Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Hats and scarves - good in the snow

It is a long time since I have had time to post, but I am making the most of the relative quiet of the Christmas holidays to catch up.
We have now had snow lying for ten days - and I really can't remember when we last had that, I am sure it must have been last century!
We have been out in the snow taking some photographs our our hats and scarves. These are designed to keep out the Scottish weather so this is ideal weather to show their worth.
Our hats and scarves are made of Harris Tweed which is handwoven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In this picture you see George and Catherine with their dog Fly playing in the snow in our back garden. Catherine is wearing a "Mairi" hat - a traditional bonnet style and George is wearing an "Angus"-the style most favoured by men. Both are wearing fleece lined embroidered scarves.
In the next photograph, Mary is sporting our "Peggy" hat - a flat Harris Tweed crown teamed with a padded polar fleece band designed to sit snug around the head keeping your whole head warm and cosy.
We do several other styles of hats and we can make them in just about any colour. To order visit our website at

Friday, 22 May 2009

Highlands Open Studios Week

From 30th May to 7th June I will have my feltmaking studio open to visitors as part of the Highlands Open Studios event. For this 9-day period, artists of all varieties will have their studios open and will encourage visitors to come and see them working.

I am joining forces with jeweller Valerie Ford and between us we will have lots of wearable art for sale. We will also be offering drop-in and booked tuition in our own fields. Both of us are happy to discuss commissions in addition to our current stocks of unique pieces, so if you are in the area, why not look us up.
If you want to book a workshop session please email me (for feltmaking) at or Val (for jewellery making) at

Saturday 30th May and 6th June - 10am till 4pm
Sunday 31st May and 7th June - 1pm till 4pm
Monday 1st, Tuesday 2nd, Wednesday 3rd and Friday 5th June - 11am till 6pm
Thursday 4th June - 11am till 8pm

The photograph opposite shows one of my visitors enjoying himself at a previous drop-in feltmaking session.

For information about other artists in the scheme, visit the Highlands Open Studios website.

To see my full range of fashion accessories visit my main website - Anna Macneil or to see my ecclesiastical work click here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Making a mannequin - Part 2

On Tuesday I spent the day in the garden making - and more or less finishing - the mannequin. I got the arms attached using a combination of wire, bits of pipe and a lot of needle felting. Then it was a question of wetting down, laying on the fleece, adding lots of soap and then rubbing, and rubbing...........and more rubbing. It took all day and my arms were aching by the end of it, but I do now have a mannequin that I can use for displaying my wares at the Aviemore Trade Show. She needs a little bit of attention in one or two areas where the fibres have not adequately covered the form, so I will need to do some judicious needle felting. I also have to give some thought to whether to give her a skirt, and if so, what do I use. I have two weeks to make a decision as that is when I have to get the car packed up and take everything to the show.

My older granddaughter (aged 11) has christened her "Effie". In this photograph she is still drip-drying, and three days later the tips of the fingers still feel a little damp.

Mary and I have been busy making all the things we need. Every time we think we are succeeding in building up stock, another order comes in and we are back to square one! The last two days have been spent with the embroidery machines making fleece-lined scarves, some with Celtic knotwork designs, others with floral designs. I have added a new design to the range - the heath spotted orchid - Dactylorhiza maculata subsp ericetorum - and I will adapt the design to put it onto a buttoned bag.

It being Easter weekend, I will take the next couple of days off, and then it will be a question of burning the midnight oil to get everything done on time.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Making a mannequin

In four weeks time I will once again be exhibiting my wares at the Aviemore Trade Show. This is a trade only show for crafts and gifts made in Scotland and has everything from soaps to ceramics, greetings cards to textiles, jewellery, glass and too many other things to mention. If you buy for a retail outlet that wants to promote the best of what Scotland has to offer, this is a show not to be missed - see website for details -

For years I have been struggling with how best to display the Harris Tweed wraps that we make. They look best on a person, but are not really practical to keep on for the duration of the show - far too warm! So, the next best thing is a mannequin, but that is not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, nice ones are very expensive. Also, they are too tall, and so make the limited stand space feel too full. And none of them could be positioned just the way I want.

In January, on a visit to a shop-fitters outlet for a few bits and pieces of display material, I spotted a polystyrene body form reduced in price because of slight damage. I have now attached a polystyrene head and covered the two in icewool prior to making a felt covering.

Today I spent the day in Dingwall at the Highland Feltmakers Group and have made a pair of arms using a combination of wire, polyester wadding and gloves and covering them with merino fleece to make a felt covering.

I am aware that my mannequin may be a bit out of proportion - I think the arms are from a slightly miss-shapen anorexic, while the body is quite generously proportioned, and the head is tilted at a slight angle. So that it doesn't look like a factory reject, but something individual and quirky, I am adding all sorts of interest in the way of embroidered "jewellery" and felted "tattoos". It remains to be seen how it looks when finished, but I am pleased with today's results - see photograph below. In the photograph the arms are still very soapy (particularly the left one), which is why they look so patchy. At the moment the arms are sitting on a rack in the porch at he back door, dripping soapy water all over the place.
Of course, if I was to add a figure for my time into the equation then this will work out as a rather expensive mannequin, but I can guarantee that nobody else will have one the same!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

More ecclesiastical embroidery

I have just finished a commission for a family in America who asked me to make a set of four stoles that they wished to donate to their church in memory of their parents. The family roots are in the county of Sutherland in the north of Scotland and they wanted something that would reflect this.

After discussions by email we fixed on using the one design for all of them, but using 4 different tartans to go with the liturgical colours - white, red, green and purple.

I have used two clan tartans - Buchanan (white stole) and Cumming (red stole) - as these are the family names. The other two are the Sutherland District tartan (green stole - tartan worn by the Sutherland Highlanders regiment) and Scotland Forever (purple stole - a modern tartan inspired by the legendary war-cry).

The design itself reflects the family origins, with the cross in the centre at the back of the neck based on the Clynekirkton Pictish cross-slab which was found in a village just north of Brora and is on view in the Dunrobin Castle museum.

In due course the photographs will be posted on my website. In the meantime, I have to get on with the next commission - a deacon's stole using the Isle of Skye tartan - and then a Cornish tartan stole to head "down-under". And of course, I have to carry on with all the secular work - wraps, scarves, bags, purses, cushions and wallhangings. Just as well my mother is able to carry on making the hats!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Learning to sew

My younger granddaughter, Lauren, had her 10th birthday recently. I had promised to give her sewing lessons as a birthday present, and these lessons have happened over the last few days.
She chose to make a dress to wear to the school disco which is happening on Thursday evening. Fortunately, this has been the mid-term holiday weekend and the girls have been off school for a few days. We bought a pattern and the fabric last week and got it cut out after school one day. Then on Sunday afternoon she stitched together the various pieces that made up the yoke. Today she hand-stitched the yoke facing and the side seams of the dress, followed by putting in the sleeves and stitching the hem - all done and looking pretty in pink!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The frozen north!

For the last few weeks there have been reports of severe weather in Britain, but for most of the time it passed us by. Inverness is in a very good position. Being on the east coast of the country it benefits from the rain shadow created by the mountains, making it quite a dry climate. However, in it's position at the top of the Great Glen (Loch Ness and the Caledonian canal) it also gets a funnel of comparatively warm air that is normally associated with the west coast.

On Wednesday last week I travelled across to the Isle of Lewis to visit my mother and buy more Harris Tweed. On the drive across to Ullapool to catch the ferry I had to stop every ten minutes or so to clean the windscreen as the washers were frozen and salt spray off the road was making the glass very dirty. This photograph was taken on one of those stops, just a few miles before Braemore Junction. All the lochs I passed were frozen all the way across - something which we have not experienced for many years.

However, by the time I came home on Saturday it was raining and most of the snow and ice seemed to have gone, although as it was dark by the time I got off the ferry, I didn't get a clear view.

My tweed buying was very successful and I have lots of new tweeds for you to choose from - more or less any colour you want - so have a look at our Anna Macneil catalogue and see what you want.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

2009 catalogue now available

January is almost gone - much of the month has been spent creating a new catalogue which can be seen on our Anna Macneil website. The catalogue is in two formats - both pdf. One of them is a fairly simple version that will print out easily and should download quite quickly. The other is an embedded pdf. When it works it is very straightforward, with links to each page to make for easy navigation, but I have discovered that browser embedded pdf files are not supported by the Mac version of Firefox, so my apologies if this is your preferred method of web browsing. It's my preferred method, so I am very dissappointed that it doesn't work! If anyone reading this can offer a work-around I would be pleased to hear from you. In the meantime, if you want to see this version I can email you the pdf to open within Acrobat Reader.

I am working on the ecclesiastical side of things at the moment - four stoles (the photograph shows the work in progress) will shortly be heading across the pond to the USA and then I have to start work on some for down under. In amongst all that, Mary and I are busy building up stock ready for the tourist season.

Did you know that this is Scotland's year of Homecoming? Those with Scottish connections are being encouraged to come and visit, with lots of major events planned - see the Homecoming 2009 website for more information. One of the plus points of our current recession is that the pound's value has slumped, making a trip to Scotland much more affordable for those in foreign parts.

If you can't afford to make the trip in person, you can always buy something from Scotland! Our products are just about as Scottish as you can get. Not only are they made by Scots, in Scotland, using designs inspired by Scotland's history and landscape, but they are made from Harris Tweed which is hand woven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland with wool from Scottish sheep!

In February I will be taking the ferry across the Minch to the Isle of Lewis to visit my mother and buy more tweed. So if you want something in a particular colour, this is a good time to tell me - email me your request at