GRACE FRANKLIN meets Isle of Arran weavers whose combined work will

show world women what can be achieved by working together.

THE unique work of weavers on the Isle of Arran has been sent on its

way to China. The metre-square tapestry will be seen by an estimated

40,000 people attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on

Women being held in Beijing in September.

As both a work of art and a political statement, it will illustrate

the fact that women on this Scottish island share concerns with women

around the world on issues affecting them all.

The tapestry will be one of hundreds created by women from all the

countries represented at the United Nations and sewn together in Beijing

as a celebration of sharing.

The project was inspired by Lynn Ross, a professional weaver.

Ross learned how to spin, dye and weave when she lived in Sweden.

Kilmarnock born, she had lived abroad from early childhood when her

parents emigrated. On a holiday visit to Scotland in the April of 1975

she visited Arran for the first time.

The place had such an impact, she was back on the island by November.

With her six-year-old daughter Jill in tow, she sold, within a week, a

suitcase full of wool samples she'd brought with her. ''I decided there

was a future for me on Arran,'' says Ross.

It took a long time to persuade the various authorities that her

scheme to teach weaving, spinning and dyeing skills was wonderful, not


Eventually she got a grant to build a weaving studio. With time out to

marry, have two more children, get divorced, and take a University

course, she found that her skills sustained her.

''There was a need for someone to teach these skills and the Senior

Studies Institute at Strathclyde University, along with the Community

Education Department of Strathclyde Region, recognised that need,'' she


So funding was found to start a 50-Plus Programme and a 3rd Age

Challenge Programme to give older people the opportunity to develop

their skills or learn new ones. An Arran Weaving Project was started to

research the traditional textiles of Arran and to use those designs to

promote educational opportunities to bring people of different

generations together to work.

Spinners and weavers now regularly demonstrate their skills in the

Heritage Museum, Brodick, and in schools, among other places.

One of these demonstrations impressed Dot Winters who had retired to

the island with her husband Alfred after holidaying there for 35 years.

''We were interested in crafts, that was one of the reasons we came here

to live,'' says Winters who was one-time Mayor of Southwark in London.

When Alfred died, Winters went to one of Ross's weaving classes. ''I

found it very therapeutic. I was always learning something about the

colours and got the feel for weaving. It was also a chance to meet other

ladies. This all helped me through my grieving.''

Margaret Fitzpatrick doesn't drive. She met her friend Norma Muston on

the bus. ''She had a spinning wheel with her and would be going to the

over-50s class at the High School,'' recollects Fitzpatrick. ''At that

time I was busy looking after my granddaughter. When I was able to have

time to myself I joined the weaving class. I haven't looked back

since.'' ''I used to be the quiet one, now I've progressed to becoming

the Weavers' Group delegate to conferences and made my first public

speech in Dublin at a preparatory meeting for the Beijing conference,''

Fitzpatrick says.

The Dublin event was run by the European Older Women's Network to

prepare their arguments which they hope will influence the document

produced in Beijing. That document will be a global blueprint for women,

which governments will have drafted and agreed so should be duty bound

to implement.

Issues common to women and of particular concern to older women are

highlighted on an island like Arran.

Former physics teacher Margaret Shotter had time on her hands when she

retired. ''I wanted to do something and had always been interested in

crafts. But I'd only lived on the island a year and didn't know what was

available,'' she says.

She saw the weaving class advertised in the local Arran Banner

newspaper and turned up at the following Thursday afternoon session.

''Now having used natural wool in these classes, I'll never use

synthetic fibres again,'' Shotter says. But it can mean spending as much

as 15 hours dyeing wool to the particular shade required.

The Beijing tapestry, which the women have created, depicts the island

of Arran. Using an Ordnance Survey map as the pattern basis, the women

spun wool specially dyed with local plants and wove their impression of

the island. The image created is like a thermal photograph.

Some of the wool is from local sheep. Housewife Norma Muston supplied

it. ''When I first came to Arran 13 years ago I was given a sheep. I

thought it was for the freezer but it was a live sheep. You need friends

around you to know how to cope with a situation like that! I couldn't

kill it and eventually got the wool for spinning.

''I was the one who took my spinning wheel onto the bus to go to

Lynn's classes. It's a lot easier to carry than the weaving frame,''

Muston says.

''There is a message here,'' says Ross. ''There are all kinds of

reasons why women support each other. You find it in a community like

ours when we face grief or loss, or have to cope with what life throws

at us. And you find it around the world. Women who stick together can

achieve great things maybe, even, peace. We have woven this tapestry

which will be sewn to hundreds of others, to show how our lives on Arran

are bound together with women worldwide.''