Silverbirch Workshop the First Ten Years

For several years we sent out a newsletter “Silverbirch Notes” workshop every 3 months. There was no internet, so I typed it out by hand and printed out and then sent it out worldwide from the post office in Whiting Bay.

Here’s a page I wrote for the newsletter to summarise the first ten years of Silverbirch work.


The first hanks of handspun, natural-dyed wool sold on Arran. The economic path of the future was determined, however rocky it might turn out to be.

22 19th Century Swedish Loom


The four-shaft rug loom from Sweden (built in 1888; purchased from a Stockholm attic for 100 kronor in 1973 (£10 at that time). The production of rugs, and cloth began The first wall-hangings on an Arran theme were woven.

WINTER 1976 – 77 – 78

Local workshops held at the Nature Centre, Brodick and The Gallery, Whiting Bay. Jimmy Innes (Col. James) goes into full production of St. Kilda, Foula and Argyll type wheels.

In the photo of the spinning wheels is a small obituary to Col. Innes when he died in 1983. He was a very good friend.

Scan 9
Scan 13

Handspinners’ Co-operative formed to produce yarns commercially.


First off-island spinning workshop held at Third Eye Gallery, Glasgow during an exhibition of ikat weaving from Indonesia. One afternoon workshop, 500 visitors, many demonstrations of technique.



First industrial practice held in conjunction with Kidderminster College Carpet Design course. Third year students came to learn small studio methods. Followed by similar liaisons with Birmingham Polytechnic and Camberwell College of Art and Crafts, London.

JUNE 1979

BBC Video recording of spinning group at High Corrie. Used as visual background for the annual Golden Fiddle Awards programme with musicians playing to the rhythm of the treadles.

20 Cloth Woven at Silverbirch ca. 1980

1978 – 83

Children’s Summer Workshops in Weaving and Spindle Spinning

Scan 10

Weekend workshops in London, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Dumfries, Aberdeen and Quarry Bank Mill at Styal, Cheshire. “Spider Woman” workshops held at Faith Gillespie’s studio on the Thames at Wapping.


First edition of Knitting Patterns for Handspun Wool hand-lettered by Stephen Gill published.


Article on Indigo dyeing published in Trade Craft magazine from the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London. Led to two projects, testing Lesothan mohair for natural dyeing properties, so that the craft could be reintroduced as part of a spinning project there using recycled bicycle wheels.

Market research for the administration of Tristan da Kunha, testing the market in Britain for sweaters from a spinning project there. Both these projects heightened our own awareness of the significance of our project here.


500 ounces of yarn produced by spinners group in six weeks, setting the pace and showing it could be done.


Taught Spinning at Mendocino Art Centre, California. Lectured at Guilds in Sacramento and the Bay Area in Berkeley

Knitting with Handspun

published by Ross-Gill publishers

JUNE 1985

New workshop built offering light, warm and space for the future.