Reflecting on Highland Threads

Reflecting on Highland Threads

Catriona Davidson, curator at Glencoe Folk Museum, writes about being part of the Museums and Heritage Highland Network and getting involved in the Highland Threads Exhibition.

Being part of Museums and Heritage Highland has been fantastic for Glencoe Folk Museum. As a small museum with only one full-time member of staff (myself, though the past couple of years we have employed a Redevelopment Manager), having access to the resources, expertise and advise of staff across a range of Highland museums has been invaluable. 

Highland Threads is a great example of how MHH has helped smaller museums. We chose to put forward our 18th Century Spitalfields Silks dress for the exhibition, partly because it is the most beautiful item of costume in our collection and partly because it required more work than can be done with just one member of staff. The dress has been on an inappropriate and unsuitable mannequin for years: it was the wrong shape for the style and was putting strain on the already damaged silk. Previous attempts to remove or improve the dress led us to the conclusion that once it was removed from its current mannequin it would not be going back on, and we didn’t want to handle the fragile material more than once. That meant that before we did anything we needed a suitable replacement mannequin, the assistance of a conservator to direct us in how to handle the dress and to make a condition assessment while it was loose, the input of someone who could tell us how the dress would have been worn so that we could fashion the mannequin appropriately, plus funding for all of the above! So, when Highland Threads came along, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to achieve something that we had been working towards for years, while also getting to contribute to a fantastic collaborative project. 

Another unexpected bonus for us was that we discovered more about the history of our dress. This dress has very little provenance other than that the silk was woven probably in Spitalfields in 1740, and it was being used as a dressing up costume (and was put in the washing machine!) before being donated to the museum in the 1970s. However when MHH took on the services of Rebecca Olds, a Dress Historian with particular expertise in 18th Century costume, she was able to read the history of the dress in its stitches, tucks and threads, painting a detailed picture of a well-loved gown that was passed down through different generations and fashions. It is so much more than we ever expected when we joined this project, and certainly much more than we would have likely achieved by ourselves.   

Seeing our dress up on the website alongside beautiful, intricate and fascinating items from other museums makes us really feel like part of a Highland museum community, and we’re so grateful to MHH for creating opportunities like this for small museums. 

You can visit www.highlandthreads.co.uk to see the full exhibition and support Highland Museums.

Highland Threads…Getting Inventive in Glencoe

Highland Threads…Getting Inventive in Glencoe

This week we are joined by conservator Rachael Thomas who has worked with our museums to provide some much needed love and care for some of the costumes and to assist with mounting them before their image was to be captured.

When I was first asked if I would be interested in helping to mount some costumes for an upcoming project I jumped at the chance. I feel very privileged that over the years I’ve been given the chance to have a nosey within the stores of many of the museums involved, but even for me it’s pretty rare to get a chance to look at costumes and textiles as, being some of the most fragile things we care for, they are often packed away to avoid damage from light and handling.  

Working with museums across such as huge area initially sounded daunting, especially given that the distance between the most northern and southern venue is almost 200 miles. But it’s a credit to every museum within the area that with enthusiasm and pragmatism they were able to transport items to a few key hubs in the more rural areas. In each museum an open area suitable for mounting and photography was found or created, and where possible I was provided with photographs of the costumes being worn by their original owners which helped to give me a background on what I was looking to achieve.

On paper there isn’t much to putting a costume on a mannequin – any areas that require more support are padded with polyester wadding which is sewn on to the mannequin, and a cover material is added to ensure that the wadding doesn’t snag on to the interior of the costume. But when it comes to mounting historical clothing the standard size of mannequin often doesn’t represent who a dress was made for, especially when you factor in tiny waists and small statures. And within this collection of costumes three of the dresses have also been modified by family members of their first owner. As very specific shapes for a very specific person, getting these items to look correct on a modern mannequin was often both tricky and time consuming. The undergarments also play a huge role in supporting these unusual shapes. There’s always an element of ‘make do and mend’ when working within small museums, and in the case of creating the exaggerated sides of the Glencoe silk dress we knew that no matter how much polyester wadding we used it would never be enough, so we ended up with a full-sized bustles on either side of the mannequin.

What’s always great about doing an exhibition is that not only do we get to show off some of our objects that otherwise would be within store, but also that by collaboration we can learn so much more about the objects themselves. In this case, being able to remove Dornoch’s silk dress from it’s previous mount gave us a chance to scrutinise the interior stitching, which in turn tells a story about how the upper part of the dress has been modified over the years. It was incredibly odd to be looking at a dress in Dornoch, using my phone to show dress historian Rebecca Olds in Sussex, what the interior stitches look like. Within only a few minutes of this she was able to confirm that fewer alteration had been made than she had previously though. What a brilliant use for technology and what a rewarding experience knowing that my work can in turn help inform Rebecca, the museum’s curator and everyone else out there with an interest in this dress.

I think there can sometimes be a misunderstanding that people who work within museums would ideally like everything packed away in safety, in a dark, locked storeroom. But that’s not true – the delight on the faces of staff and volunteers who were able to see their costumes out of boxes and mounted ready to be shown to the world was a real reward. With such amazing collections, and interest from across the world, I hope this is the first of many excuses to have a rummage around our collections and share some more of the gems we have hidden within museums across the Highlands. 

Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads. Book tickets for the launch here.

Our partner museums are: Glencoe MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Highland Threads…Many a Mickle Maks a Muckle

Highland Threads…Many a Mickle Maks a Muckle

This week Dan Cottam, chair of MHH and manager at Grantown Museum, tells how a small idea led to the development of new projects in a pandemic – both for his own museum and for MHH in the form of Highland Threads.

Over the past couple of years, we (the exceedingly small team at Grantown Museum) have been focussing our work on our collection; catching up on an ever-growing backlog of cataloguing, beginning the process of digitisation and generally sorting and tidying our store which has been sadly neglected in the previous few years when we have been prioritising more ‘front of house’ activity. A chance conversation, about what I now forget, led to me directing a volunteer to have an explore through our costumes which lie neatly packed away in acid free tissue paper, in archival grade boxes (thanks to a previous funded project) but are seldom, if ever, looked at. Many a happy, subsequent hour was spent, alone in the store by our fascinated volunteer, admiring an eclectic mix of Victorian dresses, military uniform, baby clothes, underwear, arisaids, lace shawls, muffs and fox-headed stoles. 

‘To save double handling them,’ I asked her, with a cunning plan coming to mind, ‘….as you go through them, can you take measurements, do a rough condition check, photograph them and compile a spreadsheet of data ready to go onto the digital catalogue?’   (not too much to ask of a dedicated volunteer is it?)

Revisiting this forgotten, yet comparatively organised corner of our store made me wonder about exhibiting some of our costume, and quickly remember the barriers and challenges to doing this. We don’t have many mannequins, costumes are vulnerable to environmental conditions and moreover, while the clothes are nice to look at, they mostly don’t have contextual information or provenance attached from which to make a good story worthy of an interesting exhibition. 

I also thought – ‘I wonder what other costume highland museums have in their collections?’

 So, I found myself in the new style meeting, me at my kitchen table and 12 other people crammed into my laptop, asking my colleagues from the highland museum sector – “ do any of you lot have any interesting costume in your collections? And the rest, as they say, is (literally) history!

That fateful meeting from which Highlands Threads was born and would grow arms and legs was a heritage café, a series of informal meetings organised by Museums and Heritage Highland for the people who run Highland museums at the time when we suddenly all found ourselves cloistered at home running closed museums. They were set up to respond to the isolation, intrepidation and confusion that we all felt in the early days of lockdown (which many of us are still feeling a year later) and while it felt a bit weird to begin with, has proven to be a hugely valuable and engaging fortnightly catch up.  Curiously, I feel that I have got to know my peers in the sector better through this remote medium than at the many ‘old style’, quarterly sector gatherings in Inverness  I have attended where we only really got to chat informally during coffee breaks and lunch. A simple device, that was available to us before (although who’d even heard of zoom before March last year?) has proved revolutionary in many ways, not least in making collaborative working across a geographically disparate group of people considerably easier, more equitable and far less time consuming.  I’m very much looking forward to being in a room full of people again, it will happen one day, but I believe that we are now ,far better equipped to create more wonderful collaborative projects, using ever more clever technologies as the collective energies, skills and knowledge of Highland museums prove the idiom that many a mickle maks a muckle.

 Thanks to Museums Galleries Scotland and that dedicated volunteer, Grantown’s costumes collection can be found here: 
Search object results on eHive

 And Grantown Museum’s new  Adventures in Costume – grown up dressing up can be found here:
adventures in costume – Grantown Museum  

Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads. Book tickets for the launch here.

Our partner museums are: Glencoe MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Highland Threads…Photographer on the move

Highland Threads…Photographer on the move

As part of the Highland Threads project, Museums and Heritage Highland offered each participating museum conservation expertise, professional photography and promotion. Many smaller museums struggle to access these services, so contracting sector professionals to work across the project and individually with each participating museum is affordable and proves excellent value for our members. For this third blog in our series Jim Dunn, professional museum photographer, tells of his travels across the Highlands during a pandemic to capture all the beautiful costumes on camera for the online exhibition.

One of the delights for me working on the Highlands Threads project has been how organised each of the museums I visited have been. The West Highland Museum had even arranged with the traffic warden for me to be allowed to park in the pedestrian area outside the front door of their building, a trivial thing you might think, but when your car is bulging at the seams with all the paraphernalia required to set up a temporary studio for photography and video, small things like that bring a smile to my face. 

Helen Avenell takes credit for arranging all my visits, the constantly changing situation due to Covid meant that access dates had to be moved or cancelled and as I type, we wait with bated breath hoping lockdown will allow us access to one final piece of costume – talk about drama! 

Every visit that could be arranged went very smoothly. I was welcomed by staff or volunteers, safety precautions related to Covid were discussed and implemented where required, I was then shown to a space that in every case was suitable for me to set up my background and lights – perfect!  

Talking of backgrounds, at an early stage of the project it was decided that a black background would be used for all the photography and video. Not a big challenge I thought, lots of light coloured outfits, maybe a couple of military uniforms that might be a bit tricker to light against the black. But no, a few wags thought it might be amusing to make things more interesting for me and give me more of a challenge! “lets look out that funeral dress, yes the ‘black’ one” – “what about a nice pullover, yes the one with the great story, the ‘navy blue’ one… “. 

Photographing a Fisherman’s Gansey at Wick Heritage Centre

But all joking aside I do like a challenge and in the end I was pleased how all the outfits turned out, whether dark or light in tone.  

Another person whose work made my job infinitely easier was conservator Rachael Thomas. I often arrived at a venue a day or two after Rachael to find a beautifully dressed mannequin ready for photography or that could be placed on my turntable for the 360deg videos. 

This has been an interesting project for me, not just the logistics and the disparate venues, but the beautiful costumes and in particular meeting so many dedicated staff and enthusiastic volunteers. 

Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads.

Our partner museums are: Glencoe MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Highland Threads…It’s all about collaboration

Highland Threads…It’s all about collaboration

Highland Threads was conceived during one of our regular Museums and Heritage Highland Heritage Café Zoom sessions, sometime back in June 2020. Back then, many of our conversations were around practical issues in responding to the Covid pandemic. How were our communities coping, what funding resources were out there… and how might it ever be possible to open our venues again?!

At some point during one of these chats, Dan Cottam, Manager at Grantown Museum, mentioned their costume collection, much of nestled safely away in archive boxes rather than on display. Wouldn’t it be great to work together on a way to showcase some of these amazing costumes? The conversation sparked an energy in everyone at the meeting. This was an opportunity to pause the stressful discussions around PPE, hand sanitisers and reopening toilets and to do what most of us do best… think creatively about our collections and how we can share them with our audiences!

MHH worked really quickly to put a project plan together responding to this creative call to action. This would be a digital exhibition centred around Highland costume, with a focus on finding creative ways to support museums both financially but also with practical outputs like conservation and photography advice that would have a lasting impact. We put a call out to all Highland museums to share their costumes and stories and to join us in a collaborative, co-curated project. Fourteen museums responded, from Castlehill Heritage Centre on the north Caithness coast, to Glencoe in the southern Highlands. 

We were really keen to take our lead from the museum partners and not set any boundaries on the choice of costume, other than it having a story to tell. The idea of having fourteen different museum voices shaping a project might have been seen as a risk, but the Heritage Cafes had already shown the strong collective voice of our Highland museums and their desire to work collaboratively. 

The energy of the project has been amazing. It has brought together the largest and smallest of our museums in an innovative project that showcases some of the most fascinating, intriguing and often previously unknown costume in Highland museums. Although tartan does feature on one object, most of our objects tell stories that audiences might not traditionally associate with the Highlands. Our programme of events and talks will also illuminate some of the hidden stories behind the costume. We hope audiences will be as excited to view the exhibition as we have been to develop it and we look forward to the possibilities of more innovative collaborative work between our Highland museums in the future.

Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads.

Our partner museums are: Glencoe MuseumInverness Museum & Art GalleryGairloch Museum, Ullapool MuseumGrantown MuseumWest Highland MuseumHighland Museum of ChildhoodCastlehill Heritage CentreTain through TimeWick Heritage MuseumHighland Folk MuseumGroam House MuseumStrathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Castlehill Heritage Centre

Castlehill Heritage Centre

Castlehill Heritage Centre is operated by Castletown Heritage Society as a visitor experience and educational resource. Themed displays, exhibitions and talks are held throughout the year showcasing the social, industrial, agricultural, maritime and archaeological heritage of the village of Castletown and the parish of Olrig, all brought to life through engagement with our large collection of local artefacts, costumes, documentation and ephemera. Our diverse range of hands-on workshops and training days are aimed at preserving local vernacular skills such as drystone dyking, metal smithing, croft crafts, rope and paper making, wood chip carving, storytelling, poetry and music. The award winning, Visit Scotland four star accredited Castlehill Heritage Centre is open to visitors all year round. Opening times, special events and workshop times and dates are as advertised on our website and FaceBook page.

web: www.castletownheritage.co.uk

email: castletown.heritage@talk21.com

facebook: @castlehillheritagecentre

Castlehill Heritage Centre
Harbour Road
Castletown
Caithness
KW14 8TG

Tel: 01847 821120 (not continuously manned – please leave a message)

Highland Folk Museum

Highland Folk Museum

The Highland Folk Museum brings to life the domestic and working conditions of earlier Highland peoples. Visitors to this living history Museum can learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, how they built their homes, how they tilled the soil and how they dressed, in a friendly and welcoming environment. An award winning visitor attraction, the Museum not only encapsulates human endeavour and development in Highland life from the 1700s to the present day, but offers an opportunity to explore a beautiful natural setting, home to red squirrels and tree creepers. A great day out for everyone!

www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/

Facebook and Twitter @HighlandFolk

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Follow the Museum’s timeline to discover how the unique highland landscape was formed. Find out about the Picts and their beautiful carved stones, the world wide links of medieval Inverness and the importance of Gaelic language and culture. In the upstairs galleries the story continues with the Stuarts and Bonnie Prince Charlie, music, the stunning Inverness silver collection and ends with the modern city of Inverness.

We have a vibrant Art Gallery with a programme of temporary touring exhibitions of local, national and international art and craft. There is also a Community Gallery for local groups to show their exhibitions. The museum has shop and a café for you to relax in.

Facebook and Twitter @InvMAG  

www.highlifehighland.com/inverness-museum-and-art-gallery/

Introducing…Highland Threads

Introducing…Highland Threads

Highland Threads was conceived at a Highland Heritage Cafe – a regular online meet-up for people working in heritage in the Highlands. We share ideas, discuss issues affecting our sector and find ways to support each other. This support could be as small as recommending a supplier or, like Highland Threads, an ambitious plan for an innovative digital partnership project. 

Unsurprisingly, recent discussions have focused on the effects of COVID-19 on our sector. How can we work together to support museums struggling with the financial implications of temporary closure, furloughed employees and a significant reduction in volunteer contribution? How can museums provide access to collections and generate income while the uncertainty of lockdown and travel restrictions made planning exhibitions and events almost impossible? 

Part of MHH’s remit is supporting museums to employ and develop digital technologies to allow access to collections, increase audiences, and generate income. So, it seemed fitting to nurture an idea using digital tools to address some of the issues our member museums are experiencing.

Through further discussion at the Heritage Cafe, it was agreed that plans for an online exhibition focusing on a costume from each museum’s collection would be developed and funding sought to support the work. 

A successful bid by Museums and Heritage Highlands to the National Lottery Heritage Fund Resilience Fund provided a green light and Highland Threads was go!

Our collective vision for the project is to use collections to support museums in these difficult times. Driving new and existing audiences to our museums whether they are open or closed; help museums find new ways of creating income streams; and open up access to collections in a manageable, sustainable and engaging way.

By employing innovative digital technologies and contracting sector professionals to produce an exceptional product, Highland Threads reflects the quality museums and diverse collections found across the Highlands. 

Launching 1 April 2021, Highland Threads exhibition will be found at www.highlandthreads.co.uk, but until then you keep up to date with progress here (on the MHH site) and across social media using #HighlandThreads.

Our partner museums are: Glencoe Museum, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, Ullapool Museum, Grantown Museum, West Highland Museum, Highland Museum of Childhood, Castlehill Heritage Centre, Tain through Time, Wick Heritage Museum, Highland Folk Museum, Groam House Museum, Strathnaver Museum and Dornoch Historylinks.

Strathnaver Museum secure major funding boost

Strathnaver Museum secure major funding boost

Strathnaver Museum has taken a major step forward in realising their vision for creating a world class visitor attraction on the north Sutherland coast after securing £113,157 from Museum Galleries Scotland’s Recovery and Resilience Fund.

As well as supporting the future aspirations and recovery of the popular visitor attraction the funding will help cover operational costs during the 2020 closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project Manager, Fiona Mackenzie said “Strathnaver Museum secures 76% of its income from admissions and retail sales so the closure of the museum has had a significant impact on our income generation over 2020. The closure could have had a significant impact on our reserves which have been built up over many years to help fund our much-anticipated refurbishment programme. This welcome funding from MGS will ensure that we enter 2021 in a strong position and are able to carry forward our essential refurbishment programme”.

The funding granted towards recovery will enable Strathnaver Museum to undertake crucial survey work to progress plans for the refurbishment and repair of Strathnaver Museum. The development project will make much needed repairs, improve access to the site and its collection, create additional spaces for community projects and help the Trust to improve its sustainability. 

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland said:

“We are pleased to support Strathnaver Museum through the Recovery and Resilience Fund. They have faced severe difficulties caused by the pandemic, but none the less have continued to make exciting plans for their substantial refurbishment programme to become a heritage hub for North West Sutherland.

We are delighted that this fund will support the museum to continue their development as an important hub for regional heritage and an asset for their rural community.”

Strathnaver Museum’s building dates from the mid-18th century and is an important part of the Highland Clearances story. From the pulpit which still dominates the main room, Rev David Mackenzie read out eviction notices to his congregation. Later in 1883 crofters and cottars gathered to give evidence to the Napier Commission which eventually led to them gaining security of tenure.

Strathnaver Museum have secured £1.06 million of the £1.9 million capital funding costs which will secure the building, create a new agricultural annex building and see new interpretation installed across the site. The group are awaiting the outcome of a number of funding applications and have launched a Crowdfunder to help meet an anticipated £30,000 funding gap.

The team are offering some exclusive rewards as part of their Crowdfunder including money off vouchers, behind the scenes tours and the chance to have your name displayed in the refurbished museum. You can contribute to the Crowdfunder here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/refurbishment-of-strathnaver-museum


2019-01-30 Strathnaver Museum volunteers with architect Catriona Hill at a consultation event discussing refurbishment plans in January 2019