In July 2015 I will be travelling around the highlands and islands of Scotland, on a tour I am calling ‘Searching for String’, and using this blog to record and share progress and document what happens.
Over the past few years I have been exploring the history and traditions of string made from plants and have become increasingly aware of the importance of the invention of string in prehistory and its subsequent use throughout the world. While string may no longer be an everyday item in modern life, its influence is far-reaching.
Very little archaeological evidence of plant fibres exist, due to the nature of decay of plant material. What does exist however is the practice of using plant fibres in a variety of crafts, including basket making.
In addition there are records of people in Scotland up until the last 50 years or so using plants such as heather and straw to twist into rope, a technique known as ‘simmans’. This had multiple uses, including thatching, mats, baskets and even furniture.
In 2012 I met Joanne Kaar at the Wigtown Book Festival, and was introduced to the story of Angus MacPhee. Joanne had made costumes for a play about his life performed by Horse and Bamboo theatre company. You can see Joanne’s wonderful costumes here.
Angus was born in 1915 and grew up in the Outer Hebrides, but spent the majority of his adult life in a psychiatric hospital in Inverness. During this time he made ‘simmans’ from twisted grass, a method he would have been familiar with from childhood, which he then formed into 3 dimensional objects. You can read more about the story of Angus in a book by Roger Hutchinson, ‘The Silent Weaver’ (2011).
Inspired to learn this technique myself, I have been experimenting with a range of wild and cultivated plants. I have been working from historical records as well as taking part in workshops with artists and craftspeople. Now I am going to look for what evidence there is of the remnants of this tradition.
A big thanks goes to all those who have helped and inspired ‘The String Tour’ in many and various ways. Also to Food Nation in Newcastle who have released me for the summer to go off exploring. I will be back!