Don’t define me, as you try and control and restrict me. I will not be ignored. I will not go
unnoticed. Lost in the green of my companions? Wait until winter, when I will display my
crimson rage. You see me now? I am different. I can stand alone. Independent. Male?
Female? I am neither, yet I am both. Don’t define me.
ERICA REID | Dogwood | Galashiels, Scotland
‘Cianalas’ is a gaelic word that defies translation. For me, as an exiled Hebridean, it conveys a sense of intense longing for people and place. Dogwood has generated cianalas within me. A longing for the treeless island of my youth.
Dogwood is a hard, close-grained wood that resists abrasion. It can be polished to a near-perfect finish and does not splinter. This makes it unattractive for most craftsmen as it blunts their tools and instruments. It does however make it ideal for working with wool. Since the 1700s it has been used to make weaving shuttles. Glass-smooth, the shuttle holds the wool bobbin as it flies effortlessly, without snagging, through the warp of the weave.
When John Kay invented the flying shuttle in the 1700’s it created a tension among weavers. This modernisation left them fearing for their livelihood and Kay had to flee for his life when they destroyed his house in anger. Maybe their fears were founded, as it is seen as the first step towards the mechanisation of weaving.
Propelling the shuttle at speed through the warp required a different kind of shuttle. It meant that weavers could no longer use just any hard wood for shuttles as most will splinter and catch on the threads, damaging the fabric. Dogwood had found its purpose. Satin smooth when polished, splinter free, ideal for flying through wool at speed.
This was the music and rhythm of my childhood. The sound of dogwood shuttles in flight, carrying the weft through the warp on my father’s loom. My father divided his time between crofting and weaving. Summer days spent on the croft growing our food, tending the sheep and cattle, or on the moor preparing peat for next year’s fuel. In the long summer evenings he worked on his Hattersley loom creating the only fabric to be protected by an Act of Parliament. Harris Tweed is ‘a tweed which has to be hand woven by the islanders at their homes’.
As a product of the open skies of the Long Island, my father always felt claustrophic among trees. I sit in my garden this afternoon surrounded by my trees that I love, including more than our share of dogwood. I can hear the loom and the shuttles flying.
I have cianalas for the lullaby of my youth. Clickety-clack of the dogwood shuttles flying. Dad was close-by and I could sleep.