It is quite strange being back at work, I say work, but since I, like everyone else involved here, is a volunteer, people tend to see it as something other that what we call work. However, being about to enter my eighth decade, let me just tell you that having sat on my backside for nearly three weeks, I came across to the Mill yesterday, sprachelled about looking for some information on lace mills which I need for the book I am writing. And the result was a striking inability to either walk, stand, sit or do almost any other activities without pain! So I now realise that whatever you want to think of volunteers, and whether what we do is work or not, go slowly-back-into-it!!
While I haven’t been physically active over the long Christmas and New Year break, I have made a start on the new book, which will be about the collection of Vintage Costumes, and for which we have received a generous grant from Museums Galleries Scotland. I am hugely enjoying trying to remember when we started, how we started, where we started the collection, which now numbers probably in excess of four thousand pieces. My wife Moira, who has been deeply involved from day 1, has, I am happy to say, a much better memory than mine now is. She remembers with great detail what she wore, what I wore, what the people with us wore to almost any occasion that has taken part in our fifty-odd years of marriage. So the obvious thing was to type out the history as I saw it and then pass it to her for proof reading. It cannot come as a surprise to any of you that I was almost totally wrong from day one, and she systematically refuted almost all of what I had written as a kind of original timeline!
Paisley pattern from the draft book.
The dignity of working clothes, from the draft book.
One of the interesting things is just how the very idea of collecting textiles has expanded from simply a passing interest to a recognition that the river valleys of Southern Scotland, especially those of the Garnock and the river Irvine, were teeming with design, thought, industry, activity and employment going back at least two hundred and fifty years. My biggest surprise so far has been that the firm of Mortons in Newmilns not only designed for but manufactured for William Morris and most of the other firms of the Arts and Crafts Movement. As an aside, there seems to be little record of any of the design work done at this time other than at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Should anyone out there have any examples or information about the work done in the Irvine Valley towns at this period, we would dearly like to see it and record it for the book.
In the meantime, we are finding wonderful photographs of amateur drama clubs before we arrived here in North Ayrshire, and of course wonderful photographs of the costumes which Moira made for both local young farmers and members of the Women’s Rural Institute, both of whose drama groups I produced and wrote for, while Moira made their costumes, did their make-up and prompted. Thinking back and looking at the photographs, including one of myself and my wife on stage, me as a monk and my wife as a villager, I have been remembering what enormous fun we had, how many interesting and humorous people we met, all of which sadly we had to abandon to take up the challenge of restoring the Mill and turning it into a visitor attraction.
The showcase of costumes on loan to the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine, and now available at the Mill.