Patchwork Construction

The Highlands of Scotland are my heart’s home. Landscape that at first glance barely seems to have been touched by human hands, until you look a little closer and see the mounds of overgrown rubble, once hearth and home – and the linear patterns of well chosen rocks, piled to stripe the hillsides, separating one patch of mountain from another.

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Drystone walls fascinate me, with their strength, their ability to shelter all manner of life forms, while remaining impervious to highland weather. Their longevity carried across the landscape, a testament to the hands that built them.

My dad was a Highlander, and he could, amongst many other things, build a great drystone wall. Or drystane dyke, as he would have said it, in his scottish burr. His first job, after leaving school at 14 was as a shepherd. Lonely, and not the warmest of places being out on the hills all day and night, but a great place to study construction in an ancient land, well used to human observation. And observe he did, for his skills in wall building were evident in our back garden – growing up I remember him building them with such care. I recall vividly the day he showed me how – you choose a stone, he said – and once chosen you don’t set it down again until you’ve found it’s place. A little bit like a jigsaw puzzle. He told me that day that eventually, you get a feel for which stone will work in each place, and you hold the slabs of rock for less time, spend less energy pondering where they fit – know, after as while, which one to choose for the space you’re needing to fill.

 

Patchwork, the way I like to do it, feels much the same. Finding a piece of fabric that sits perfectly against another. Sometimes its the patterns that speak to each other, a conversation of colours. Sometimes there are colours in one piece that pop colours from another. I never have a plan with my patchwork, though I do sometimes envy those complex, fantastically ordered quilts that I see fellow craftsfolk creating. My quilts evolve. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Each patch finds it’s place. Much like my dad and his drystone walls.

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