Donald MacDonald. Crofter Creelmaker

Donald died in 2010 in his nineties. He was born on the Isle of Great Bernera but lived much of his life in Gisla, Isle of Lewis after years of being a shepherd on  mainland Scotland. He was taught, like many island men, to make creels by his father. He made both the full size back creels and the small bac-cliath ( an under arm creel or child’s creel).

I visited him in April 2009. He showed me his willow beds where he had been harvesting willow for fifty years. His stools were about 18 inches high. I didnt ask him why but I wonder if it was to protect the new growth from rabbits. He said that the creels should be made so that the majority of the weight carried would rest on the top part of the creel and the shoulders of the wearer. He showed me an old coil of probably sisal rope of the type that was used as a strap or iris for the creels. He had bought the rope from Charlie Morrisons which used to be the Stornoway chandlers and only closed in the last 15 years.

I was interested to see if he knew how to make frame baskets and took one of mine to show him. But he did not and didnt remember anyone else making them either.

He made and preferred the 7 x 7 creel rather than the 6 x 6 ones. He felt these were stronger. He reckoned it took him all day to make a creel, about 5 hours in all, and his father too. He had recently decided that he had made his last creel(the previous winter) and so he gave me his latest willow harvest and some old templates(ceaps). Since his death I continue to harvest his willow beds with the permission of his daughter, Catherine MacDonald who continues to live at the house.

Dawn Susan

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