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Monday, 22 June 2015

Aberdeen and the Weavers Museum

TToday began with a long drive to Aberdeen - back over the Forth Bridge and straight on through green, rolling country. The sky was grey and drizzly - but the land colourful. As we got further north I was remembering Kenneth Mackellar singing "The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen" and wondering if, in the Summer Solstice, we might catch a glimpse.
Our destination was the Weavers Museum in Aberdeen, part of Trinity House, home of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen, an ancient, still active Guild association. The charter for the organisation in some form dates from 1196.
The modern exterior belies the panelled interior, replete with portraits of past office holders and numerous examples of the work of guild members. There is, in particular, a significant collection of carved chairs.

The seven incorporated trades are:
Hammermen ( including blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths,tin smiths,pewterers, locksmiths, clockmakers, sword makers, armourers and lorimers, who make bits for horses)
Bakers - incorporated from the beginning
Wrights and Coopers (including wheel wrights,mill wrights, cartwhrights, shipwrights and house wrights)
Weavers - incorporated in 1222 and including fillers and dyers
Shoemakers - incorporated 1484
Fleshers - incorporated as an association in 1534 and a member of the seven since 1657.

Each is represented in a stained glass window, commissioned in the 19th century. All but one has a depiction of a biblical scene associated with the trade - Naomi gathers grain for the bakers, St Paul stitches sails for the tailors, the prodigal son is welcomed home with shoes, a priest prepares to butcher a sheep, swords are made into ploughshares  and (I think) Joseph works with wood. The weavers were the only ones who missed out - perhaps no-one was prepared to depict lots being drawn for Christ's cloak, woven without seam!

Each trade controls standards and can discipline members or prevent them from operating in Aberdeen. To become a member of the incorporated seven, individual tradesmen must produce a piece of specified work to convince their peers they work at the required standard. Many of these example pieces are displayed in Trinity House.

There were strong trading links with Europe, which influenced technique and fashion more than London did. Although a 1784 Law required gold and silver work, for example, to be assayed in Edinburgh, this was not enforced for another 50 years.

There are no female members of the Seven Incorporated Trades. The organisation provides support for widows and orphans. There is a lot of tradition and ceremony.

We also heard from Ian Dale, the Master Weaver from whom fine and heritage embroiderers get much of their fine hand-woven linen. Ian uses traditionally produced fibres from all over Europe to weave linen that matches that produced in past centuries - or meets the meticulous standards of professional embroiderers. He weaves the linen used by the Wemyss School and the z twist linen twill used by The Crewel Work Company. Z twist could not be produced by hand, but is one of the earliest forms of machine twist. Unlike the more common S twist, it closes behind the needle, leaving no hole. He seeks out and uses specialist looms.

Ian showed us many examples of his work, including a number, such as Holland cloth, of which his company is the only producer. He was really interesting to listen to and we asked lots of questions. He had lunch with us and stayed while we stitched for two hours at the Museum. He is a treasure and had really engaging anecdotes and extraordinary knowledge, skill and experience.
We stitched in two groups today. I worked with Phillipa on the crewel work.
We arrived at our hotel, the Mercure Aberdeen, around 5pm. This is the only place where we stay a single night.
Over dinner, Phillipa gave an illustrated presentation on embroideries found in Castles and Palaces, which was quite a good introduction to what we will be seeing over the next few days. There was quite a bit of discussion over dinner about what we heard this afternoon, and about historic embroidery.
Tomorrow we head into the Highlands.


  1. Amazing to imagine the guild has been around for so long and is still active. What a treat to be able to immerse yourself in the history and also see so many brilliant embroideries.

  2. What a gorgeous hotel! It looks quite imposing. Was it comfortable?

    1. Yes, it was. It was a bit rabbit-warreny but very comfortable.