Read about the life and work of India Johnson, a weaver and founder of the Orkney Cloth Company, who lives and weaves on the archipelago. India talks about her love of the surrounding colours, the landscape, and her hope to revive an industry by crowdfunding a new project for the community of Orkney. 

I moved to Orkney last October. I arrived on the ferry from Aberdeen, with the wind and the gale force wind. In the morning, the autumn sun illuminated colours I’d never seen before: bright ochre seaweeds and the ever-changing seas, shifting from deep indigos to bleached white. 

This is what makes Orkney such an inspiring place to live and work. The colours, light and winds are always changing, making each day a new source of inspiration. The landscape and the art of weaving are both heavily linked. I find that certain colours I’ve seen in the day are so often replicated in the textiles that I weave. I trained as a painter, and I often think how similar the two mediums are! 

The Orkney Cloth Company came about after completing a graduate placement teaching weaving. After the placement finished in October, I decided to set up my own business. Orkney has a rich heritage of textile production and craftsmanship, making it the perfect place to set up a weaving mill. 

Weaving in Orkney completely disappeared around 20 years ago, when the two mills, Argarden and Sclaters closed. They were once more renown than Harris Tweed, and sold their cloth all over the world. The Orkney Cloth Company aims to revive the tradition of weaving, linking the cloth heavily with the colours in the landscape. Whilst I am inspired by the heritage of weaving, we are aiming to create a mix of contemporary textiles with traditional skills and techniques, emphasizing the sustainability of our process.

At the moment, I am working on a sustainable collection of scarves and blankets, with the aim in the future to weave cloth by the metre. We have set up a crowdfunding page to raise the money for an eco-friendly double width loom, enabling us to weave larger widths of cloth and blankets. 

Our plan is to grow into a social enterprise, which will allow us to reinvest in the local community, workforce and ensure a low environmental impact for our products. Eventually, our aim is to be using Orkney wool, ensuring that we are using local suppliers and limiting our carbon footprint. 

Reviving Weaving in Orkney

Photographs & Words by India Johnson | @orkneyclothcompany

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