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Peat Beneath: Morag Macpherson Blog 5

Artist in Residence for Peatland Connections (a Crichton Carbon Centre project), Morag Macpherson, writes more about her work and discovery of eco-dyeing using bog plants.


As I embarked on research about peat bogs in a historical context, I was inevitably presented with horror stories about dead bodies, murders, creatures of the bog, and such like. The folklore can be as equally gruelling. It’s fascinating stuff! Particularly Irish writing and literature has focused on bogs for many years.


The peat is such a compelling substance! It’s deep dark almost black colour. Its texture and ability to take your feet (whether booted or bare) into its depth is a well-known characteristic, as anyone knows who has stood too long in one place on a peatbog! It drags you in, draws you down…and takes no prisoners! It has a powerful presence! The noise of walking through it with its moist squelches is satisfying to most ears. 


From circling the bog in Outskirt and looking into the necessary clearance process of its regeneration…I was finally drawn down into the bogs murky depths. Face to face with the peat! I put my bare feet in it and sat still. Cold, wet and dirty, I felt like climbing all the way in. 


The word ‘sunken’ was on my mind in these moments and led to the idea of burying beautiful organic cotton/hemp canvas fabric deep below for a month. I also experimented with my familiar mix of cellulose and protein fabrics: hemp, linen, silk satin, silk noil and fine wool. A combination of research into the woollen Orkney hood which has been beautifully preserved and excavated from a Scottish bog and lives at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, And my dye expert colleague Joyce Woodcock’s advice on how to extract and experiment with colour from peat, led to the creation of Sunken Cloth.


And so, on August 19th after more than 4 weeks, myself, Kerry (Peatland Connections Project Officer) and Joyce went back to retrieve the markers that had been placed to designate each type of fabric, and whether it was mordanted or unmordanted, and to retrieve the peat-soaked fabrics. Some had disappeared! Thankfully Kerry’s intuitive gift and knowledge of the bog led us to the correct spots and all fabrics were found and made into hoods (by garment constructor Gillian Pearce).


A hood sample was exhibited at the Bog Banquet, a lavish affair curated by Kerry, to highlight the great work that Peatland Connections and the Crichton Carbon Centre are doing. Food reminiscent of bog specimens was served to a curious invited audience whilst AiR and sound artist Stuart played his recordings in-between courses from his research on the upper Blackwater of Dee at Silverknowe. It was an unforgettable evening in a beautifully lit space at the CatStrand. 


More garment construction by Gillian came next, and four tunics materialised to accompany each hood. I printed my favourite photo of a sphagnum mound onto linen and placed circles of sphagnum onto each tunic to create a Sphagnum Tribe. To be worn by Laura Ludvigsen, Alamnesh Seferiades, Helmut Lemke and Kerry Morrison on upper Urr at Corsock, in time for dawn breaking on the day of the photo and film shoot. Walking in line, one behind the other, in unison and together, reminiscent of their ancestors and evoking a peaceful tribe - or spacey pagan - vibe!


Morag's artist in residency is funded by Peatland Connections (a Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project) and Creative Scotland. This project and residency has completed.

You can find Morag on instagram or her website.

Photos by Duncan Ireland.

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