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Crafty Fifers

03 March 22

Things to do

From Wemyssware pottery loved by the Royals to the popular Pittenweem Arts Festival, Fife is home to many talented craftspeople who are helping to ensure Fife’s traditional crafts are kept alive. Let's meet three of them:

School of Needlework

A Stitch in Time For almost 150 years, The Wemyss School of Needlework has been teaching traditional skills such as embroidery and needlepoint.

“The Wemyss School of Needlework was founded in 1877 by my husband’s great-great aunt, Dora Wemyss,” explains Fiona Wemyss, custodian of The Wemyss School of Needlework, a post which has been held by a member of her husband’s family since the school was founded. “Dora Wemyss, the daughter of the Laird, wanted to provide an education for the local miners’ daughters which would enable them to earn a living.

“After learning needlework skills at the School, ‘Wemyss Girls’ could become ladies’ maids, seamstresses, teach at the school or, after they married, could take in sewing jobs at home.”

Originally located in a single room in the family’s home, Wemyss Castle, the School soon outgrew this space and, in 1880, moved to a specially-built schoolhouse in Coaltown of Wemyss. “Over 300 girls were educated at The Wemyss School of Needlework between 1877 and the outbreak of World War 2,” says Fiona. “It gave many local girls an excellent opportunity to become independent breadwinners.”

Today, The Wemyss School of Needlework continues Dora’s legacy by offering one-to-one needlework tuition and, depending on Covid restrictions, needlework classes in a range of techniques. “We also run untaught needlework sessions every Wednesday and, on request, we provide needlework classes to visiting groups,” explains Fiona.

“In addition, we stretch and finish pieces of needlework for customers and, where it’s within our capabilities, repair damaged pieces,” continues Fiona, who adds that the School also has a museum, where its historic ledgers, including pupil registers, samplers made by the pupils and examples of needlework techniques dating from the 17th century onwards are amongst the items on display.

The Wemyss School of Needlework also provides designs for customers and sells canvas, linens, wools, threads and needlework sundries – everything a needleworker could need!

Jo MacFarlane, Candemaker

Shine On Award-winning Fife candlemaker Jo MacFarlane loves showing people how to make their own candles. “I love empowering others to be creative,” says Jo, whose online candlemaking courses from her Anstruther studio attract novice candlemakers from across the world.

Jo made her first hand-poured, scented candle nine years ago simply because she had a gorgeous cut-glass candle jar in need of a candle! “I enjoyed the candlemaking process so much I made more for family and friends,” recalls Jo. “Then the Fairmont Hotel outside St Andrews asked me to supply candles for corporate gifts and this led to a luxury hotel in London ordering my candles.”

Jo soon had a successful candlemaking business on her hands and, in response to the many questions she received about making candles, started holding candlemaking workshops in her home.

“These workshops proved so popular, I had to chase my son and my husband out of the house every Saturday so groups of trainee candlemakers could take over my kitchen!”

To cope with demand for her candles and her candlemaking workshops, Jo moved into a nearby studio. However, due to concerns around covid, Jo is currently only offering online workshops. “Hopefully, that will change soon,” she says. “However, my studio is open to the public once a week for Fill Up Friday when customers can bring along their empty candleholders, buy a refill and enjoy a coffee and a chat.”

Jo’s candles are gorgeously-scented and she reveals that her Coastal Breeze candle was inspired by the Fife coast. “Coastal Breeze conjures up the fragrance that envelops you on a walk along the seashore,” says Jo. “However, a candle’s about much more than a scent – it’s about sharing the light. I want as many people as possible to discover the magic of candlelight.”

Di Gilpin, Knitwear Designer

Natter with a Knitter! At her studio near Pittenweem, knitwear designer Di Gilpin creates handknitted, luxurious outfits using the finest cashmere and wool. “A single Di Gilpin garment can take as long as two months to knit,” says Di, who also has her own wool label – Lalland Yarn, made from Scottish wool and spun in Scotland.

“I’ve been knitting since I was a child and changed career from school teacher to knitwear designer when I was living on a croft on Skye,” continues Di. “Twenty years later, I moved to St Andrews and now I’m based at Comielaw Farm on Balcaskie Estate, where I work alongside my business partner, Sheila Greenwell, who oversees our team of highly-skilled handknitters.

“At Comielaw Farm, we have a beautiful showroom and design studio, alongside a workroom, where Sheila and I normally hold workshops.”

Di explains that, although the studio is currently closed to the public, visitors are welcome by appointment – and Di and Sheila’s very popular knitting workshops will hopefully soon resume. “Our workshops are mainly aimed at intermediate knitters and cover many different knitting techniques, including Gansey Knitting, a heritage craft inspired by the sweaters worn by fishermen.

“Teaching knitting is very important to me,” continues Di. “Showing others how to knit will keep the ancient craft of knitting alive.”

As part of their commitment to encouraging people to pick up knitting needles, Di and Sheila hold a weekly knit club. “As well as being relaxing and enjoyable, knitting can be a very social activity,” says Di. “Every Thursday, from 5pm until 7pm, knitters come along to the studio to try out different knitting techniques and enjoy a chat while knitting. It's great fun and knitters of all skill levels are welcome.

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