ANGUS MCPHEE - Weaver of Grass

ANGUS MCPHEE or MACPHEE was a crofter from Uist who spent almost 50 years in a Highland psychiatric hospital. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he wove a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.

This blog follows the progress of HORSE + BAMBOO THEATRE as they develop and tour a show about Angus....

Saturday, 27 November 2010


Rope woven from straw or hay is something made and used by peoples throughout the world. It features, for example, in Shinto artifacts where it is used for ceremonial and ritual decoration, and even to make rope bridges. 

At the Museum in Kildonan on South Uist there's a display panel with the title Gnionih Mo Lamhan which I think we can translate as 'hand work', or 'hand craft'. It goes on to say:

"The people of South Uist used the natural materials available on the island to make many of the things they needed during their working lives. 

"Sùgan (hay rope) was made by twisting hay and rushes to make a rope. The rope would be use for securing hay stacks and thatching buildings.

"Rope was also made from heather... Heather was pulled, not cut and the turf that was attached to the end was cleaned....two strands of heather were twisted together to make a rope. Heather rope was used round the thatch of the house, round hay stacks and basically to anchor anything that needed to be secure. When the rope was no longer needed it was put into balls and then it was buried in a field drain to keep it fresh and pliable."

These three photographs are of rope used in this way on the remains of the old house where Angus was raised. The technique of weaving hay described above is exactly what Angus used in making many of the objects during his years at Craig Dunain, and in the short section of home movie used in Nick Higgins film, Hidden Gifts, Angus can be seen endlessly working the grass and hay into ropes such as these.  

The picture above is a coil I have of Angus's sùgan, woven during his last years in hospital - we keep it in a black bin-bag at the Boo, hoping it may provide a little good luck towards getting this show on the road . 


  1. Hi, do you know where I can get hold of a copy; Nick Higgins film, Hidden Gifts?

    Cheers from a very wintery Dunnet Head.

  2. Joanne - when I last spoke to Nick he only had one copy and that was a French (subtitled) one! He sent it to me, but was going to get more. His email address is

    Snow finally hit Pennine Lancashire last night - predictable chaos, just when we're three days away from opening our Red Riding Hood show.


  3. Hi Bob, It would be very interesting to look more closely at Angus's techniques both in the artifacts that remain and in the film - the image above show a grass three strand plait rather than a sugan rope that were usually one ply and made with a thraw or craw hook.

    Grass and rush plaiting is of course a related craft and was used in many parts for making frails or farmers lunch baskets. See my recent local version the Isle of Wight Scran bag here:
    Angus may well have learnt and used plaiting in his early days to make horse collars that were often plaited then stitched together.
    cheers tim

  4. Tim - thanks for the links back to your scran pages. I'm no expert in any of this but Joyce Laing includes a chapter or two on Angus's technique in 'Weaver of Grass' and I seem to remember that it notes his method/s. The plaits I have are from his late years by which time he had almost lost his vision and, judging by the film footage, he produced almost automatically.

    I imagine that he would have employed different weaving methods depending on what he was making and the materials he had at his disposal; and I'm sure you're right that he would have made and repaired horse collars and harness as a young man.