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5 Nov 2020

Materials & Making at Kellie Castle

Written by Cassandra Barron, Book Artist
A fabric book is displayed against a plain grey background. The front cover is a tapestry of a castle with colourful flowers in the foreground.
A textile touch book at Kellie Castle
In autumn/winter 2019 we put together a new interpretive programme. Experiencing Collections was a series of experimental interventions at six properties (Brodie Castle, Culzean Castle, Gladstone’s Land, Haddo House, Kellie Castle and Pollok House), devised and produced by six different creative practitioners working in collaboration with our operational teams, curators and conservators.

Last year, book artist Cassandra Barron developed three ‘touch books’ with the team at Kellie Castle, helping visitors to engage with different elements of the castle’s rich history in making and design. These books were designed to be held, touched and interacted with.

One book focused on marquetry and splat backs on chairs, drawing attention towards Kellie’s bespoke furniture. The second book focused on the plasterwork, helping visitors notice and appreciate the artistry in the carvings above them. The third book focused on the textiles in the house, giving prominence to Mary Lorimer’s tireless post-war efforts to create curtains and bedspreads in rooms throughout the castle. It also drew attention to the samplers on display.

Hosting interactive making activities was a new way to engage visitors both with items in our collection and with their own sense of creativity. It also acted as a prompt for curiosity, conversation and storytelling about the castle.

A lady sits at a sampler, displayed on a large wooden frame, by a large sash window. Another lady leans over the frame, showing some threads.
Our community sampler allowed us to share new stories about Kellie Castle.

‘Add a stitch’ community sampler

Rather than re-creating a sampler already in the collection, we decided to design a new one! This gave us the chance to tell the story of Kellie Castle and invite visitors to become part of its history by adding their stitch and bringing it to life.

We included symbols, dates and names that were particularly relevant to Kellie. Once we’d designed and created a simple outline for our sampler, we used a fabric printer to transfer the design across. We then drew up a stitching plan that showed which stitches and colours to use on each section – we used The Embroidery Stitch Bible (by Betty Barnden) to help people reference the stitches.

All needleworkers know that you need good light for stitching, so we positioned the tapestry stand by a window. We also created some supporting materials to share our plans, consisting of our stitching plan, preliminary designs, and a stitched piece of fabric with some of the stitches included in the design. We turned these materials into a book that people could sit down and look through it.

Textile swatch book

Kellie Castle houses a huge range of textiles, many of which can’t be handled and viewed up close. By printing photos of these textiles onto fabric, and then using them to create a swatch book, we offered a new way for visitors to experience the collection.

Once printed, we cut each fabric sample out and lined the edges with fabric tape to prevent fraying. The fabric tape was also a good space for us to write some notes on the details of the textile sample. We then attached our fabric samples together, by punching a hole in the top left of the pieces of fabric and using a piece of string or binding loop.

Embossing press

Our third interactive activity involved installing an embossing press. Embossing is a great technique to convey a raised detail, such as a crest or motif from a plaster ceiling, and also gave people a physical reminder of their visit. We used an exhibition embossing press made by Bolsons, a UK-based company that makes bespoke plates and presses specifically for museum environments.

Bolsons created an embossing plate for the press, working from a high-resolution photograph. Visitors placed a piece of paper under the press and pushed the handle down to make an impression. They were then challenged to find where the original was located in the castle! We used handmade paper (business card size) so it had a nice feel and felt like a more special souvenir. To avoid waste, these pieces of paper were handed to visitors at the front desk when they arrived.

The idea behind the Experiencing Collections project was to develop, produce and, importantly, to test new techniques and interventions that could inspire and engage our visitors.

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