Isle of Auskerry
Isle of Auskerry is a family-run business conceived by Simon Brogan and his wife Teresa, the sole inhabitants of a remote Orkney Island in Scotland. In a bid to swap the life of a commuter for one working with nature, they moved to dedicate themselves to ensuring the survival of the rare North Ronaldsay sheep, of which there are only three flocks left in Orkney. From their herd, Isle of Auskerry create luxuriously soft sheepskin rugs, each unique in its colour and markings.
Isle of Auskerry is a family-run business conceived by Simon Brogan and his wife Teresa, the sole inhabitants of a remote Orkney Island in Scotland. In a bid to swap the life of a commuter for one working with nature, they moved to dedicate themselves to ensuring the survival of the rare North Ronaldsay sheep, of which there are only three flocks left in Orkney. From their herd Isle of Auskerry create luxuriously soft sheepskin rugs, each unique in its colour and markings.
For 35 years, Teresa and Simon have hand-cured sheepskin using rainwater. Their isolated Scottish island has no mains electricity or running water, and their flock feed on seaweed, so their fleeces are ethically reared and sustainably produced. Each individual fleece is chosen and sorted for colour and softness, and the hand-dyed yarns are dyed in batches of ten so that the colours can be carefully muted and blended to create a unique yarn with a soft handle.
1. What motivates you to make?
A desire to preserve the endangered native Orkney sheep and a love of creating beautiful practical items from wool fibre that will last a lifetime. I am also passionate about avoiding waste in any form and this ethos is embedded in all my work.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
I was very lucky to have been taught art at school by the highly respected tapestry weaver Pat Johns. She has been an enormous influence on my life showing me how wool fibre could be used in so many ways to create beautiful things and teaching me to spin and weave along the way. Pat also encouraged me to experiment with dyes in order to develop a rich palette to use in my projects.
I am lucky enough to have a workshop literally on top of a beach. I am constantly inspired by the patterns made by the interaction of rocks, waves and birds and the effect of strong winds on the sand, sea and grass. I love the subtle colours found in seaweed, shells and fish.
The light in Orkney is very clear due to our northern latitude and the clean air. Frequent weather changes and moving clouds create an ever-changing view of the vivid blues and greens of the endless horizon, which inspires a lot of my work. Even at night we are sometimes delighted by the magic of the Aurora Borealis with their red and green beams dancing overhead.
My belief that we need to live in harmony with our environment, leaving the smallest possible footprint is at the core of everything I create.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
We produce our own raw materials, from our rare breed, seaweed-eating sheep native to Orkney. These sheep live in a chemical and stress-free environment. By using rainwater for washing and dyeing we ensure the softness and purity of the wool that we produce.
Our sheepskins are entirely made by hand, with every stage of the process being dictated by the shape and wool type of the individual skin.
There are several stages to skin curing, and we have learnt the skills necessary to achieve our high-quality results over 40 years, gradually honing the process by trial and error. It is a joy to see the finished product emerging from the process and to be able to work and shape it to make a practical item that will last a lifetime.
Equally, we hand-shear our wool products so that each individual fleece is chosen and sorted for colour and softness. Our hand-dyed yarns are dyed in batches of ten so that the colours can be carefully muted and blended to create a unique yarn with a soft handle. I find dyeing a very exciting learning process. Some of our products have been the happy result of mistakes and some just because we had materials left over. I think that if you allow your creative processes enough time then everything can be repurposed or transformed.
4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
One of my proudest achievements is to have built our business from simple beginnings to the success that it is today. When we started curing sheepskins of this North Ronaldsay breed, we were told that no-one wanted to buy coloured wool in any form, but we saw that it was unique to Orkney as well as being so subtly beautiful and having the finest wool of any British breed. We built a local market selling to tourists and the business grew from there. Now there are several people making and selling products made from the yarn from these sheep because they have seen that there is a demand. Hopefully this will ensure that this breed is not allowed to die out as it was threatening to do before we started the business.
Over the last 37 years we have developed the business so that we use every part of these sheep from their wool to their horns. I am very proud of the range of the products I have created; producing knitting kits as well as woven blankets from my designs, and teaching myself the art of hand dyeing to create a range that complements the natural hues of our wool. I have taken on several commissions that have been challenging, including completely covering a Scandinavian Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen in sheepskin.
5. What is your dream project?
I would love to start weaving again to make some textured pieces with our wool and other natural fibres. Ideally I would first return to India where I worked in my 20’s; revisiting the dyers and weavers I met there to learn and be further inspired by their skill and designs.