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Issue 42 - Made in Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 42
December 2008


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Made in Scotland

Ian Buxton looks at some of the best and brightest producers working in Scotland's traditional crafts.

Craft traditions have lived on in Scotland, and today they prosper in a vital and vibrant industry that responds to contemporary needs and concerns but with a traditional spin.

Take the building industry, for example.

Not where you thought this article would start, perhaps, but traditional dyking (dry stone walling) is an essential part of the look of the Scottish countryside. And, to maintain Scotland’s fine built heritage of historic houses – from grand castles to humble crofts – it’s vital that traditional crafts such as stone masonry, traditional joinery, lime pointing and rendering are kept alive.

Traditional heritage skills are at risk of dying out in the UK. Today, there are less than 40,000 craftsmen with the necessary specialist skills to maintain our historic environment, which includes more than half a million listed historic buildings. So good training is vital, and that’s the job of the Scottish Traditional Skills Training Centre, based at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire where a wide range of courses are available.

With a new generation of young craftsmen and women, well versed in traditional practices, the future of Scotland’s historic buildings looks to be in good hands.

And skilled handiwork links all the craftbased industry we’ll review here, not least the clothing and textile industry. What could be more traditional than Scottish dress – the kilt, sporran and sgian dubh that make up such a distinctive part of our national identity? Every part has its own skilled practitioners and enthusiasts who together can make up the complete look.

Take the sgian dubh, for example, the Gaelic name for the ceremonial knife or dagger that’s worn tucked into a gentleman’s hose (or socks) when wearing the kilt. You can buy a plastic replica if you wish, or spend more than £2,500 on a sterling silver, steel and wood beauty, with real amethyst pommel stone and a handle carved from 10,000 year old fossilised walrus ivory.

Artist Garth Duncan makes these wonderful objets d’art, along with a range of rings, bracelets, brooches and so on from his remote base on Skye. Originally from Northern California, Garth returned to the land of his fathers in 2001. Today, all his work is hand-made, a noble tribute to ancient Celtic traditions. “Standard” pieces can be ordered online at But a sgian dubh is nothing without a kilt and here again you have a range of choices.

It’s possible to buy a cheap, lightweight kilt, probably imported from the Far East, for a few pounds. But would you want to?

The real deal will come from a bespoke maker like Kinloch Anderson of Edinburgh – suppliers to the Royal Family, though it doesn’t exactly boast about it. It has been serving Scotland’s gentry since 1868 and offer a bewildering variety of Highland dress in any tartan – at almost any weight – that you care to specify. Again, you can order online from the website at but for the full experience try to visit the shop in Leith (Edinburgh’s historic port) and be fitted out in person.

Kinloch Anderson represents the traditional end of the kilt spectrum. Bringing the kilt into the 21st century, however, is the mission of iconoclastic Edinburgh designer Howie Nicholsby who claims “kilts are very comfortable, they liberate you and your wardrobe, making clothes more exciting than ever before. Oh and yes, they happen to be considered sexy wherever you wear one.” Certainly, his radical designs have attracted a trendy celebrity crowd, with Vin Diesel, Robbie Williams, Alan Cumming, K T Tunstall and boxer Amir Khan all snapped in a 21st Century Kilt on Howie’s lively website at Aradical kilt requires a matching sporran, which is what Jennifer Cantwell, a designer/maker based in Inverness aims to provide.

Calling herself Sporran Nation, her designs are bold and funky. She even produces a vegan sporran for those who choose not to wear leather. However, for a more traditional look, Morrison’s of Perth has a full range – you can compare and contrast at and That covers Scottish building and traditional Highland dress but what about furnishings? As you might expect, there are any number of skilled craftsmen and women producing every type of furniture imaginable. They’ve even grouped together to showcase their work at where you can search for everything from a bed to a boardroom table. I was charmed by Tom Provost’s ‘Fairy Tale Dresser’ and his starkly modern driftwood bathroom cabinet.

That might seem a far remove from ‘craft’ furniture though, where the traditional look is kept alive by companies such as Scapa Crafts, manufacturers of the Orkney Chair. But, just like Provost’s bathroom cabinet, Scapa makes many of its chairs from driftwood, reflecting the harsh existence that once faced inhabitants of Scotland’s far-flung Orkney Islands and the need to make use of every available resource.

Today, though the islands enjoy every modern convenience, an adherence to oldfashioned values and craftsmanship means that husband and wife team Jackie and Marlene Miller can still offer chairs recycled from driftwood sourced from the west coast of Orkney, where the Atlantic Ocean occasionally washes up great logs. As they explain: “The weathering of the wood by the sea gives it a richness and character all of its own.” A hooded driftwood chair, with its meticulously assembled back of hand-woven straw will cost from around £1,200. Visit for more details.

Also recycling wood to make his chairs, but with a distinctly more modern design ethos is the mission of David Trujillo-Farley who works with old whisky barrels to make a distinctive range of furniture that would grace any contemporary interior design. See for yourself at:

And the mention of whisky barrels leads us naturally to whisky itself.

Let’s not forget, with written records dating back to 1494, that whisky distilling is one of Scotland’s oldest crafts.

Though today the industry is largely in the hands of global multi-nationals, a few brave pioneers are returning to the old ways and distilling artisanal whisky on a farmhouse scale.

These include the Red River distillery on the island of Lewis; Fife’s Daftmill distillery and Kilchoman on Islay.

Having been established in 2005, as the first new distillery on Islay for 124 years, Kilchoman will come of age in 2009 when its first fullymatured whisky is released. It’s a proud moment for owner Anthony Wills, but if you can’t wait you can get a trial pack of the spirit at one month, one and two years of age for just £24.95 from the website at Better still, why not make the trip to Islay and see – and taste – for yourself the new spirit of Scotland’s traditional crafts?