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....

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Angus and technique

The picture above shows Angus, weaving in the grounds of Craig Dunain. He is wearing one of his wonderful self-made hats. This image is from Joyce Laing's 'Weaver of Grass' book and was taken by Jim Waugh in 1978. 

Thanks to Tim Johnston who wrote a comment on my entry last weekend referring to sùgan. Tim writes "..the image (referring to the coil of woven grass I have at our workshop) ... shows a grass three strand plait rather than a sùgan rope that were usually one ply and made with a thraw or craw hook."

This took me back to Joyce Laing's book and the chapter titled 'His Method of Weaving', which as a non-weaver I must admit I had previously skimmed over when reading the book. The close up of Angus weaving (taken by Tim Neal) is from that chapter. Much of this is taken up with a description of the way Angus was able to use the sheep's wool he gathered from barbed-wire fences and still roughly spin and use the resulting yarn. Not knitting as such, but he apparently invented a way of making vertical strips of plied fleece, using short broken off pieces of fence wire or even wood fragments as a gauge or needle. 

I imagine he would have been more familiar with the plaiting of grass. As Tim says "Angus may well have learnt and used plaiting in his early days to make horse collars that were often plaited then stitched together", and this observation is supported by Joyce in her book, as well as the information boards in Kildonan Museum that I mentioned in the same post.


  1. For those interested in some of the distinctions made to do with techniques as discussed above, plaiting of grasses & leaves may be seen in my recent research project the Isle of Wight Scran Bag:

    While some very nice string making may be seen amongst this set documenting a Kishie making course in Shetland with Ewan Balfour and Lowrie Copland:

    I have some images of the use of a craw hook also & will post a link when I find them!

    cheers tim

  2. Here you go - of thraw hooks & wimbles: