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The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore

The House Of Feathers

Nothing to my mind represents the beginning of life on this earth more perfectly than an egg. In early Spring every crevice and shelf on the stacs and cliffs of the archipelago contain the eggs of around one million seabirds. For the people of Hiort, eggs were a vital part of survival and they risked their lives to harvest them by being lowered from the clifftops on ropes or rowing to the outlying stacs and climbing the sheer cliffs. Calum Macdonald recounted how it was every young boy’s ambition to visit all the islands and stacs to take part in this extremely hazardous operation. Landing places were literally a footsized outcrop of rock which had to be leapt at barefoot from the sgoth (Hebridean wooden boat) in a heaving sea. Girls also took part and looked forward to a stay on Boreray. For them, they had the relative safety of leaping from the boat into the arms of an anchored man before they climbed upwards of a thousand feet to the little dwellings and green pastures at the top.

Sailing around Boreray and the stacs is an experience like no other. This is the domain of the birds and the sounds and sights of thousands of them on every ledge and wheeling in the sky around you is unforgettable. Though I am well-used to heaving seas and high cliffs I still found it unimaginably awe-inspiring and humbling that through sheer necessity, people became adept at traversing places that are on the very edge of human possibility.

Boreray
The Feather Store in St Kilda Village

Some stuff here about the feather store

The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
Fulmar on the wing over Village Bay in St Kilda

As the perfect beginning to this project, I have begun with the symbol of the egg. I knitted these in my Hebridean 2 Ply in Solan Goose, Driftwood and Pebble Beach and shaped them to fit perfectly in my hands. I then very quickly embroidered them with abstract images of birds, feathers, stacs and the wonderful arcs and shapes of the stone structures around the Village Bay. I felted them so that the images became faint, as though they were shrouded in the mist that frequently swirls around Hiort. They will serve me as initial tokens and I will look at them occasionally to see if they will bring forth some further directions.

The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore

Some brief about the fulmar now ruling the cleits

The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
Fulmar nesting in St Kilda Village
Fulmar nesting in St Kilda Village
The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The Queen of the Waves, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The Queen of the Waves, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore

Healing wells are an important feature of Hebridean culture, with some wells even reputed to heal specific diseases. There are seven notable wells on Hiort and the most famous of these is Tobar nam Buadh, translated as The Well of Virtues. It is located in the Gleann Mòr in the North West of the main island. The water from this well was considered to have such great healing qualities that invalids from the other Outer Hebridean islands made their way over the ocean in the hope of being cured. The belief that spirits resided in the well continued well into the nineteenth century and it was necessary for those who drank the water to appease the guardian spirit by leaving a small gift. Pebbles, shells and buttons were considered appropriate. I knitted and felted nine whelk shells in each of which I enclosed an embroidered felted button in honour of the spirit of Tobar nam Buadh.

The Queen of the Waves, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore
The House of the Feathers, Sketches in Wool by Alice Starmore