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project charlotte

An insight into traditional textile skills

An insight into traditional textile skills.



Master Classes in Textile Arts

All Charlotte tutors have participated in the Orchil training programme over the last three years. During the programme they attended and in some cases taught specialised textile workshops.  The Orchil programme brought a series of master textile artists to the Island who provided outside input as suggested in the grant conditions. Master spinner Judy Ramsay from the United State ran a specialised spinning class and Davina Callen from the Lisburn Museum in Northern Ireland ran a workshop on processing and spinning flax.

1. Eleanor Percy Adams was one of the first graduates of the Textile Apprenticeship Programme at the Mendocino Art Centre in California.  Eleanor was on the faculty for 15 years as a weaving instructor.

She now works at Kinberton Hills, Pennsylvania in a Camphill Village using her textile skills to work with people with learning disabilities.

Eleanor taught a one day workshop in Shibori (Japanese tie-dye) with natural indigo on silk.

2. Judy Ramsay is a master spinner with the Michigan Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.

Judy taught a one-day master spinners workshop.

3. Davina Callen is senior gallery spinner at the Irish Linen Centre, Lisburn Museum, Northern Ireland.

Davina taught a one-day workshop in the processing and spinning of flax.

4. Sara Bowman has been a textile artist for many years.  She studied at West Dean College and the Courtauld Institute.  Sara visited Paris on behalf of the National Gallery in Canberra to buy from the fashion house of ‘Poiret‘ for the museum.  When she was in Paris she met one of the women who had been an embroiderer for Poiret.  This acquaintance led to the book ‘A Fashion Extravagance’ and a video on some of the lives of some of the women who used to work in fashion embroidery.

Sara taught a master embroidery workshop and gave a presentation on her work.

Kilmory Primary School – Pilot Project

Prior to planning ‘Project Charlotte‘ a programme of workshops was carried out at Kilmory Primary School. To begin the programme the school used the CD-ROM Connecting Threads to gain an historical understanding of the textile traditions of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. For teachers and pupils this experience linked traditional skills with the use of IT in the classroom.  The pilot covered the three main skills areas; spinning, natural dyeing and weaving and provided tutors with classroom experience and feedback on how the skills could be taught in the school environment. The Kilmory programme was also important in the first stages of planning a workshop structure within the context of the 5-14 curriculum. Head teacher Margaret Parker and classroom teacher Rachel Armitage made valuable contributions to this phase of planning.

This project was supported by: North Ayrshire Council Educational Services.

Charlotte Programme

Five of the seven primary schools on the Isle of Arran took part; Kilmory, Shiskine, Whiting Bay, Lamlash and Corrie.  Brodick Primary School during the year of the programme was under-going major construction and the school were unable to accommodate the programme. They have expressed a keen interest and will be considered for future involvement. Pirnmill Primary School had a new head teacher taking up post as the project started and she wanted to familiarise herself with the school before bring in outside projects. The school did however ask us to run a plant-based paper making day and to provide information and slides on plants traditionally used for dyeing.

The Charlotte schools programme was timetable for nine consecutive afternoon workshops in each of the five primary schools. The workshop programme started in September 1999 and concluded in June 2000.  Three workshops in spinning/carding, natural dyeing and weaving made up the nine workshops. There was some variation towards the end of the programme to accommodate the school involved and to try a slightly different combination of skills. Three consecutive workshops were seen as the minimum number for each skill to be taught and for children to attain a good level of understanding of the processes. This model is now seen as adaptable and we would structure the workshops according to the number of children in the class, the age group and any previous experience. Suggestions for other structures are described in Tutor Observations & Recommendations.

Each of the five schools taking part differed in some way.  Smaller schools had combined classes of P5,6,7, while larger schools such as Lamlash had 18 pupils in P4 and Whiting Bay had 18 in P6,7.

Two tutors taught each skill with the class teacher providing assistance. Tutor to pupil ration for most skills were well balanced.  Teaching the spinning wheel however benefits from something closer to a one to one relationship and suggestions have been made for how to accommodate a large class (see Tutors Observations & Recommendations).  The level of class teacher involvement was on the whole good, although occasionally uneven.  For future programmes the involvement of the class teacher will be a requirement for schools participating.  To better prepare schools for participating in the programme a handout will be produced.

School Layout & Facilities

Where possible the layout and facilities of each school was taken into consideration considered before a workshop began. The requirement of natural dyeing workshops for a cooker or hot plate was overcome in those schools with no kitchen facility, by bringing a hot plate to the school and using it in a secure space. Health and safety regulations were taken into account and all children when in the proximity of hot dye pans wore aprons, rubber gloves and goggles.

As the class sizes ranged from 13 to 19 and the number spinning wheels, carders and weaving frames required was addressed by combining equipment owned by Arran Textiles with equipment in the possession of the tutors. This arrangement worked well, although for the future more spinning wheels and other equipment centrally located and maintained would be advantageous.

As the programme moved from one school to the next tutors adapted their methods of teaching as required.

Teaching the Skills


Spinning and carding were the skills taught first in each of the five schools with some changes to the order in the final school.  Exercises and demonstrations of the processes of spinning and carding allowed the children to experience the properties of wool. Carding the fleece into rolags was a skill most children learned quickly enjoying the physical effort of separating the fibres.  Using the drop spindle was more difficult with some children grasping the technique while others found it was difficult. More time would be required for children to master this.  Using the spinning wheel takes practice and one-to-one guidance is preferable, but in a class of eighteen, several children would be learning to spin with each tutor, while other children practiced carding rolags or using the drop spindle. Many children after three afternoons had grasped the basic technique and some were spinning reasonably proficiently.  The foot on the treadle, the fingers teasing out fibres and the rhythmic motion of all the working parts of the spinning wheel the children found very satisfying.

In Lamlash Primary School we were asked to run the workshops for P4.  There were 18 children in the class and spinning was introduced using simple exercises to familiarise the children with the properties of wool and the added strength give to the fibres when they are twisted. Spinning with the drop spindle and wheel were introduced to half the class while the other half were introduced to weaving. Observations and suggestions from working with a younger class like this have been very informative and will influence future workshop planning (See Tutors Observations & Recommendations).

(We would not discourage schools from introducing these skills to younger children. What we would do is devise a programme of hand skills combining spinning and weaving and simple dyeing exercises that were appropriate).

Natural Dyeing

The programme combined traditional dye plants used in Scotland with plants which grew in the locality for example brambles, which although not permanently light fast provided an excellent example of strong colour. Other dyes such as madder and indigo that traditionally were imported were also used to provide a wider spectrum range.  In Corrie Primary School the children were studying the Viking as a curriculum project. The Charlotte programme fitted perfectly into this introducing skills the Vikings were known to have and the use of madder which they used to dye yarn and cloth.  As an add on project, textile artist Lesley Sim was commissioned to work with the class to make a banner using traditional plant dyes over printed with Viking motifs.

Having established what the traditional dye plants were and provided the class teacher with historical information through the CD-ROM, a fuller spectrum of colour was illustrated by introducing such plants as Brazil wood, weld and tumeric.  The emphasis in the programme remained however on the variety of dyes historically derived from local plants. In some cases however, plants such as ladies bedstraw and lichens are protected by law and alternative sources had to be found.

Learning about plants, their origin and the colour derived from them, was both educational and inspiring. The children identified, measured and prepared fibre and fabric samples for dyeing. They monitored the dye baths, extracted the dyed items and recorded the results of each experiment in their own dye book.


The principles of weaving, understanding the warp and weft were introduced using the small frame loom. Weaving parallel rows was the first technique followed by designing more complex patterns and combinations of yarn. Children were asked to observe form and texture in nature by looking closely at an interesting natural object and using it as a source of inspiration and reference. The peg loom was also introduced as an ancient method of weaving, known to have been used by the Vikings. This is a simple and effective technique and one which will be more fully integrated into future programmes. In Corrie Primary School the children also had opportunities to try weaving on a tradition warp-weighted loom and to see how a loom was first constructed. Tablet weaving, another ancient method of weaving was also demonstrated at Corrie school as a technique used by the Vikings. The programme gave the children an insight into both early textile technology and the different ways in which woven items were made.

Weaving is very accessible to children. They can see results quickly and can experiment with colour, pattern and texture. Patterns were produced spontaneously as the individual weaving took shape or on paper before weaving started.  The children were enthusiastic about their weaving and the final exhibition demonstrated how creative and productive the workshops had been.

In future programmes it has been suggested by the tutors that weaving is taught first and combined with the teaching of spinning (See Tutors Observations & Recommendations) Resource Production – Video – Connecting Threads.

The video was made with the support of Brian Green of Ayrshire Technicians Support Service. Shot on Betacam the video has high production values for this type of programme. Duration is approximately 30mins.  It is designed to compliment the CD-ROM “Connecting Threads“ and the educational pack.  Additionally, it provides teachers with a model for how these skills can be practically taught in school by documenting one school where methods for transferring the skills were thoroughly tested.

Educational Pack

The educational pack has been specially written for the current 5–14 curriculum. To quote Rachel Armitage who wrote the Pack, “It is our aim that this pack will provide a stimulating context in which the children‘s knowledge and understanding, skills and attitudes will be developed, allowing them to become more aware of the environment in which they live.“ The Pack has 32 pages of teacher notes and worksheets, a glossary, a bibliography and list of suppliers. Pack advisers included teacher Jennifer Anderson who teaches in the Dunblane area, and was curriculum advisor to the CD-ROM “Connecting Threads” and Steve Roberts the educational officer at SCRAN.

Tutors Observations & Recommendations

From our feedback during tutor discussions it has been recommended that in planning future programmes we have fuller discussions with the participating school. We would like to know if the class teacher or other teachers in the school have experience in traditional textile skills.  We would enquire more fully into how the teacher sees the programme fitting into their curriculum and whether it will link specifically to other subjects being studied. For all future programmes the teacher will be provided with a resource folder, containing the CD-ROM, video and curriculum pack. The teacher will be asked to look over these resources, at the range of information on the subjects and examples of how they can be taught in the classroom.  Tutors will also require the age and number of children taking part and whether any of the children are allergic to wool or any of the other materials that may be used.

The available space in the classroom or other area of the schools will also be considered with regards to the movement of furniture or anticipated reorganisation.

Sessions in Schools


Elizabeth Smith & Cecilia Paul

“The first sessions in the school should be weaving. The reason for this is so that when we come to do the spinning and dyeing the children can be divided into groups. They will have something that they are able to work at with a reasonable amount of independence leaving the tutors more able to concentrate on the spinning and dyeing, which are more one-to-one.

We would work first with the frame looms, working on straight lines. Interlocking would then be introduced on the peg looms. This way the children can see more easily how interlocking works They have to work one row at a time (rather than having to fill in) and the have to keep it SIMPLE. We would like to have examples of work which show how the use of colour and texture can produce simple but effective designs.

During spinning and dyeing we would like to introduce other forms of weaving – willow stick, “Lucet“ (chain fork) and French knitting. Again the emphasis being on keeping it simple and not doing too many things at one time.”


Elizabeth Smith & Cecilia Paul

The first thing we would want do with children is let them handle and play with some fleece, discuss how it feels and why it feels that way. We would then ask them to tease the wool out and to pull it out, twist it and discuss the change in strength. We would then get them to make yarn on pencils which helps them to practise “pulling-out“. This leads on to discussing the ‘drop-spindle‘ and talking about the spinning wheel.

We would also introduce carding at this point and hopefully get the children to the stage of making reasonable “rolags“ which they can then try to spin.  At first they would work in pairs with one treadling and one “pulling-out”.

When spinning the children will work in small groups that will rotate round the various activities – weaving, carding and spinning.


Rose Ashley & Gill Butcher

“The programme should be structured to do the dyeing and weaving sessions first, and to get all the children weaving to begin with so they always have something the are involved with. When introducing the dyeing lessons the class would be divided into smaller groups so they all get a turn to learn about the dyeing process in depth. At the end of each session all the class will come together to see the materials and yarns being lifted out of the dye baths with time being given for discussions and questions”.

“We feel that to have three tutors and six sessions and to introduce the weaving first would provide a structure whereby the tutors are better able to pass these new and sometimes difficult skills on to the children. The tutors would not be spread so thinly and be able to offer a better quality of tuition, more individual time, more time to listen to the children and help them find their own style.

Over six sessions the children will have a good chance of producing a piece or pieces of work to be proud of with well developed ideas. Six sessions rather than nine may well be easier for a school to fit into a busy curriculum.“

Teachers Evaluation

Project Charlotte was a developmental programme and feed back from the textile tutors and classroom teacher was from the outset understood be an important outcome of the project.

Class teachers were asked to fill in a Teacher‘s Evaluation that would provide a statement of how successful from their point of view the Charlotte programme had been to their school.  Sample evaluation forms are attached plus a letter from Whiting Bay School.


Project Charlotte was concluded and celebrated by a final exhibition and series of demonstrations held in Brodick.  Children and tutors work and documentation of the programme in the schools was displayed for the general public and for everyone associated with Project Charlotte. The exhibition was opened by NAC convenor Sam Taylor. Present were representatives from the funding bodies of North Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Arts Council. Also attending were representatives from local government, Argyll and the Isles Enterprise, the Arran Learning Centre and Island schools.

In-Service Training

In relation to the original application in-service training in North Ayrshire is being arranged through Educational Services and will be implemented in the Autumn. NAC have expressed a clear desire to see the programme transferred to other parts of North Ayrshire and a programme for doing this is now being planned.  The authorities in East Lanark and Aberdeen City, who are also part of the programme have asked for in-service training to be arranged. SAC will be kept informed of in-service development.

Arran Textiles hopes to see the Charlotte Programme being implemented in other parts of Scotland through teacher in-service training and workshops. Future programmes will be supported by the new resource folder being published and marketed as a joint venture between Arran Textiles and SCRAN.  The folder will include the CD-ROM ‘Connecting Threads‘, which presents a comprehensive history of traditional textiles in the Highlands and Islands, a 30min video showing an intergenerational model for the introduction of the textile skills into the 5–14 curriculum and a specially written pack to facilitate the development of these skills in the classroom.

Future of the Charlotte Programme

The Charlotte model for teaching traditional textile skills has attracted considerable interest a desire has been expressed by North Ayrshire Council Education Department to run a programme in Ayrshire schools as well as the in-service training.  Currently we are also having discussions with Argyll and the Isles Enterprise about the programme being developed for other Islands.

Negotiations have take place with SCRAN regarding the distribution and marketing of the folder and distribution through the SCRAN licensing agreement to licensed schools through out Scotland. In addition to these resources SCRAN have said they would like to commission Arran Textiles to produce further materials on other topics.

In the original application 100 copies of the pack and video were to be made by NAC and distributed to schools. We feel it would now be better to wait for the publication of the folder by SCRAN containing the complete compilation of resources. We understand that NAC are intending to license SCRAN and believe that would be the best way for the resources to be distributed.

The folder along with the CD-ROM, which is already in many Scottish schools, will increase greatly an awareness of traditional textile skills in Scottish schools. We are very hopefully that as a result of Project Charlotte, schools will be encouraged to explore ways in which skilled people in the community can hand on traditional textile skills to a younger generation.

Edward O Donnelly, Project Charlotte Co-ordinator

Lynn Ross, Project Manager, Arran Textiles