One bonus Outlander has given us is an introduction to many talented people, some who are involved with the production and some who aren’t. The Scottish Highlands seem to be an incubator for the talented and creative, and it’s always amazing to come across them. One such person is Clare Campbell, who opened what is currently the only woolen mill in the Highlands, in 2018. She and Prickly Thistle came to Outlander fans’ attention when Sam Heughan got behind her Kickstarter program to raise money to open the mill. See our entire conversation by scrolling to the bottom of this article.
Clare was featured in this week’s episode of Men In Kilts, discussing tartan and showing Sam and Graham around the mill. Prickly Thistle is where Sam had the tartan cloth woven for his Sassenach-branded items, and the mill has produced bespoke cloth for the band Runrig and for the National Trust for Scotland. She’s also created a tartan for Finlay Wilson’s Kilted Yoga (see the video here).
Prickly Thistle’s original Kickstarter, in early 2018, didn’t meet its goal. But “Plan B,” launched days later, lasted for only 14 days and collected twice their goal amount. One reason was that Sam Heughan picked it up and tweeted about it, alerting thousands of Outlander fans to this exciting new venture. In the end, 539 backers contributed to the campaign. The final part of the plan, as outlined by the Kickstarter, was to build a new mill on the Black Isle, but that has been delayed a bit. In the meantime, the company is working out of rented space.
I spoke with Clare over Zoom on Monday, and spent an enlightening couple of hours looking through her website, pricklythistle.shop, and all of her Vimeo videos. The picture I get is of a woman who found a need and went after it with unusual determination and drive – not just to own a business, but to create something that matched her values, that would be of use to the people around her, and would complement, not compete with, others who had come before her.
Clare didn’t come from a weaving background – she had been an accountant, but she wanted to bring back an industry that had completely left the Highlands. Now, she employs more than a dozen people, and she’s working to improve environmental hazards caused by the textile industry (microplastics from textiles are a threat to the oceans).
The products created by Prickly Thistle are not only beautiful, but are planned to be long-lasting, environmentally conscious in both creation and use. The mill uses old looms – the oldest is from 1929 – and works in the time-tested way. The company creates unique tartans, and Clare has made a decision not to weave clan tartans, because there are already mills who have perfected this and make their living from it.
In addition to weaving, Clare has worked with other local artisans to create complementary products, developing a talent community. On their website, Prickly Thistle shows lamps, soaps, stoneware, iron- and leatherwork (some products are sold out, because these items are made in small batches).
Right now, Prickly Thistle has a fun event running. The main character of Scotland’s Beano Comics, Dennis, has his 70th anniversary this year, and Clare developed a special tartan in Dennis’ signature red and black. Every item purchased from this collection comes with a ticket – 70 days after the collection went on sale (May 26), she’ll pull one number, and the holder of that ticket will win the opportunity to develop their own tartan! Watch here for details.
🔊SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT 🔊
A once in a lifetime chance to win your very own tartan!
As we continue with our purpose, share knowledge on how things are made, how they should be loved & used forever we have a special prize as part of our latest collection!https://t.co/e3lk8PajMJ pic.twitter.com/vDVsvSqNlL
— Prickly Thistle (@pricklytartan) March 23, 2021
The website is full of videos, interviews, and fun – including a set of 14-track Spotify playlists, featuring Scottish artists and songs, “all mixed together like a great tartan.” You can access all of those playlists here.
Here’s my complete chat with this amazing woman. It was mid-afternoon in Chicago, but early evening in Scotland – and a very snowy evening it was. I was glad to hear from her the next morning that she made it home safely!
Follow Clare and Prickly Thistle: on Twitter and Instagram, @PricklyTartan. Like their Facebook page here.
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