about the wandering string maker

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.

When I am not a wandering string maker, I live in Northumberland where I work as a gardener, educator and designer, and am also known by the name of Anna Corbett.
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.

a string trio: daffodil, crocosmia, Canary grass
a string trio: daffodil, crocosmia, Canary grass

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.

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.

cropped-dscf2584.jpgA 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!


7 thoughts on “about the wandering string maker

  1. Fascinating. I will be following your travels. I am particularly interested in Angus McPhee’s work as I would love to know how he constructed his ‘garments’ – they are clearly neither ‘woven’ nor ‘knitted’, which is how they are usually decsribed, and I presume a looping technique. It would be good to know if this is the case, and whether the technique was known in South Uist. Incidentally do you know Werner Kissling’s photos of the Outer Hebrides in the 1930s?
    Sorry to go on but this is my field – I am a weaver and also make string, tho’ mostly from willow bast or unrecycleable plastic packaging.


    1. Hello Ruth
      thanks for your interest, and it’s great to hear from a fellow string enthusiast.
      Can you send some image of what you make? I would be very interested to see some.
      I don’t know of those photos,but will look them up.
      The expert on Angus MacPhee’s technique is Joanne Kaar. Do have a look at her website, as she has done a lot of research into his making, and made some fantastic costumes for a play about Angus.


      1. Thanks, I’ve looked Joanne up – what great work. There are pictures of my weaving on the public bit of my Facebook page – I’m the Lego model Ruth Gilbert. I don’t think I’ve got any pictures of string, but my new bag design (with woven in handles) may prompt some experiment.


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