Born: August 12, 1946; Died: February 17, 2013.
Dick MacRae, who has died aged 66, was a weaver who learned his craft at the age of six, making dog leads on little table top looms in a west coast craft house. Today his rugs adorn properties from Canada to New Zealand, scores of them in the homes of traditional musicians whose tunes accompanied his labours in the weaving shed of his Plockton home.
A craftsman who became known as the musician's weaver, honoured with a pipe tune in his name, he was also an irrepressible individual who failed to let disability and illness curtail his zest for life, tackling everything from shinty to an extra's role with customary enthusiasm.
The last of six children, he was born in a house in Rhu, Plockton, a few minutes after the arrival of his twin Ann. Each baby weighed less than 3lbs and both were promptly wrapped in cotton wool, placed in a shoebox and popped in the stove's warm oven compartment.
His parents had spent virtually all of the Second World War apart after his father George was captured at St Valery in 1940. Held as a POW, he escaped towards the end of the war and made his way home. His mother Annie, who was deaf, had been left to raise the elder four children on her own.
As he grew up, sign language was the first language Dick MacRae learned. He also learned how to cope with his own disability, a hip defect resulting from cerebral palsy. He wore a back brace and caliper which he generally discarded as soon as he was out of sight of the house and took up sailing, football, badminton and shinty, which he played in goal.
Educated at Plockton High School, where his headmaster was the poet and writer Sorley MacLean, he became the first disabled youngster in Britain to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. He achieved his bronze and silver awards and was working towards gold when he quit after an argument with his tutor over the identification of a plane. A member of the Royal Observer Corps from the age of 15 until its disbandment, he was passionate about aircraft recognition but later admitted he had been in the wrong on that occasion.
Meanwhile, he had already been introduced to weaving, thanks to a group of women who had set up an after-school craft house initiative in Plockton to teach traditional skills to local children. He began making dog leads and progressed to table runners before leaving school to serve an apprenticeship at Highland Home Industries in Morar. He then went to Lochcarron Weavers in Galashiels, returning at 21 to train on a textile course at Lews Castle College in Stornoway.
Back in Plockton, he supplemented his earnings from weaving by taking the job of village hall keeper which brought him into contact with many of the great Scottish dance bands and helped fuel his interest in traditional music.
At one stage he also made a bit of spare money as an extra in a commercial, filmed at Eilean Donan, for the cigarette manufacturers Duncan & Co, although it was not without a comic element. The requirement was for a bearded Highlander and, as he was sporting a beard at the time, he felt he fitted the bill. However, he was somewhat put out by an American voice asking if he could write. The obvious answer was yes. It was only when he was confronted with a 16-hand stallion that he realised something had been lost in translation and the query had been about his ability to ride. He spent the rest of the day, amid much hilarity, climbing fence posts attempting to get on to the back of the horse.
In 1978 he met his future wife Elizabeth. Engaged after six weeks, they wed three months later on her 20th birthday. Married life began in Plockton but they later moved to Alexandria where he worked for Antartex. Made redundant almost two years later, they returned to Plockton.
After a brief period as a petrol pump attendant he found work, initially as a helicopter baggage handler and later as a storeman, at the naval base at Kyle, where he remained for 20 years. Although he had continued to weave, he was now able to concentrate on his craft more fully when ill health forced his early retirement from the base.
Weaving on a traditional and unique wooden Morar Unit loom, of which there are only two in existence, both owned by Mr MacRae, he produced thousands of tartan rugs over the years. As it could take up to two days to thread the loom he always wove two rugs at a time, many of them made as presents and raffle prizes to organisations connected with traditional music.
He also designed tartan for, among others, the William Kennedy Piping Festival in Armagh which he attended every year and the Skye music festival Feis An Eilean, taking inspiration from nature – grey of the Misty Isle, yellow of the whin flowers, blue of the sea and red for the warmth of the welcome.
A great supporter of musicians, particularly Plockton's School of Traditional Music, and the local Macmillan charity, to which he donated numerous rugs over the years, his generosity was reciprocated by Allan Henderson of Blazin' Fiddles who wrote a pipe tune for him, Dick MacRae The Weaver.
He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughters Islay and Rona, his sisters Helen and Ann, and brother Charles.
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