A house of two women.

July 2021

In September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick and began, more or less immediately, to research the people that had lived here before me. Through conversations with local people, the return of photographs and pottery and 8 sessions in Shetland Museum Archives,  I found that the Halcrow family had lived here from the mid 1800’s until 1660.  I became particularly interested in researching a woman called Susan (Cissie) b1876 –  d1960 who lived in my croft house for 83 years – and after her parents and brother died, from 1916, she was alone.  She made the fire in the hearth, grew things, opened the old latch door and looked out to sea every day, as I now do, also as a single woman.   Susan was the last of three generations of the Halcrow family to live in this house and she lived through some of the most recorded changeable times in Shetland history. And living here as a single woman can be tough at times.

Through this new frame of mine, I began to write a story of two women living in the same house over a century apart.  I began to write and research through my own lived experiences, diarised in a daily practice of writing. I researched a story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and out of that story, I knitted a pattern for Susan.  When I look at Susan’s face in any of the photographs that I have been given, she looks calm, serene and has a real beauty about her.  The glint in her eye was there to the end. In the archives, I read Susan’s will. She mentioned the Small Holders (Scotland) Acts 1886 and 1931 and the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1954.’  This highlights the importance of Tenants rights here in Shetland and pinpoints some of the most notable, recorded social changes in Shetland’s history – dating from the Napier Commission – right through to the personal will of a woman whose parents and grandparents fought for their rights.

I was awarded a VACMA award.  (Visual Arts Craft MakersAward) to write the story of Susan and myself living in this house over a century apart and to design a knitted piece dedicated to Susan Halcrow.  I have made a neat little pullover dedicated to her, with her in mind. The jumper hopes to embody the natural elements of Shetland and how serene and calm Susan looked –  always smart, usually wearing a brooch or collar when photographed outside the house.  The body of the jumper is inspired by the colours of the Shetland seas of turquoise, aqua, greens and all the blues you could ever imagine and I wanted the yoke to be jewel-like.  It is a knitting recipe of light, wind, the sea, yarn, Shetland life and a woman called Susan as well as my own creative practice. My creative practice is a way of expressing my life through the art of storytelling and technology of knitting and through the use of expressive colour.

I would like to thank Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland for supporting this project – for me, it is a thing of great beauty – not only the design but the 15 page story of Susan and I.  The writing of this work has been a research and a personal journey written in letters to Susan. If you would like to read the story, it is in full on my Patreon site. If you are interested in the knitting pattern, it is available on ravelry (with the story too).  Links to both are below.

Big love from Shetland in these long summer days. Tracey.

For further reading and insights into the research please go to https://patreon.com/traceydoxey

For the knitting pattern and 15 page story

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/dear-susan

East meets West

 

For some weeks, I have been hoping to collaborate with Yuka Kishi at NTU to make something together, without plan or expectation.  Yuka’s work is bright, fun, experimental and lively. She’s on a scholarship from Japan and has been in New York also working with Susan Cianciolo Thompson.  Yuka’s work is made of printed fabrics and found objects.  Mine is totally different – maybe more traditional – knitted and sewn but somewhere along the way, I felt that we had a common thread.     Yuka collects found pieces of fabric and knitting and other things to use in her work as well as creating very colourful prints and life size fabric dolls and smaller ones.  I’ve never really talked to Yuka about her work and strangely, even after working with her for 5 hours today, we never really talked about our respective creative practice.   We only really talked about what we were doing. There was great, unspoken, mutual respect and neither one took the lead and we also let each other do things to the piece with and without discussion.

 

We got together initially to make something out of found or thrown away fabrics and knitting.

I had collected two bags of machine knitted lace from my visit to G H Hurts in Nottingham from my visit earlier this year and Yuka brought pieces of jackets, sleeves, and fabrics that she had found in the sewing dept at Uni that had been thrown away.

We both liked the tweed jacket front that Yuka had found that had been discarded at uni and it took the lead in the piece that we decided to make.  We both agreed not to be obvious so we started working on the tailor’s dummy and pinned the front on – then immediately started working on the back.

During the 5 hours, we machine sewed, overlocked, hand sewed, embroidered, pinned and tacked random pieces of fabric together, with and without even talking.

Some ideas were discussed, and some were just run with.

The back is an East meets West, partly looking like a kimono, a tweed jacket and traditional lace knit. It grew into something quite lovely.

The sleeves were one found tweed sleeve that we used as a template for some vintage silk Japanese Kimono silk that I had had for some years and I machined them into shape. Yuka machined them into the body – when the whole thing was almost finished.  These two sleeves were really the only machine sewn parts in the piece.

It’s a piece born out of a quick chat – it’s a piece really of nothing but for me, it broke the spell of me not wanting to go to Uni.  I have begun to question why I am there.  And 5 hours flew by – 5 hours flew by.  I didn’t think of my worries or of anything other than making – that’s got to be good hasn’t it?

Afterwards, we reflected on what we’d made – really very little

but more than that, we both felt that the practice of just making and doing is quite priceless especially in the company of another where there is no conflict or difficulty – just having a go. 🙂

I really thank Yuka Kishi for today.