To mark her 24th birthday, my daughter Charlie, joins us on the blog, to tell us more about her creative process behind the making of her film all about The Vintage Shetland Project which is finally available for all to see as from today. And so, over to Charlie.
I never wanted to make a straight up and down, behind the scenes, documentary about the Vintage Shetland photo shoot. Yes, I wanted to capture the process, but I also wanted to tell a story, because, more than just a knitting pattern book, The Vintage Shetland Project is a story book. The jumpers tell stories through their knitting, about their history and their knitters, and in the book my mum is retelling those stories through her essays, and ultimately through the pictures we were heading to Shetland to take. I didn’t know what to expect as we set off on the two day trip to Shetland from my Edinburgh flat, but that’s the beauty of a good book; you don’t know what surprises are awaiting between the first chapter and the end.
After a 14 hour long ferry ride the night before (or was it the night before that? Time gets all confused on those ferries), we had spent the day photographing the original garments in the archive of the Shetland Museum. The garments were beautiful. They were worn and aged, but that only made them more interesting, more real. These jumpers had been worn, cherished, loved, and you could physically see that. I envisaged them in my film unravelling and telling their story. I decided to film these imperfections, the rips, and the tears, the darns, and the repairs, up close, and these became the basis for the film to be built on, in the same way as the book, and gave us the inspiration for the theme, “Perfectly Flawed”.
The following day was a grey and gloomy Shetland morning, and we were wrapped up and ready to leave the mainland and head for Vaila. I didn’t know much about Vaila except that it was a private island where two of my mum’s friends lived, and that no one had had permission to film there before. How cool?! We loaded our equipment and props (there was lots of it!) and piled it all onto a little boat, piloted by Dorota and accompanied by her dog Olga.
From the moment I saw Vaila I fell in love. On this misty November morning, the shadow of the hall stood impressive and gothic as we pulled into the shore base. It was not only a picturesque setting for our story to be told; but a charismatic main character for the film to be about.
Location scouting for the photo shoots was simple. Vaila’s 800 acres seemed almost purpose built for our needs, offering us everything from wild moorland, a pretty farmhouse, dramatic cliff sides and pebbly seaside. There were walled gardens, an old grand hall, a watch tower and even Highland cows and Shetland ponies. What more could we ask for?! It was unlike any place I had ever been before and my film quickly became more than just a behind the scenes documentary, but a love affair with Vaila. It was perfect. Perfectly Flawed.
Not every day was so romantic of course. Winter in Shetland isn’t famous for being kind. There was a lot of days where we were given no choice but to try and film up hills in 70 MPH winds, our models and cameras battered by gales and rain. This caused for a lot of shaky camera work (as I like to film hand-held), and with the nights drawing in soon after 3pm our working days were often cut short.
Luckily Dorota and Richard were the most wonderful hosts who cooked us magnificent feasts and plied us with wine to warm us up again after a day stood in the freezing cold. My boyfriend Denis, our male model and wonderful composer for the film, would often play piano for us, and we would light a huge wood fire in the great hall, and mum would knit and sew up by the fire light, reminiscent of the people in the times talked about in the book. Ok.. maybe that still is romantic. As the day came for us to set sail back to England, a horrible storm surrounded the island, leaving us stranded and unable to make it back to the mainland to catch our ferry. We were to stay on Vaila for another two days until it passed, what a shame…
We were scheduled to go back to Shetland for the second photo shoot in March. In the time between Denis and I worked together editing the footage and music for the film. These few months gave me a chance to review the footage and decide what I needed to film next. Our next chapter. The next time we went would be Vaila in spring, what a treat!
One big difference this time round, was it was my turn to model, and unfortunately I can’t model and film at the same time. I was happy by this point, that I had more than enough footage of the models and the beautiful jumpers to use, bearing in mind that this film was supposed to be a sneak peek, and not giving the whole book away! During breaks between modelling it was my main objective this time round to film scenery. Most of my landscape and detail shots from the winter were unusable and I was hoping the weather would treat us better this time. We were in luck.
This time when we arrived we had sailed to a shore base on the other side of the Island. On a calm day this was a trip with beautiful views, which Dorota insisted we must take. Spring suited Vaila. As Gavin and Dorota drove ahead, Mum, Denis and I took our chance to take a walk across the island. The last time we were here, it was barely possible to see what was in front of us due to the thick wintery mist, but today, the sun shone, and the bright blue sky was endless. The days this time of year stretched on peacefully, giving us more time to work and, soak up our surroundings. I tried to echo this in my shots; taking my time with them; letting the story unfold.
With these finishing touches under my belt, I felt prepared for the edit. I normally dread this stage of production, but this time it felt easy. I was telling a simple story and everything made sense. All of the hard work had already been done for me really, by those same people written about in the book. These knitters lived and loved Shetland, and this can be seen in every stitch in every Fair Isle or Open Work pattern, and I hope I too have lived and loved it within every shot. Many years earlier when these Shetland knitters observed their surroundings and absorbed them into their knitting, they made an everlasting connection between those pieces and their landscape. I guess in many ways, this is what The Vintage Shetand project is all about, and ultimately the feeling I want people to take from my film. Its is a story about history, belonging, and a sense of place. The End.
I hope you all enjoy watching the film as much as I enjoyed making it. Charlie x
Photographic Images copyright Susan Crawford and Jeni Reid, Video copyright Susan Crawford and Charlie Moon, Original Music Copyright Denis Brice