String / Lines

Unraveling the story of string: people, plants and place

This multi faceted, year long project involved collaboration with archaeologists, musicians, a poet and others as well as working closely with the archivist at Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre, ATLAS arts and Viewfield Community Gardens. It was supported by Creative Scotland and had a number of outcomes throughout the year including talks, string ceilidh gatherings, exhibition and publication.

Discussing the piece ‘Lost Knowledge’, which is based on the Quipu

String by Caroline Dear

The project investigated our entanglement with making string from local materials for over 50,000 years. Dr. Karen Hardy is an archaeologist specialising in the Palaeolithic and we worked together sharing our individual specialist knowledge.

From these discussions I developed an interest in these early examples of evidence of string making and made a number of replicas. The project developed through discussions with Catherine McPhee, the archivist at Skye and Lochalsh archives, delving into written evidence and bringing different artefacts from their collection together, in particular the tweed sample books. Working with members and trustees of the Viewfield Garden Collective we made a series of ropes which were installed in key locations in the garden and have been used as part of the sensory trail that they are developing.

Net sections made using a variety of materials and knots inspired by archaeological nets

The project reached a wider audience through the string ceilidh gatherings which entailed music (songs related to spinning, rope making), poetry (inspired by rope making), archaeological evidence, local stories (relating to string and rope making) and making. There is also a blog documenting different aspects of the project, https://carolinedearstring.blogspot.com/

Specialist textile archaeologist Dr. Susanna Harris from Glasgow University and Dr. Tuija Kirkinen from the University of Helsinki have also been involved.

The final exhibition includes archive artefacts, new work by myself, wall texts as well as poems by Katharine Macfarlane who I collaborated with in developing the publication ‘fragments’ which accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition is structured in five sections;

Section one – Árcéolas reflects on archaeological string fragments, the evidence we have from archaeology

Section two – Sìomanaiche investigates the ravelings and unravelings of ropemaking, the materials and processes with reference to the Highlands of Scotland in particular

Section three – Tomhas explores marking, measurement and maths in relation to string  

Section four – Creideamh highlights the metaphysical aspects of string, its mystical and magical properties 

Section five – Beag-fhaclair is a glossary of words connected with string mostly in Gaelic which highlight these lost everyday connections

handling the ‘seic’, grain sacks were made using this technique
Textile by Katherine Macfarlane

The book ‘Fragments’, which was created as part of this project, is available for sale here.

More information about the project –

Online talks:

HAF 2021 – Caroline Dear and Dr. Karen Hardy  String: the first 50,000 years 

HAF 2022 – Caroline Dear, Dr. Susanna Harris and Dr.Tuija Kirkinen Plants, Thread and Textiles – archaeological perspective 


Highlife Highland

Atlas Arts

Installation at Viewfield Garden Collective