Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Old Scottish Blankets from Skeldon Mills, Ayrshire



I can't remember when I came across my first Skeldon blanket, here in Ayrshire, but I have been collecting them, dealing in them, and sometimes just using them myself, ever since. Frankly, throughout this cold winter, they have been and continue to be an absolute godsend! I source them in a variety of places, including charity shops, antique markets, boot sales and - recently - at auction, where I found myself paying rather too much for a pair of gorgeous unused blankets, still in their original packaging. There was only one drawback which was that they had been stored among smokers, and consequently smelled strongly of kippers! I will be washing them - but that is one of the benefits of these wonderful textiles. They can be washed and they come up quite beautifully - soft, fluffy and fresh.

The old Skeldon Mills were situated down on the bonnie banks of the River Doon, close to Hollybush. We have friends who live nearby, and a pretty little cairn marks the spot where the old Skeldon Village once stood. Sadly - and although the mills and village had stood on this beautiful spot for more than 100 years, first as an oatmeal mill, and then as a woollen mill, the village was demolished by the landowner some time in the nineteen sixties. Some of the mill buildings survive, as storage space for a business, but the village itself was razed to the ground. I'm told that the doorkeys of the lost cottages are buried beneath the cairn, in a memorial garden on the site. I would like to think that something similar could not happen nowadays - but, frankly, I'm all too sure it could!

You'll find more about the history of the site here. I've been hunting for a photograph or picture of the old village - but can't find one, which is both amazing and sad! The blankets remain - although as usual with textiles, they tend to be undervalued in the place where they were once made, and I have found far too many people cutting them up for dog blankets. Much as I like dogs, Skeldon blankets are much too precious for Fido or Rover to sleep on. Even when they are a little worn, or marked, they are wonderfully warm and soft. I've given slightly damaged blankets to friends to use on boats or in caravans, since they wash so well. But the good quality survivors - and there are quite a lot of them - make fabulous throws on chairs, couches or beds. The creaminess of the wool has to be seen to be believed, and they come with a variety of lovely stripes: pink, blue, yellow or green, as well as occasional specimens that have pink and blue checks. People used to acquire them as wedding presents - but all too often seemed to store them away and never use them! Their loss is our gain.


7 comments:

Hazel Green said...

my ancestors worked at the mill, they are the Gibsons, my email is hazelgreen@hotmail.ca did you ever get any photos of the old mill and area. I am in Canada and I have a photo of the workers at the mill in the 1800's. Would love to hear from you.
Hazel
p.s. I would love to find a way to purchase one of the original blankets....

Catherine Czerkawska said...

How interesting! I don't have any photos of the old mill, sadly. I occasionally list Skeldon blankets in my eBay shop - The Scottish Home - but sadly, for pairs, the shipping costs are prohibitive. The occasional single is possible! If you can find it on eBay, you could keep an eye on it. You can contact me through my website at www.wordarts.co.uk

astropoet said...

Catherine, I am also Hazel's cousin.. I have a Skeldon blanket I need to wash. Safer to do it by hand I'm guessing?!?

I love my blanket, it is brilliant. Keeps me warm enough but not too warm.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I wash mine in the machine, but only on a very mild and short wool or delicates wash with wool wash and fabric conditioner. You could try hand washing first, but I'd probably recommend rinsing in the machine or at the very least spinning in a machine, to get most of the water out. Good luck.

Willi Conner said...

Hi, my Grandmother and Mother lived in Skeldon (Mc Vicars). I used to love visiting there as a young lad. My Gran moved to Dalrymple nearbye when they closed the village.
Yes I remember we had a few of those Skeldon blankets. Sadly I don't know what happened to them as my family moved to Australia a couple of years after they closed Skeldon

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Interesting! The blankets still turn up from time to time, but not too many of them, sadly.

Paisley expat girl said...

I was thrilled to come across your blog about the Scottish blankets. I have inherited about 18 assorted Scottish and Yorkshire woolen blankets, together with a number of 'Comfy' quilts and jacquard bedcovers, but simply cannot keep them all due to lack of space. Many would have been given to my mother by her grandmother when she came south to set up home on her marriage in 1951, and some have the wartime CC41 utility mark. I can remember sleeping in beds made up with these throughout my childhood.

Unfortunately, charity shops cannot sell them as everyone uses duvets these days, but will 'take them off your hands' and sell them off to a rag merchant by weight! Likewise, it breaks my heart to think of them being cut up for pet bedding or taken to the dump. As I have a whole houseful of effects to work through it isn't really practical for me to sell them individually on ebay. What a dilemma...