Storyteller Lizzie McDougall tells us about her Story Quilt Project, a visual celebration of over 30 traditional stories from the North and Inner Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands.
This storytelling project has involved people of all ages in the creation of a special quilt and a hanging which celebrate the traditional songs, tunes and stories of the Inner Moray Firth and the Dunbeath Area.
This area has a wealth of local stories and lots are connected to the sea. The title of Neill Gunn's novel 'The Silver Darling's about the herring fishing inspires the title of this project. Many traditional stories were collected by Hugh Millar, such as the 'Mermaid in the Firth.' Another great collector of local stories is my mentor Elizabeth Sutherland, with tales of the Picts, early Saints and the Brahan Seer. The project has also been inspired by poems in the Avochie dialect about the last days of the herring fishing in the Firth by Willie Skinner, and songs and stories composed by Gordon Gunn and George Gunn for The Musical Map of Caithness.
I have also worked closely with people living in the area, visiting communities along the coast in Dunbeath, Latheron, Portmahomac, Cromarty, Foulis, Dingwall, Strathpeffer, Kinkell, Rosemarkie, Avoch and Inverness, holding storytelling and story gathering sessions to collect traditional stories of each area. This led to a collection of around 30 traditional stories that are now celebrated in the Quilt and Hanging.
The quilt itself came together over a period of one year. Inspired by all the stories collected, I developed images to illustrate these stories, and led applique sessions where people cut the fabric, embroidered, chatted and stitched a bit of themselves into the quilt. At each venue, people brought buttons, beads, ribbons, threads and fragments of cloth much of which have been included in the panels. The project also benefited from a donation of fabric by ANTA. The completed applique panels were then sent to Denmark to be quilted and then stitched in to a patchwork border by quilting artist Brenda Sanders (who also happens to be my sister-in-law!).
We now have a 12 panel quilt called 'The Gold and Silver Darlings Story Quilt' and the Dunbeath Hanging, now called 'The Silver Darlings Hanging.' I take the Story Quilt to events to share the stories with people of all ages. My hope is to encourage children in particular to look after the stories, to cherish and remember them, and to pass them on, inspiring new stories of the local place.
Christine Gunn from Dunbeath wrote;
"With six story panels inspired by stories told to Lizzie during three story-gathering sessions at Dunbeath Heritage Centre (and our atmospheric salmon bothy at Dunbeath Harbour), the panel is an artistic triumph as well as an attractive, thought-provoking, and portable record of aspects of Dunbeath and Latheron parish's heritage. A key part of the project was contact with people from our community. This included all pupils from the local Primary School, as well as a cross-generational spread of older people - their participation was valuable as a way of re-igniting local interest in our work at the Heritage Centre as well as for the work they put in.
We hope the panel will inspire local people and visitors for many years to come."
Many people have taken part in the process and the involvement of each of the venues and their staff has been very enriching to the project. I am very grateful to all the people who have been involved in the process.
If you are interested in a Storytelling session with the Quilt or would like more info, please contact me.
The project is thankful to funds from Dunbeath Heritage Center, Museums and Galleries Scotland, Caring and Sharing Inverness, the Highland Council, and the Creative Scotland Fèisean nan Gàidheal TASGADH Fund.