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    A Selection of Scottish Authors & Books for Christmas 2021

    How am I to sing your praise,
    Happy chimney-corner days,
    Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
    Reading picture story-books?

    (Robert Louis Stevenson – From A Child’s Garden of Verses)

    I could not have found more charming lines to introduce my new selection of books for Christmas than the above verses written by Robert Louis Stevenson in his lovely poem “Picture Books in Winter”. This poem appeared in A Child’s Garden of Verses  published in 1885 by the Bodley Head. It was written for children but no doubt it must also be very popular with their parents. ;-).

    Happy chimney-corner days !… that’s what I would like to wish you all, dear readers, for the next Christmas season, especially in those difficult times, full of dangers and uncertainties…

    So, let us try to re-enchant our lives with books! Once more, I’m going to share with you some of my favourite reads.

    Picture Books in Winter R.L. Stevenson The Bodley Head 1909

    I have in my library the 1909 edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses. This wonderful “picture book”  was published by The Bodley Head and illustrated by Charles Robinson.

    My old little book contains many children’s scribbles on its pages which adds a charming touch to it;-). Objets inanimés avez-vous donc une âme ? On its front page the last stanza of  another poem entitled “To Willie and Henrietta”  has been written in a beautiful handwriting and dated January 1910.  It reads:

    “Time was,” the golden head
    Irrevocably said;
    But time which none can bind,
    While flowing fast away, leaves love behind.

    I’ve made some research and found a few touching notes written by Stevenson’s wife Fanny about Willie and Henrietta who were two of Stevenson’s cousins.

    In spite of the many days and nights passed in the “Land of Counterpane,” and shining, perhaps, all the brighter by comparison, there were brilliant episodes of play that remained clearer in my husband’s memory than almost any other part of his life. He was especially happy in the companionship of two of his Edinburgh cousins,—Willie and Henrietta Traquair. As a little girl Henrietta already showed the characteristics that were her charm in womanhood. Never quarrelsome, and always cheerfully willing to take a secondary place, she nevertheless made her individuality felt, and threw a romantic glamour over every part she assumed. Even the wicked ogre, or giant, she endowed with unexpected attributes of generosity, and her impersonation of a chivalrous knight was ideal. When I last saw Henrietta, a few years ago, we both knew that she had but a little while to live, but the undaunted light in her eyes seemed to say:—

    “Must we to bed, indeed? Well then
    Let us arise and go like men.”

     

    A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson aged seven

    Robert Louis Stevenson   is one of the greatest and most famous Scottish writers and second to none to make his readers dream and share adventures. Choose any poem, tale, short-story or  novel by this great poet and story-teller… they are all an  invitation au voyage..

    Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes Robert Louis Stevenson 1879

    By the way, Stevenson was a great traveller. He travelled all over the world and did write many travel books, a few of them situated in France which he loved much. Indeed my favourite travel book is Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). This is a very moving book and I have several editions of it, in English and in French. We dream to follow “Le Chemin de Stevenson”

    The Chemin de Stevenson (GR 70) is a popular long-distance footpath in France that approximately follows Stevenson’s route as described in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. There are numerous monuments and businesses named after him along the route, including a fountain in the town of Saint-Jean-du-Gard where Stevenson sold his donkey Modestine and took a stagecoach to Alès.

    I’ve already read a number of Stevenson’s books but I’m very happy to know I still have so many to read ;-). Robert Louis Stevenson was a very prolific writer and though he died young he wrote a great number of books, in many different genres. Adventure books, fantastic stories, local tales… a very interesting illustrated little book devoted to Edinburgh entitled Edinburgh Picturesque Notes, my edition being dated 1903.

    So far, my favourite books are three of Stevenson’s most famous novels :

    • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
    • Kidnapped (1886) –
    • Catriona (1893) which is a sequel to Kidnapped.

    I’m also particularly fond of Stevenson’s tales and short stories. I will mention The Bottle Imp  a free online ezine for scholars and students of Scottish literature, produced by ASLS (Association for Scottish Literary Studies). I used to subscribe to this magazine a long time ago and I’m going to subscribe again now

     

    Robert Louis Stevenson – Photographic portrait c. 1887

     

    It is interesting to note that among Stevenson’s Scottish literary friends there was J.M. Barrie and Andrew Lang, two great Scottish writers. I think I have most of their books in my library, “picture books” for some of them. As you can see  “voilà de quoi occuper mes longues soirées d’hiver à la campagne ! ;-). I couldn’t live in a house without books…

     

    Books: a never-ending quest !

    My last post was devoted to the 100 th birthday anniversary of George Mackay Brown, “The Bard of Orkney” born on 17 october 1921 in Stromness, Orkney. I’ve already written several posts about the great Orcadian poet, my favourite Scottish author. Several books were published or re-published for GMB’s 100th birthday anniversary. Among them Christmas Stories which contains :

     

    Many book covers of GMB’s books are beautiful. This one, sober and colourful, makes no exception. It contains a very interesting introduction written by William S.Peterson who happens to be the creator of the extremely interesting website George Mackay Brown: A Bibliographical Study of a Twentieth-Century Orkney Writer

    Each of the stories contained in this book are pure literary jewels, crystal-clear writing. Mr Peterson’s has deliberately chosen ‘A Child’s Christmas’, an autobiographical story, to begin the book for it contains precious keys to understand all the stories contained in the book, also much of GMB’s work and his conversion to Catholicism.

    “In the autobiographical essay (its title deliberately echoing Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child Christmas in Wales’) that opens this collection of Christmas stories, George Mackay Brown recalls the heavy hand of Presbyterianism on Orkney during his childhood: ‘no images or candles to brighten the the dark time,’ ‘no crib in the kirk,’ ‘ no pubs where the old seamen and fishermen could go and tell their winter stories.’ Yet despite the laments on other occasions about his ‘Knox-ruined nation,’ still haunted by a grey Calvinism, Brown was delighted to witness, during his own lifetime, a gentle revival of traditional Yule festivities (…)”

    (William S. Peterson, Washington, DC, July 2020)

    Yesterday night, I re-read three of my favourite stories (but I do love them all): ‘Anna’s Boy’, ‘The Last Island Boy: A Story for Christmas’, ‘An Epiphany Tale’, and I discovered a new one :’The Old Man in the Snow.’

    I refrain from quoting Mr Peterson’s whole introduction as it is so interesting but I invite you to read it as well as the wonderful stories included in this book. I also highly recommend Winter Tales (see the beautiful covers!) published by John Murray in 1995, only one year before the poet’s death. It also contains a wonderful foreword by the author: ‘It was in winter that the islanders gathered round the hearth to listen to the stories… A tongue here and there was touched to enchantment by starlight and peat flame...’ Certainly GMB had been touched by such magic light…..

    George Mackay Brown Winter Tales two covers

     

    Inspiring writers :

    Robert Louis Stevenson and George Mackay Brown are among the most inspired and inspiring writers I’ve ever read… but Scotland has given birth to many a talented writer. Among them, I’ve just re-discovered Neil Gunn… also a very prolific writer whose writing evolved over time as it is very well explained in the remarkable introduction of Landscape to Light.  I have not yet read the afterword.

    A whole shelf of my library is devoted to Neil Gunn’s books. Only two of his books have been translated into French: The Green Isle of the Great Deep published in 1944 and translated into French in 1992 under the title Verts abîmes and The Drinking Well published in 1946 and translated in 1949 under the title La source d’eau vive…  It must be very difficult to translate such a beautiful, poetic prose.

    On my already long list of books to read in 2021-2022, I’ve added Verts Abimes, Neil Gunn’s French edition of The Green Isle of the Great Deep, and La source d’eau vive, the French edition of the  The Drinking Well which I’ve just bought on Abebooks. Other books to read soon : The Other Landscape (A young Scottish anthropologist has been asked to find out what he can concerning the origin of a very odd and disturbin manuscrip submitted to an English friend of his who edits a literary magazine…) and Butcher’s Broom a book I’ve already begun on the subject of the Highland Clearances.

    Landscape to Light Neil Gunn

    To one who has wandered about the Highlands of Scotland most of his life, it is difficult all in a moment to say, ‘This is my favourite bit.’ After a long spell on the East Coast, to go by Invermoriston and Loch Cluanie to the shores of Loch Duich is to emerge into a new world that the blood knows as immemorially old. On the treeless plain of Caithness, one can see the pines in the gorge on the way to Gairloch; by the gaunt rock-bound shores of the north-east, the islands and anchorages in the Wester Ocean. (…)

    Perhaps the deciding factor in this matter of choice is an irrational one, irrational in the sense that it has little to do with anny scheme of preference involving explicit aesthetic or material considerations. This my corner of the Highlands, here my earliest memories were formed, and so, for better or for worse, richer or poorer, I stick by it. It is the way the blood argues. And it itself it is perhaps not a bad way, for it springs out of affection and loyalty. (…)

    (Landcape to Light– ‘My Bit of Britain’ – Neil Gunn)

     

    A collection of essays that reflect the development of Neil Gunn’s mental landscape from a keen observation of the land and people he loved.

    Although Neil M. Gunn is well-known as one of Scotland’s foremost writers of the 20th century, he is less well-known as a perceptive and meditative essayist who wrote on a variety of. In this collection the focus is on landscape and the stimulus it provides for a journey of an enquiring mind from the observation of everyday life to a state of self-realisation. The essays mark the route. For example, in The French Fishing Smack there is a sense of freedom that only the sea can give; in The First Salmon a primal sense of adventure captivates; The Heron’s Legs cannot but engender a sense of wonder and Light is a signal that the inner journey of the spirit has all but ended. Products of the uneasy and uncertain 1930s, the Second World War and the Cold War, the essays lead not only to a more imaginative and enlightened way of looking at life in troubled times but also to a greater understanding of the mind of this profoundly thoughtful writer. They can be understood as a miniature biography of the writer himself in terms of being a series of moments of revelation and delight experienced during walks in the countryside, fishing expeditions and chance encounters with people and books. Covering 40 years of the writer’s life, the essays show that the ideas derived from them evolve rather than change; there is always a sense of movement. In the later essays it is the smallest social entity of all, the human psyche, that fascinates Gunn and becomes the essential ingredient in the search for self-enlightenment. Encounters with Zen Buddhism and other disciplines and philosophies were to reassure him that he had been moving in the right direction throughout his life.

     

    It was a small hotel with eight or nine bedrooms and loch and sea fishing, the kind of place that had the same guests season after season.

    Johan, the table-maid…

    The landlord…

    I was placed at a small table in a corner of the dining-room and had to look over my right shoulder to command the main table with its party of nine. That table was like a small outpost of empire where they just stopped short of dressing formally for dinner…

    (The Other Landscape– Neil Gunn – Faber & Faber 1954)

    Scottish folk tales, myths, legends…

    Since I was a child I have always loved  books of contes et légendes and I remember how happy I used to be when I came back from our local library with a promising pile of illustrated volumes. The book I remember most is Contes et légendes de l’Egypte anciennepublished by Nathan. I think I still have it in my library but it must be still in the boxes. We’ve many books of folk tales and legends in our library, from all French regions but since our first journey to Scotland in 2000 our collection of Celtic and Scottish folk tales, myths and legends has never ceased to increase… a little bird tells me that Legendary Scotland could well be put under the Christmas tree ;-). In the meantime I have to make do with the few pages displayed on The Scots Magazine website 😉

    Legendary Scotland – Myths, Folklore & Unexplained Events – The Scots Magazine 2021

    Much of Scottish mythology was imported by settlers arriving from across the Irish Sea, and so Scottish mythology in large part shares its characters and tales with the mythology of Ireland, from the Ulster Cycle featuring Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, and the great hero Cúchulainn, to the adventures of Fionn mac Cumhaill. But Scotland also possesses its own folklore and tales featuring kings, water spirits, selkies, sea monsters and fairies, not to mention some Arthurian myths native to this land.

    From legends of witchcraft such as ‘The Brownie’, to ghostly tales of the dead arisen (‘MacPhail of Usinnis’), this entertaining collection gathers the ancient myths and fairy tales featuring all manner of creatures into a uniquely Caledonian set of stories.

    Did you know about Loch Ness Monster’s cousin Morag, that is said to live in Loch Morar? Or that Beira, Queen of Winter, uses the Corryvreckan whirlpool to wash her clothes? Discover the legends that lie hidden in the glens of Scotland with this book of fascinating myths and legends.

    Take a journey through Celtic mythology and local folklore, from powerful goddesses to lingering spirits, and from malevolent fairies to the monsters that guard the Highlands.  The award-winning team behind The Scots Magazine have dug deep in their archives from 1739 to bring you these mysterious tales from across the country.

    Here are two pages displayed on The Scots Magazine website…

    Scottish Myths Jane Jackson Flame Tree Publishing 2020

     

    In addition to the age-old mythology that Scotland shares with Ireland, the rugged landscapes, lochs and glens of the Highlands and Islands in particular are home to a rich heritage of storytelling, with tales featuring shapeshifting water spirits (kelpies), skin-shedding seal-folk (selkies) sea monsters and fairies, not to mention romanticized historical legends featuring such figures as Bonnie Prince Charlie. From the Gaelic heroism of ‘Conall Cra Bhuidhe’, tales of changelings and ghostly hauntings, to traditional fables and sagas of unrequited love, murder and rescue (‘A Legend of Invershin’), this entertaining collection is a uniquely Caledonian set of stories. (From the back cover of the book)

    My family is well informed 😉 and I was very happy to receive Scottish Mythsfor my birthday together with a lovely silvery bookmark figuring a thistle. The book contains many interesting stories, exactly the kind of stories to be read by the fireside but my birthday falling in August I didn’t wait for winter to read the book 😉

    • Introduction to Scottish Myths (quite interesting)
    • Heroic Mythology
    • Tales of Fairy Folk
    • Spirits, Monsters & Ghostly Tales
    • Animals & Fables
    • Historical Legend

    Each section of the book begins with a small introduction separated from the stories by a lovely celtic design. Some stories are very short and you can choose to begin your reading wherever you want in the book 😉

    Ghost Stories

    Inheriting the tradition of Hugh Miller, the nineteenth century folklorist and stonemason (whose own haunted life is the subject of the opening chapter), James Robertson has, where possible, researched the original or oldest written source and visited the site of each story to compile the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of the Scottish supernatural. Some of the stories gathered here are deservedly famous, such as those associated with Glamis Castle or the tale of Major Weir, while others (‘The Deil of Littledean’ and ‘The Drummer of Cortachy’) are less familiar or even contemporary accounts related to the author personally – but all are equally intriguing and fascinating reflections of the culture and period to which they belong.

    Neither a wary sceptic nor a fanatical believer, but an advocate of the validity of individual experience of the strange and unexplainable, James Robertson’s Scottish Ghost Stories is an imaginative and chilling recasting of an established Scottish ghost-hunting and story-telling tradition – a homage to the particular mystery and character of a land which continues to produce ghosts whether from den to glen, Highlands to Lowlands, Catholic to Protestant.

    Several shelves are dedicated to ghost stories in my library. Today, I’ve chosen James Robertson’s Scottish Ghost Stories. I really liked Chapter One: ‘Haunted Genius: the Strange Case of Hugh Miller’. Another great Scottish writer. The visit of his native place in Cromarty left us with unforgettable memories.

    James Robertson (born 1958) is a Scottish writer who grew up in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire. He is the author of several short story and poetry collections, and has published six novels: The Fanatic, Joseph Knight, The Testament of Gideon Mack, And the Land Lay Still, The Professor of Truth, and To Be Continuedand News of the Dead published in August 2021…. The Testament of Gideon Mack was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.

    Robertson also runs an independent publishing company called Kettillonia, and is a co-founder (with Matthew Fitt and Susan Rennie) and general editor of the Scots language imprint Itchy Coo (produced by Black & White Publishing), which produces books in Scots for children and young people.

     

     

    Recently published novels – Entertaining and thrilling reading for Christmas

    Tales for Twilight offers a spine-tingling selection of unnerving tales by writers from James Hogg in the early eighteenth century to James Robertson, very much alive in the twenty-first. Scottish authors have proved to be exceptionally good at writing ghost stories.

    Perhaps it’s because of the tradition of oral storytelling that has stretched over centuries, including poems and ballads with supernatural themes. The golden age was during the Victorian and Edwardian period, but the ghost story has continued to evolve and remains popular to this day.

    Includes stories from Sir Walter Scott, George Mackay Brown, Muriel Spark, Margaret Oliphant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Guy Boothby, Algernon Blackwood, Eileen Bigland, Ronald Duncan, James Robertson and Ian Rankin.

    Verity is embarking on a better-late-than-never gap year now that her sons have flown the nest, and dreams of turning a lifetime’s hobby of knitting and crocheting into a profitable new enterprise at Lerwick Manor’s gallery.

    Nessie has returned to Shetland after two years spent retraining as a blacksmith on the Scottish mainland. She’s determined to do whatever it takes to reignite the traditional craft and prove that gender is no obstacle taking on her family’s heritage.

    Isla is fresh out of catering college, but she is desperate to prove she has what it takes to run Lerwick Manor’s artisan café. Focused on perfecting her grandmother’s traditional recipes, Isla has no time for anything else – especially not her pesky ex.

    With the island’s Yule Day celebration fast approaching, it’s the ideal moment for their crafts to shine. But they can’t do it alone – and their friendship might turn out to be their greatest creation yet…

    Iain and Margaret have told us so often about the Shetlands that we dream of going there one day. Now, alas, it has become a dream, simply to travel… so, in the meantime I read books about the Shetlands. I’ve become an armchair traveller! I’m reading From Shetland with Love at Christmason my kindle. It’s quite entertaining. The perfect remedy to morosity!

    It’s 1968, and the fishermen of Kinloch are preparing to celebrate the old New Year on the twelfth of January. The annual pilgrimage to the Auld Stones is a tradition that goes back beyond memory, and young Hamish, first mate on the Girl Maggie, is chuffed that he’s been invited to this exclusive gathering – usually reserved for the most senior members of Kinloch’s fishing community.

    Meanwhile, it appears that the new owners of the Firdale Hotel are intent upon turning their customers teetotal, such is the exorbitant price they are charging for whisky. Wily skipper Sandy Hoynes comes up with a plan to deliver the spirit to the thirsty villagers at a price they can afford through his connections with a local still-man.

    But when the Revenue are tipped off, it looks as though Hoynes and Hamish’s mercy mission might run aground. Can the power of the Auld Stones come to their rescue, and is the reappearance of a face from Hoynes’ past a sign for good or ill?

    I’ve just downloaded A Toast to the Old Stones. I’m looking forward to read it and to discover its author Denzil Meyrick who is very popular in Scotland, especially for his crime novels.

     

     

    The cover of Bothy Tales immediately caught my eye…  the lovely little house, called a bothy*, with its lighted windows, the dark blue forest, the moonlight atmosphere and the backpacker probably very happy to have found a shelter after a long day of walk in the mountains attracted me at once and after reading the extract of the book on Amazon I downloaded it on my kindle. So far I’ve just read the 1st chapter but it rang a bell. The first story begins : It’s been raining for four days now. Martin and I are saturated. Water has seeped through every layer of our clothing. The arms have fallen off my Pac-A-Mac and my overtrousers are split. I have no defence against the deluge and no alternative but to surrender to the aquatic invasion of my body. Here, on Black Hill on the Pennine Way, Martin and I are nearing exhaustion (..). But it’s not the rain that is our biggest enemy, threatening to bring us to a grinding halt, but a far more formidable foe: the peat.”… the peat ! In Scotland, we’ve experienced rain, wind, cold, mud… but neither my husband nor me could have imagined what danger peat could represent for the walker. Better to know!  And then, in the story, after comparing themselves to “melancholy versions of the Creature from the Black Lagoon”, the cry : From somewhere out in the mist we hear a cry: “Help!”  That book, by Mr Meyrick did found me… ;-). “Outdoor book of the year” (2018) ! I think this awardwas deserved:

    *Bothies are shelters very often old dwellings made of stone or wood with very basic facilities like a real fire and cooker if you are lucky ! ( camping without a tent ) is nearer the mark. These can can be found throughout Scotland and are always free to stay in and mainly used by hillwalkers and mountain bikers.

     

    John D. Burns is a bestselling and award-winning mountain writer who has spent over forty years exploring Britain’s mountains. Originally from Merseyside, he moved to Inverness over thirty years ago to follow his passion for the hills. He is a past member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team and has walked and climbed in the American and Canadian Rockies, Kenya, the Alps and the Pyrenees. John began writing more than fifteen years ago, and at first found an outlet for his creativity as a performance poet. He has taken one-man plays to the Edinburgh Fringe and toured them widely around theatres and mountain festivals in the UK. It is the combination of John’s love of the outdoors with his passion for writing and performance that makes him a uniquely powerful storyteller. His first two books, The Last Hillwalker and Bothy Tales, were both shortlisted for TGO Magazine’s Outdoor Book of the Year. His third book, Sky Dance, is published in 2019. He continues to develop his career as a writer, blogger and outdoor storyteller while exploring the wild places he loves.

    Regeneration Andrew Painting Birlinn 2021

    Regeneration Andrew Painting Birlinn 2021

    Now, just have a look at this book with its lovely cover representing a typical Scottish landscape. Could it be Glencoe? I didn’t find. Anyway, it’s a great book and it was offered to me by my daughter for my last birthday. A wonderful present! And of course, a Scottish present. ;-). Dear Nathalie ! Un grand merci!

    I’ve just begun to read Mr Painting’s book but I know I will love it very much and also learn very much. It is rather difficult to read, however.  I need to appeal to my dictionary and encyclopaedia very often to be able to visualize the environment which is described with its many plants, birds and other animals.

    • Part One: In the Woods
    • Part Two: On the Moors
    • Part Three: In the Mountains

    In 1995 the National Trust for Scotland acquired Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms. Home to over 5,000 species, this vast expanse of Caledonian woodlands, subarctic mountains, bogs, moors, roaring burns and frozen lochs could be a place where environmental conservation and Highland field sports would exist in harmony. The only problem was that due to centuries of abuse by human hands, the ancient Caledonian pinewoods were dying, and it would take radical measures to save them.

    After 25 years of extremely hard work, the pinewoods, bogs, moors and mountains are returning to their former glory. Regeneration is the story of this success, featuring not only the people who are protecting the land and quietly working to undo the wrongs of the past, but also the myriad creatures which inspire them to do so.

    In addition, it also tackles current controversies such as raptor persecution, deer management and rewilding and asks bigger questions about the nature of conservation itself: what do we see when we look at our wild places? What should we see?

    Andrew Painting, the author of Regeneration grew up in the south of England and studied English at King’s College, London and Environmental Anthropology at Aberdeen University. He moved to Scotland to volunteer with the RSPB and since 2016 has been Assistant Ecologist at the Mar Lodge Estate.

    Mar Lodge from Linn of Dee Road – Source Wikipedia

    Mar Lodge is a sporting lodge built for the use of the Duke and Duchess of Fife. It is located about 4 miles (6 kilometres) to the west of Braemar and is accessed from the Linn of Dee road, over the Victoria Bridge, a lattice girder structure built across the River Dee in 1905.

    Linn of Dee Highlands Aberdeenshire© 2006 Scotiana

    Linn of Dee!

    From the lovely bridge which spans the River Dee the view is breathtaking. We discovered Linn of Dee in June 2006. With its tumultuous torrent, its impressive rocks and magnificent Caledonian Pines, the landscape is truly grandiose. It’s situated in the Highlands, not far from Braemar. No wonder it was a favourite place of Queen Victoria for it is situated not far from Balmoral Castle which stands in the heart of a vast domain composed of hills, moor and forests.

    Light in the Caledonian Pine Forest Linn of Dee © 2006 Scotiana

     

    Last but not least: a great book for knitters and a very talented Scottish designer…

    This book will be the last one of my 2021 Christmas selection. It has been a long time since I wanted to speak about Scottish knitting. Di Gilpin is a very talented designed, full of creativity and initiative. She much contributes, together with her associate Sheila Greenwell, to  the launch of a new Scottish project called “Knitting the Herring”.

    This project will run from June 2020 to 28 February 2021, although we anticipate this being the pilot for an ongoing project with a strong legacy involving ganseys, in association with knitting experts Di Gilpin and Sheila Greenwell. This would lead to a proposed ‘Festival of Ganseys’ to celebrate our dynamic and interesting gansey heritage in Scotland.

    By creating a gansey collection database and a website to showcase our collections, photographs and knitting patterns, we will highlight the unique history and purpose of ganseys (knitted sweaters) in fishing communities. We will reach out to our project partners in Fife, the Outer Hebrides and beyond, to gather information on ganseys held in other museum collections or family homes to create the basis for a Scottish online archive of information and skills.

    Scotland’s National Gansey Project

    From when they started out in the industry as young men, most Scottish fishermen (between the late 19th and early 20th century) would have owned at least one gansey, usually dark blue (but sometimes grey, cream or even red) tightly knitted sweaters, created for them by a family member. Made of strong and water-resistant wool, ganseys were designed to be practical and comfortable, and came to play a vital role in Scotland’s fishing communities. Over time, they became fisherfolk’s distinctive knitted workwear, often worn as a source of pride.

    The Gansey Knitting Source Book - Di Gilpin & Sheila Greenwell 2021

    The Gansey Knitting Source Book – Di Gilpin & Sheila Greenwell 2021

     

    My knitwear design studio has its origins in a semi-ruined croft on the Isle of Skye. I had settled there in 1983 with little more than a rucksack containing a tent, wool and knitting needles!

     Gansey Inspired knitwear

    Those of you who have been to one of my talks and workshops on the Gansey over the years will know my passion for the history and design in these amazing garments. I spent my first few years in a village near Filey in Yorkshire, with a huge history of Gansey knitting. The first knitting book I bought with pocket money was Gladys Thompson’s book Fishermen’s Sweaters from the British Isles and now I find myself writing a book with Sheila, my right hand woman, on Ganseys, their history and designs! We are also working on the ‘Knitting the Herring’ project with the Scottish Fisheries Museum aiming at creating a National Collection of Ganseys for Scotland!

    Here are some of my patterns which explore this incredible knitting heritage, with my own contemporary take on the construction, motifs and symbols which mark these garments out as something quite unique! From small mitten patterns, through scarves to full sweaters and tunics! Have fun!

    Sublime authors and great books to discover! Alas never time enough to read and to devote to creative activities.

    For Christmas, let’s make an exception… Carpe Diem !

    Joyeux Noël !

    Bonne lecture ! Mairiuna

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