Orkney has a rich knitwear and textiles heritage, despite the last large mills here closing down decades ago.
Now plans to revive weaving in the islands have taken a step forward, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Backed by more than £10,000 of donations, the Orkney Cloth Company is set to purchase its first purpose-built loom and begin producing blankets, scarves and cloth by the metre from its base in Kirkwall.
Founded by India Johnson, the project is a social enterprise, focused on education, craft and heritage. “Ultimately, we want to sustain this important heritage craft in Orkney,” says India, who moved to Orkney in 2018 for a year-long graduate weaving placement at the Orkney Creative Hub. “Our aim is to invest in skills and help younger people get into the textile industry too.”
It’s early days but plans for the future include training programmes, workshops and demonstrations, all based around their new loom, which will arrive in Orkney soon.
The long-term goal is also to use locally-produced wool, and at the heart of the project are words like ‘provenance’ and ‘craftmanship’ - themes already associated with local food, drink and crafts products. It’s a message that ties into the wider Orkney ethos, and it’s one that India is keen to develop.
“Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of where their products are coming from and how they’re made,” she says. “It’s a really important time for the textile industry in the UK and we want to emphasise the skills behind weaving in Orkney, and then share that with the wider community whilst making a contemporary product.”
India already has a small selection of pieces produced as part of the crowdfunding campaign, with a healthy list of pre-orders ready to be woven as soon as the new loom arrives home. Once it’s here, the focus will be on getting those orders out to customers before the attention turns to creating new collections and the community aspect of the company.
It’s an exciting time for India. “I fell in love with the landscape and with weaving almost as soon as I arrived here,” she reflects. “Weaving often reflects the place where the products are made, and I just saw an amazing opportunity to revive this lost Orcadian tradition, with the chance to combine it with contemporary design too.
“We’re so grateful to everyone that has supported us so far, and we’re just really looking forward to getting started now.”