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6 Aug 2020

Meet the Makers: Clare Campbell from Prickly Thistle

A woman sits cross-legged on the floor with a roll of tartan textile in front of her.
Clare Campbell, Prickly Thistle
The Trust is proud to partner with talented makers and craftspeople from across Scotland, by selling their products in our physical and online shops. This time, we meet Clare Campbell from Prickly Thistle.

My name is Clare Campbell and I’m founder and co-owner of Prickly Thistle. I trained as an accountant many years ago, and after working in professional practice and industry for some time, I realised that I wanted to help a Scottish icon and the industry that served it – tartan designed textiles. So, perhaps not the most creative background for a creative industry business, but I realised that it was all about how you connect with people, understand their story and how you articulate that in another form.

I was born a MacDonald and married a Campbell, and in the historical world of clan tartans that is perhaps controversial ... and might explain a little about our passion and vision, and how we challenge with respect.

In the beginning, I didn’t think for a second we would have our own textiles mill, with work underway on creating a circular business. But in 2020, here we are. It wasn’t easy to set up but, as they say, if everything was easy ... Our vision was to bring back tartan weaving to the Highland region in a mill, with a community of ‘Rebels’, as we call ourselves.

We raised support through a series of crowdfunding campaigns, where we sold a limited collection of tartan products to the most amazing people around the world. They were all under the namesake of the Black House Mill – a restored agricultural steading on the Black Isle. This was to be repurposed as a new sustainable business, but sadly in the current situation this has now been delayed until 2021.

A lit lamp with a shuttle for a base. Tartan cloth lies in front of it.
Weavers lamp: inspired by the shuttles used every day in the mill

What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?

Rather than picking one favourite thing, I think it’s the most humbling thing to have the chance in my lifetime to connect with people from every corner of the planet who share the same passions and values as us. It’s a gift that I feel privileged to be part of.

They understand sustainable practices, they care about the planet and they believe in people to be a force for good. I think they also understand that looking back is, in fact, looking forward.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

The proudest moment so far? Gosh, I’m not sure. But what always stays with me is what Martin said one year after we set up. Martin is one of the few time-served tuners on the works-of-engineering-art that are Dobbcross shuttle looms, and thankfully for us he stayed in the region after Hunters of Brora closed. Through the wonders of ‘word of mouth’, we found him and asked him if he would help us, teach us and restore the legacy looms we have saved. One day he said to me, ‘I wish I was 20 years younger’. He felt invigorated to be back working on his lifetime passion. I think he was lifted, knowing that people wanted to learn his craft and keep it alive.

Sadly, most of the Scottish textiles industry had progressed to high-volume, computerised weaving equipment, which is understandable. But they don’t quite have the same connection a 100-year-old loom can weave into the cloth.

I am biased, of course, and maybe I do feel proud that we saved the looms and the skills. These looms will outrun the expected lifetime of any modern loom. They were built from cast iron and they were built to last, which makes them particularly sustainable.

What’s your favourite Trust place and why?

It has to be Culloden Battlefield, just 20 miles or so away from us. The site of the last pitched battle in UK history, which actually enforced an act of law that led to the banning of Highland Dress, including tartan. The Act of Proscription 1746 was repealed some years later, thankfully for us, otherwise we would all have been deported by now!

But what I like about this story is that tartan, a fabric of identity, empowered communities and families with a sense of pride, a sense of being together. It bestowed courage to fight for what you believe in, and today that human spirit and desire to help others remains.

For me, in the context of fast fashion, unsustainable practices, modern slavery and incomprehensible volumes of toxic waste, this is a fight we are challenging for change. Our community is global, because now everyone has a responsibility for the one place we all call home – Earth. And our neighbours could be 2 miles along the road, but they are also 5,000 miles across an ocean.

How did you come up with your Save Our Scotland tartan design?

The Save Our Scotland tartan design recognises the past and the future, and that’s why we have two versions for this very special campaign. The past creates the future and the future always becomes the past. The thread counts for both are the same, using numbers that commemorate this design’s purpose. It has the date of this campaign announcement – 31 July 2020; it acknowledges that support has always come from the four corners of the world; and it recognises that 2020 is the 89th year for the charity.

The Hands of the Past tartan colours embody the land and buildings that the Trust protects. With blues, greens, browns and greys, these four elements can be found in just about every landscape and Trust building. They are also colours of our past in terms of naturally dyed tartan fabrics, where our ancestors would have used plants and local resources to create subtle colour combinations.

The Hands of the Future tartan colours have been chosen to show the fire of future passions. We’ve used reds to represent the fire in your belly – to not give up and a fierce love for the things you want to protect. These are considered to be modern colours, imported historically from the New World and are symbolic of the global connection and love for the treasures the Trust protects.

New tartans support Save Our Scotland

Why do you think it’s important to support the Trust?

We are protectors and promoters of the past and, like the Trust, we want these stories to continue long into the future. Being inspired to create new chapters, we feel very fortunate to be part of a country that has one of the richest histories in the world. A history that everyone can relate to; a history that has made today what it is. Above all, we feel we have a responsibility to support the Trust. Everyone knows that when something is gone, lost or destroyed often it is irreplaceable and is never quite the same again.

Any future plans?

Our plans? Well, as any rebel would disclose or not, we can certainly say we have some interesting and challenging plans that we’re committed to. To find out more you need to join us!

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