Weaving Antarctica

(Original version previously published in Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot, Fall 2018)

This entire story is about the Universe. About all the threads weaving together, one on top of another, in the right size, the correct order and the proper color.

It began with a friend who needed a roommate for a trip. The only person she could think that was crazy enough to go with her, was me. Who else would fly for 20 plus hours just to take a boat across a passage that was guaranteed to make one seasick? Who else would go to Antarctica with her? Me.

On the day that we boarded the Island Sky for the trip across the Drake Passage, I heard a lilting Irish brogue calling my name. I met Jim Wilson. He was thrilled that this American woman had an Irish first name.

Jim is a cytologist and an ornithologist. Birds and whales were his specialty.  Photography was his talent. Enthusiasm was his state of mind. He loved Antarctica.  On this trip he was one of the Zegrahm Expedition’s Leaders. He became a major piece of the fabric that was my Antarctica experience.

We spent 10 days on the Island Sky. We explored islands, penguin rookeries, and research stations. We saw 5 species of penguin, 4 or five species of seal, birds of every description, mountains, icebergs, and whales. The mountains were black, the ocean was deep blue, the moss and lichen were green and orange. The penguins were black and white unless they had just eaten. Then they were red. (Penguins eat krill and regurgitate it too their chicks. It’s messy!)

This vast place of black and white held colors I had never seen before. Did you know that icebergs glow a blue that is incredibly bright? Lichen is an iridescent orange. The mosses are bright green. The colors were everywhere in every hue and tone. Hiding in the rock and ice.

Sitting in a rubber boat, ten feet away from an iceberg changes your life perspective. Sitting on a rock watching a penguin feed its young or fight with its neighbor, changes your life perspective. Climbing a mountain to sit and watch the sea, changes your life perspective. The same thing happens when you are following a pod of Orcas at play or looking out over a never-ending expanse of water, snow and ice. Watching the cytologist jump up and down while pointing to starboard while yelling “Minke, minke, minke!”, changes your perspective (and makes you snort your coffee!)

The colors, the creatures and the experiences began to coalesce in my brain. Weaving was my method of expression so when I saw a tartan called “Antarctica” on the expedition bulletin board and idea popped into my head.

I really wanted to make something like that.

At some point on that day, I mentioned to Jim that I was a weaver. He encouraged me to make a tartan that reflected the Antarctica that I had experience.

I began playing with designs. It took me several weeks and lots of consultations with my weaving instructor and Jim before I fell in love with a design.

But it needed a name. Jim suggested Edward Bransfield.

Who is Edward Bransfield? He is the IRISH Antarctica explorer credited with the first siting of the Continent of Antarctica. That occurred in 1820. There is a strait, a mountain, an island and several other places named for him in the Antarctic Ocean.

A commemoration of the 200-year anniversary of Edward Bransfield’s Antarctica discovery was planned for 2020. Jim wanted the tartan for that anniversary. I was happy to oblige.

The design was submitted to the Scottish Register of Tartans (there isn’t an Irish registry). The expected wait for approval was up to two months. Two days later, the Certificate of Registration arrived.

The project was underway.

After nearly two years, the project has grown into Penguin Designs with the hope of educating people to the beauty and history of the Antarctic region.

The Edward Bransfield Commemorative tartan would not exist but for the love and encouragement of my family and friends. I am indebted forever to my weaving instructor, Patricia Martin and to my inspiration, Jim Wilson. There is a special thanks to Ingrid Nixon who told me stories, Leigh Tacker who shared my journey, Team South who expanded my hopes and the Remembering Edward Bransfield Committe of County Cork, Ireland who started it all.

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