Friday, July 19, 2019


Twas not I who killed the carpet python although I did skin it. Back in January 2006 I was on one of my walk about on the south coast of Western Australia. I had spent three glorious day roaming around Hammer Head and Little Wharton beach and was on my way back to Esperance when I caught sight of a very large snake at the side of the dirt road. I pulled over and reversed back to take a closer look. It was seriously dead having been run over about a foot from the head but it was also a seriously large carpet python with the remaining two meters untouched and with the most beautifully marked skin. WA has a lot of road kill, little of which you’d want to eat due to the heat factor, although my best find would have to be the Cape Barron goose………………delicious. I seemed to have lost my only sharp knife so resorted to a pair of scissors to cut around the snake and simply peal back the skin. I then snipped the full length of the yellow underside and placing it on the bonnet of the Land Rover proceeded to scrape any remaining fat. I gave it a wash down and popped it into a plastic bag with the aim of doing a better job of it as soon as I could find a sharp knife. About ten miles up the road at the Condinup crossroads there was a filling station and store. Having topped up with diesel I ask the woman behind the counter if she sold sharp knives. The reply came “What d’you want it for. I suppose it was just simple curiosity but I found myself hesitating to reply. As soon as I admitted it was to skin a snake her eyes twinkled and excitedly she said, “So was it the carpet python on the way up from Wharton?” she’d seen it on the way into work that morning. Having bought the knife she told me if I had any problems with being caught in possession of a snake skin I tell them to phone her at the Condinup shop and she voucher that she’d seen it dead before I came upon it, and although they would most likely take the skin off me there would be no fine.
In the baking heat of Australia it doesn’t take long for a skin to dry and I posted it back to myself in a box full of shells and weather wood. Most tourists go for the Koala cuddly toy or an aboriginal dot painted T shirt but I prefer some natural detritus that I can do something creative with. The following year I was making a series of small octagonal sailor’s valentine boxes to display a range of smaller shells and while most of them I veneered with Australian woods the one I made for myself was covered with the carpet python skin. This will be just one of many objects with a story amongst a vast variety of work on show at my upcoming exhibition, entitled “All that I do” at An Lanntair Art Centre in Stornoway throughout this coming September.          

Monday, July 8, 2019


Warning this block contains technical terminology which may render it partially unreadable for those not familiar with loom weaving.

 Not on a normal four shaft loom I was told since the caorig blankets have a repeat lozenge pattern spreading over twelve warps. This may sound rather technical and as a total beginner I was prepared to believe those more experienced weavers. But having played around with all sorts of combinations of weaves and different heddle threading I felt sure there must be a way. So I started to draw out a simple lozenge weave and after an hour thought I had the code cracked. They would be proud of me in Bletchley Park. On paper it worked but in reality would it be possible on my little table loom? The only way I was going to find out was to have a go. I decided to keep the warp all the same colour so as not to complicate things even further which speeded up the time taken on the warping board. Threading the heddles was somewhat complex but there was a repeated sequence which soon started to make sense. I finished at half ten that evening having beamed the warp and tied onto the cloth beam rod. I was heading into Stornoway the following morning but could not resist just trying a few runs of weft. For a blanket this can be five or six strands of different coloured wool at a time so as to give a good thickness. I soon found that my rise and fall sequence of shaft lifting from 1 to 4 and over 12 warps was going to be a slow affair since the sheds opened up were not sufficiently deep simply to pass the shuttle through. Instead I needed each time to insert a batten and twist it to make enough room for the shuttle. I am well acquainted with time consuming work so this didn’t put me off and within a few rows I could see it was going to work, it could be done.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


During a visit last week from all 21 of the North Tolsta School children I described the studio as my playroom. Unlike most artist studios it contains a very wide range of mediums of creation from shells, pebbles and drift wood to feathers, paint and tweed yarn. Although there is a constant stream of cars and camper vans on sunny days heading to our two local beaches visitors to the studio are few and far between, averaging perhaps five a week throughout the past month. Those interested in the creative arts and who do make the effort find themselves suitably rewarded judging by the compliments I receive. When the school minivan arrived to pick up the youngest group of children several asked to stay on so taken were they with my playroom.     
 My most recent toy has been my table loom on which I’ve been having considerable experimental fun over the past fortnight. Having spent a considerable time in selecting a graduation of rainbow colours to set out on the warping board I once again ran into serious difficulties when getting this onto the beam. There is no easy way of doing this single handed and I can see that in the future I would be better to ask a neighbour to crank the beam while I keep the tied on warp wool under tension. Again I had only a very rough idea of what length of warp I had managed to get onto the beam but at least the tedious operation of tying in had gone more smoothly this time. My aim was to weave the full range of rainbow colours within the warp and in each case to create a band of twill and basket weave separated by a narrow solid weave.
It soon became evident that the twill weave would effectively blank out the appearance of the rainbow. I was however delighted to discover that on the reverse side, all the colours remained more or less visible. After approximately 2m of weaving I wound on the warp to start a second scarf. This was to be a thicker two ply weave and literally anything goes as far as weft colour and combination of weaving pattern. The aim here was to experiment, play and discover to the point where I even ventured into double weaving one section leaving the ends open for a short distance then crossing the weft wools over to seal what would be a pocket within the scarf.
Once the scarf was removed it again proved to be much longer than I had expected which I suppose showed how much fun I had been having. Yesterday I popped in to see one of the Harris Tweed weavers in the village to collect some more unused bobbins and decided to be brave and show him what I’d been doing. I had prepared myself for a critical appraisal so was delighted when he was full of praise for the complexity of what I had achieved. My random sequence of weaving in these scarfs seems to be their charm but the shear riot of colours is the result of a much wider selection of modern colours within today’s tweed.