Scott Monument triumph for Edinburgh bag lady

A textile designer who works from home on a vintage knitting machine has created the first-ever fashion range inspired by one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks.

Sunday, 30th June 2019, 11:10 am
Sarah Clarkson at the Scott Monument. Picture: Jon Savage

Sarah Clarkson, a former welfare rights adviser, has created the designs honouring Edinburgh’s Scott Monument.

She has struck a deal with the city council to sell her range of bags, which cost between £33 and £75, after initially selling a few of them online and at design fairs, in its main public art gallery.

They feature an outline of the 200ft tall monument, which has stood proudly over Princes Street for 175 years, encircled by a flock of birds.

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One of the bags in Clarkson's range

Although she works from home in the Blackhall area of the city, Clarkson was inspired to create them after seeing the original model of the Gothic monument erected in honour of the writer Sir Walter Scott in 1844.

Designed by George Meikle Kemp, who won an architectural competition instigated following the death of the writer, it took four years to complete, although he died before it was finished.

Clarkson launched her own business, Woolly Originals, in 2015 after buying a vintage knitting machine and her products proved so popular that she was able to give up her previous job and focus full time on designing and making her bags.

Demand for them has been so great that she now works with a social enterprise company in Leith to help with production.

Wool from the Shetland Islands and linoleum from Kirkcaldy is used to create the Scottish Monument bags, which come in four different sizes, and have been designed to hold the likes of stationery, make-up, toiletries and shopping.

Clarkson has already worked with experts at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to create a range of bags inspired by Scottish plants believed to be most at risk of climate change.

She said: “I’d always been a hand-knitter and a sewer, until January 2015 when I decided to try to learn how to machine-knit, as I was quite interested in it.

“I decided to make a wee knitting bag for myself. I showed it to the owner of a yarn shop in Edinburgh who suggested I could try to sell them and I just laughed, but I thought I would give it a go.

“I set up an online shop in the summer of that year and things just started to snowball – before I knew it was selling them in shops and at yarn festivals. More and more designs kept popping into my head and I’ve now been doing this full time for around two-and-a-half years. I actually can’t keep up with the demand for them now.

“I came across a model of the Scott Monument in the Scottish Design Galleries of the new V&A museum in Dundee.

“It’s funny because when you live in Edinburgh you tend to take a lot of things for granted. You see them everyday and they don’t really impinge on your consciousness.

“When I walked past the model in the V&A I had a real moment and thought ‘you know, that would look really good as a design’. I thought I’d be able to get the shape to work on my knitting machine. When I got back, I went up to photograph the monument and printed it out to make sure I had all the dimensions correct.

“I first sold the bags at a design fair at the Dovecot Studios, where by chance I met Lynne Halfpenny, the director of culture at the city council, and she got the City Art Centre to contact me.”

A spokeswoman for the centre said: “These clutch bags by Sarah are quite a new line of products which have been much admired by visitors to the City Art Centre.

“We first had them in stock for the Victoria Crowe exhibition launch in May and they have been a lovely asset to the gift shop.

“We are developing new product lines within our shops inspired by our unique and important collections and we will soon be introducing retail items at the Scott Monument too.”

It emerged last year that strict crowd control measures were being introduced at the Scott Monument for the first time in its history due to concerns about congestion in its cramped stairwells. Only 24 people an hour will be allowed to climb all the way to the top of the landmark – and they must be on a guided tour.

The new measures mean visitors no longer need to squeeze past each other on their way up or down. The shake-up was ordered in the wake of its busiest ever year – with more than 80,000 visitors, a third more than the previous 12 months.