They were built to withstand the harsh climates and draughty cottages of Orkney and Shetland.

The traditional wooden framed and straw-backed chairs were created by crofters and professional craftsmen throughout the 1800s, but there are concerns for the future of the centuries old method.

There are just two remaining makers of Fair Isle chairs, which has led to the craft being placed on the “critically endangered” red list.

The Heritage Crafts Association said there is also a risk that the skills required to create Orkney chairs, which differ slightly in construction, may not be passed on to future generations.

However, there is some reason for optimism. Interest in the chairs and more generally heritage crafts is growing amid a shift towards sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyles.

“I left school at 16 and knew I wanted to work with wood and that I didn’t want to leave Orkney,” says Kevin Gauld, who set up The Orkney Furniture Maker in 2007.

“That probably meant being a carpenter or a joiner on a building site. But it happened to come up in conversation one night that a local chairmaker was looking for an apprentice.  

The Herald:

“The moment I went in the workshop, I thought, if I could spend the rest of my life doing this, I’d be happy. I just knew from the start that it was the job for me. I’ve never looked back.” 

With a single chair taking 70 hours to make, Kevin’s company manufactures around 50 a year, with half sold in Orkney and the rest heading south, often to people with Orkney links. 

There are now just three other professional makers that he knows of, and he has real concerns for the future of a craft that he believes is of great value. 

READ MORE: New documentary sheds light on the 'lost villages' of Barra,Vatersay and Uist 

He said: “They have a real uniqueness and romance about them, and such a such a strong link to the world around us, the landscape and weather. 
“All these things are important to carry on because so many traditional crafts have died out.” 

Mr Gauld is taking part in a special event to try to help turn round the fortunes of their endangered crafts. 

The Fair Isle and Orkney Chairs Weekend is due to be held at Marchmont House, near Greenlaw, in the Scottish Borders from September 2-4.

Mary Lewis of the Heritage Crafts Association said: “These crafts are centuries old and as much a part of our cultural heritage as much as a museum or an art gallery or ancient monument.  

“The difference is that they are intangible skills, it’s intangible heritage, contained within people. If we lose those skills that are within us, then we lose a little bit of our cultural heritage. And once you lose them, they’re quite difficult to recover. 

“There are just two remaining makers of Fair Isle chairs, so they are critically endangered. There are more makers of Orkney chairs but still very few, so they’re an endangered craft.

READ MORE: The strange tale of Lamb island 

"In both cases there’s a risk that the skills won’t be passed on to the next generation.” 

While superficially similar to Orkney chairs, the Fair Isle ones have backs made from knotted rather than stitched oat straw and there are also differences in the frames. 

Eve Eunson, who works as an architect on Shetland’s Mainland, learned how to make them in part because she wanted to work with wood and partly because of her own roots. 

She said: “I grew up on Fair Isle and have very fond memories of the people and the culture. 

The Herald:

“I can remember well, as a small child sitting on my, great uncle’s knee on these chairs and being told stories about shipwrecks and about the history of the island and of the furniture. So that was something that I was very connected to.” 

She said the chairmaking tradition emerged from both need and a desire for creative expression.

“They were made by the island’s men out of necessity. There was no other option for getting yourself something to sit on.  

“Fair Isle is famous for things like its knitting, its female crafts. 

“But these chairs were an artistic outlet for the men, who were spending their winters making some really special things. 

“There’s obviously a lot of love and care that went into making the chairs and while some were quite utilitarian, others were particularly nice with a lot of attention to detail and decoration.” 

Next month’s event includes talks, Q&As and demonstrations of the techniques. 

Hugo Burge, Director of Marchmont House, said: “It’s hard not to love an Orkney chair and visitors rarely walk past one in our collection without commenting or cooing. 

“They are a beautiful and visceral example of iconic but cosy vernacular design, that tells a story and draws you in.”