I love Gael Gisvold’s new tartan for many reasons. Celebrating Edward Bransfield’s discovery of Antarctica with the shades of the Antarctica land and seascape is such a cool idea. The colors are beautifully woven in to a fascinating story of this icy, harsh environment. My scarf is soft and warm. The colors match most everything that I own. Being Scotch Irish myself, I appreciate the interesting histories that so many tartans can tell.
Antarctica to Ireland: The story of the Edward Bransfield Commemorative Tartan
The Tale of Antarctica
It began as a fluke, a stroke of luck. A dear friend won the grand prize at a convention raffle. A trip for 2 to Antarctica. No one in her family could go. So I lobbied, and cajoled, a bit of begging, and attempted bribe (maybe) and finally she asked me to go with her.
What began as a trip of a lifetime, changed my life.
It wasn’t just the wild ride over the Drake Passage. Although I must tell you that the only way to get around the cabin during that passage is to crawl. And the vision of us both on the floor trying to navigate in 12-foot seas left us both laughing uncontrollably.
It was the vistas that went forever.
The stark black mountains covered in pure white snow and ice.
It was icebergs in iridescent blues shaped by wind and water into unimaginable shapes.
It was the blue-black ocean broken by Orca whales and schools of penguins.
It was the feeling that you were in their home and that being there called for reverence. In their home you were insignificant.
The Tale of The Irish Tartan
It wasn’t until we were returning home that someone tacked up a piece of cloth labeled “Antarctica”. It was a tartan registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. As I weaver I was closely examining it when Jim Wilson found out that I was a weaver and mentioned that I might weave something like that.
Jim Wilson was the ornithology expert on the trip. He was from Ireland and the chairperson for the Remembering Edward Bransfield Committee of County Cork, Ireland. A fun man full of smiles and quips and history. He lectured on Edward Bransfield as part of the daily lecture series provided on the excursion.
The seed was planted and upon reaching home the research began. There was much to learn about tartans. They were not just for clans. They could be named for anything or anybody. The trick was to design something that was totally unique. Not only did it have to have a unique ‘thread count’ (number of threads per color) but it could not be easily confused with another registered tartan. There are thousands of tartans so ‘unique’ is not as easy as it sounds.
Several weeks passed as the colors and counts were arranged and rearranged. The computer models that were made of the pattern were sent to Jim for critiquing. With his expertise in birds the idea of him taking on that job seemed logical.
With a settled pattern the name of the tartan had to be chosen. It was automatic. It would be named for the Irishman who was the first to see, map and chart the 7th Continent. The Remembering Edward Bransfield Committee was working on a monument to be placed in Bransfield’s hometown of Ballinacurra, County Cork, Ireland in 2020 and a tartan to go with that celebration seemed perfect.
All the joys and ups and downs of learning to weave with a fine, strong, sticky yarn and to do it properly under the rules of tartan were amazing. It took around 9 months to complete the first three scarves. All three of them have travelled to Antarctica and been christened in the Bransfield Straits.
At the unveiling of the Edward Bransfield Monument in January of 2020 all the Committee members wore their scarfs.
It was the very next day that Jim Wilson and I headed to Cushendale Woollen Mills in Graignamanagh , County Kilkenny, Ireland. There we met Phillip Cushen and his family. The Cushen family has operated their mill since the 1700’s. It was originally built in the 1200’s by monks who came to the River Barrow for its pure water. The mill ground mill and spun and wove Irish wool from its inception.
The story of the Edward Bransfield Commemorative tartan is one of travel and return to a home the he never was able to do during his life. It was a return for me as well as I discovered my own Irish roots. It was Phillip Cushen who pronounced my first name in Gaelic. It was music to my ears.