Islands of experience

2nd August 1996 at 01:00
Kay Smith watches Arran primary pupils learn traditional crafts from an over-50s women's group. A stone-built cottage and pretty seaside garden evolve beneath Laura Kweney's fingers as she works at her loom. The picture, created with home-spun wools coloured with local natural dyes, could be of her own island of Arran where she is a pupil in the top class at Whiting Bay primary.

Laura is pleased with the results - although she admits the going was initially tough as she had to learn the technique of starting and finishing yarns on the loom as well as weaving techniques. "At first I was just able to make a few strips of colour. Now I've got something that means something, " she says.

Liz Smith, a member of an over-50s women's group run by Arran Textiles in a project aimed at reviving traditional crafts, says weaving pictures on a loom is something most children can enjoy. "Once you get the basic techniques you can experiment. If it doesn't work out, you just take the weaving out."

For the past three years, primary 7 pupils from island schools have been brought together during the summer term to learn weaving skills. The women's group enjoys the chance of easy contact the youngsters while the pupils appreciate the group has specialist expertise. "They're experienced," says pupil John MacLalle.

It took some time before another boy, Richard Bentley, came round to the idea. "It's all right," he grudgingly admits at the beginning of his task. By the time the final session draws to a close, he is measuring up his work to make sure it 's big enough to be made into a pencil case, saying, "when can we do this again?" Lynn Ross, the founder of Arran Textiles, is Ayrshire born but was educated abroad - she learned spinning and weaving in Sweden and North America. Settling on Arran in the Seventies, she is now single-handedly reviving an industry long dead on the island.

Arran Textiles survives on a patchwork of funding from local authorities, voluntary bodies, the local enterprise company and Strathclyde University's senior studies institute.

The inter-generational project has also provided tutoring - and wool - to Standard grade art and home economics classes at Arran High School.

None of the primary pupils is convinced that spinning and weaving can be anything other than a hobby. Ms Ross is more positive. "You've got to look at the worldwide employment situation and make a start now. These children are not aware that in ten years time they will need these skills."

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