Meet the designer whose connection with Scottish and Indian weaving cultures are heartfelt.
Catriona Maciver is from Glasgow, but – like many with island parents (her father is from Tolsta)– she spent her family holidays in the Outer Hebrides, always feeling “more rooted” here. And, although she studied Graphic Design, in her final year, she was already incorporating crafts like embroidery into her work.
During a six-month design placement in India, she met “many enterprising women” and came back to Lewis inspired to set up her own craft business, Studio Tolsta, in 2012.
The business was beginning to take off, but India enticed her again. In 2014, she secured a residency at a Chennai publishing house – and on her first day met her future husband. They married and, while her roots are in Lewis, her heart is now in India. Isn’t this a difficult balance to strike in the business?
“It would have been more straightforward [to give up Studio Tolsta], but I could not let Harris Tweed® go.” Every time she returns to Lewis, “I am reminded of how great it is.”
Now, she has a foot in both camps and is using these twin passions to good advantage: creating a range of contemporary designs influenced by both. She admits to finding the cultures “equally fascinating” and draws many connections between the Outer Hebrides and Kutch, where she finds ethically sourced Kala cotton to combine with Harris Tweed® cloth.
‘They are both small, self-sufficient communities with inhospitable climates [although Kutch is desert, hot and dry, a far cry from the wet and windy Western Isles]. They have both been weaving for centuries and take pride in what they produce, despite life’s difficulties. Both have a circular economy, with crofting and agriculture on the side and they both suffer from losing young people to the cities.’
So it is important to Catriona that Studio Tolsta produces items that benefit the makers themselves. She cares about getting it right: questioning every process and material. Harris Tweed® cloth is made from 100% pure virgin wool and is handwoven at the homes of islanders by law. The Indian cottons she uses are indigenous to the area, pest resistant, and require less water than more commercial cottons.
In the past, she says, Indian crafts were undervalued, with weavers and spinners working long hours and being paid very little. “Harris Tweed® products are expensive, but people understand why. It’s an investment piece.” This philosophy she takes forward into her creations. The result is “considered design”– meaningful in its approach as well as its beauty. It is only now, Catriona tells us, that she feels Studio Tolsta is coming into its own.
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