for the general public
Many of the exhibitors are showing for the first time. Others have been around for many years, but they will be bringing exciting new ranges to the show. If you are interested either in exhibiting or visiting as a buyer, take a look at the website : www.aviemoretradeshow.co.uk
I will be there on stand K2 - with a good view out the window towards the surrounding countryside ready to take orders from people who are looking for Scottish products that are:
- designed and made in Scotland
- by a Scot
- to designs inspired by Scotland's history
- using fabric that is woven in Scotland
- from wool that comes from Scottish sheep!
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
I am an embroiderer / textile artist. I have three main themes to my work:-
Ecclesiastical embroidery - visit http://www.angelforce.co.uk/pp/vestments/index.htm for more information.
Celtic & Pictish inspired embroidery - visit my main website http://www.annamacneil.co.uk/pp/ to see the range of things that I make along with my mother and daughter in this 3 generation family business
Feltmaking - I don't have a dedicated website for this, but you can see some examples of what I do on the Anna Macneil site - http://www.annamacneil.co.uk/pp/felt.html
My aim is from time to time to post accounts of anything new or exciting that I have been doing - today was a bit tedious, as I spent the afternoon modifying a purple altar frontal for our church - the Church of St Michael & All Angels, Inverness - so that it is easier to put on and off. Tomorrow is the start of Lent, for which the liturgical colour is purple, so it had to be done today. Well - it should have been done last week, but I didn't get round to it till my husband threatened to make the alterations with drawing pins and sticky tape!!!!!!!!!