These images are of our basket discovery visit to Leodhais (Isle of Lewis) off the north-western coast of Scotland. We will be running a course in May 2002 where students will learn the Cliabh (Lewis Creel) from a local maker.
to make the Hebridean creel on the Isle of Lewis
On a recent visit to Bearnaraigh (Great Bernera), which is a small island off the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, we saw examples of the Lewis Cliabh (Creel) in several museums.
It is a tapered square basket, made upside-down like the Irish donkey creels, but with a curved bottom and made from somewhat lighter material. It was used mainly by women, and used for the transport of everything, but particularly for peats.
The chest strap was often woven of wool or string. The main exportable product of Lewis is, and was, tweed. We eventually tracked down the last maker of these baskets, who was, in fact, a weaver all his working life, but who remembers how his father used to make the creels. He showed us his few sparse willow bushes and said that getting materials was a great problem these days. His name is Donald Macarthur.
We found great interest among the people who work in the museums on Lewis, in learning how to make these baskets, which feature in almost every old photograph. We therefore proposed a basketmaking course, for which Donald would be the tutor, to be held in May 2003 in the village hall on Bearnaraigh. Four of the ten places would be taken up by local people, leaving six for BA members. We estimate that two days should be spent on the creel itself, and one day on learning how to make the chest strap or "irish"
We have now heard from the Uig & Bernera Development Group, expressing enthusiasm for the project, and proposing that the cost of tuition, over three days, would be £78. Accommodation would be arranged locally at a cost of £25 per day. Arrangements could be made to stay longer and make the trip a holiday, in this most beautiful island, where we saw whales, seals, Gannets and Golden Eagles. The island can be reached by ferry from Skye or Ullapool or by air.
If you would be interested in taking part in this course, and playing your part in rescuing one of the indigenous baskets of the Hebrides, please get in touch with Neil Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
There are two other indigenous baskets in the museums on Lewis, one is a frame basket for long-lines. The other is a tightly coiled round basket made from Marram Grass gathered on a tiny island off the north-east coast and used as a measure for grain or meal. No surviving maker has been found for either of these.