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Published: 09 July 2013

By Andy Ross

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The craft of storytelling

"Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin." Those two sentences from the telly programme Listen with Mother have become part of folklore in the UK and there is a very good reason.

We all love a good story. At IslandSongs each year we are very lucky to have Lawrence Tulloch telling his particular brand of tales in his lively dialect and I treasure memories of lying in bed at night listening to my dad telling stories about Nkosikani, a young man in the wilds of Africa who whistled a very special tune as he walked through the bush to alert everyone to his presence. African storytelling is an ancient tradition just like it is in Shetland and one of the oldest songs from Shetland is the ballad King Orfeo, sung here by Kitty Anderson in 1959. (Here is another version with interesting links below to different versions and explanations of the song.)

In one of those amazing moments of serendipity that we like to call "Curlew Moments" (so-named after a curlew sang just as a piece of music I was listening to on my iPod began with the sound of a curlew calling), we have recently been looking at samples woven by our weaver in residence, Kirsty Jean Leadbetter and I found myself saying "Tell me a story". What did I mean by that? What stories can craft possibly tell?

The making of craft or art should always have some element of emotional involvement. That is what makes great artists or great craftspeople. Their work speaks to us. It tells us something about our lives and the way we live them. It tells us about the lives of the people that have made those pieces. In other words, they tell us stories.

In selecting the samples that Kirsty is going to weave into lengths for us, a group of us including Shona Skinner from the Shetland Gallery and Amy Gair, a weaver from Shetland, tried to get to the story beneath the pieces. Do they speak to us and if they do, what do they say? We finally managed to get to a final selection that everyone is happy with and we have a personal tale that each of us will take away about the pieces as well as a coherent story that we can use when we sell on the products that we make from the woven fabrics. Storytelling is indeed an amazing thing and we have some fabulous storytellers that work with us!