A Creative Vacation to England, Ireland, and ScotlandKristen Dettoni
About three years ago, I learned of a company called ACE Camps through a colleague. I describe it as an adult creative summer camp. It has always been a bit of struggle for me to find friends with similar vacation interests, but when I heard about ACE Camps, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take a vacation on my own.
It turns out that stepping out of my comfort zone was the best idea ever. After two successful ACE Camps to Lisbon, Portugal, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, I traveled to the Scottish Highlands to learn how to needle punch from the artist Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou.
Since I was heading over to Europe, I made the best of it and added on a few stops along the way. The trip was action-packed with customer visits, visit with friends, and finally, the ACE Camp.
Stop 1: London – A Visit to Kwickscreen
Kwickscreen is a Design Pool client headquartered in London. After working together long distance, it was a treat to stop by their studio for a quick visit with the team and a tour of the facility. What I love most about Kwickscreen is their innovation. They encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, with an atmosphere that is casual yet productive. The company offers several products for commercial interiors with a variety of functions. Their latest endeavor is the subdivision Lactl, which is providing privacy to nursing moms at work. Read more about Kwickscreen and their complete line of products.
Stop 2: Wexford, Ireland – Visit with Friends
In the summer of 1992, between semesters of grad school, I worked at Buck’s Rock summer camp in New Milford, CT, as the weaving studio counselor. It was at Buck’s Rock that I met Joanne, a weaver from England who came with Camp America to teach weaving. After eight solid weeks together teaching kids how to weave scarves, blankets, and belts, our friendship was woven together (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!). Fast forward 27 years and Joanne now lives in Ireland with her husband, and she seemed too close to Scotland not to visit.
Together we visited Avoca Handweavers and spent an afternoon with Christien Van Bussel in her ceramic studio.
Avoca Handweavers was founded in 1723 as a cooperative for local farmers to grind their corn and spin and weave their wool for clothing. Over the years (centuries!), new owners of Avoca have reinvented the business into what it is today. Avoca still operates the original weaving mill and offers guided tours. They also operate a tasty cafe and a shop full of their beautiful weavings created out of a small weaving studio with a simply gorgeous color palette. For me, what made Avoca so special is that their history is their brand. It was honestly hard not to buy every single blanket in their shop and take a piece of that history home Visit Avoca’s website.
Our next stop was Studio Upper Aughrim, the studio of ceramic artist Christien Van Bussel. Christien was gracious enough to open her studio up to us for an entire afternoon. It had been years since I’ve handled clay, and I forgot how cathartic it could be. I had a blast creating a coil bowl, little sheep, and feeling connected to the earth as I worked it through my hands. Christien, a ceramics professor at Art College Academie Minerva, in Groningen, The Netherlands, offers classes in both pottery and woodturning. If you are in Ireland and looking to do something off the beaten path, check out her website.
Our final stop was a new shop in downtown Wexford called “Tweed in the Valley.” The shop is owned by Anna Dobson and supports Irish craft and design. Anna happened to be in the shop the day we visited, and we were able to talk to her about her vision of creating a clothing line designed and made in Ireland with Irish tweed. The clothes are beautifully designed and exceptionally well made. Anna’s use of color is beautiful, and color blocking adds a contemporary feel to traditional fabric. Check out her website!
Stop 3: Inverness, Scotland – ACE Camp Trip
I had signed up for this fantastic trip just about a year ago, which has given me something to look forward to for months. Ace Camps is the brainchild of Angela Ritchie, who blows me away at her ability to fulfill Ace Camps mission of curating trips that “are created to uncover, develop and stretch your creative and cultural imaginations.” This particular trip involved several locations within Scotland, ending at a beautiful B&B in the countryside where we learned to needle punch with artist Arounna Khounnoraj.
This trip was seven days, including arrival and departure. Here is a brief outline of the trip. To learn more about the products or processes, click into the links.
Day 1: Natural Dyeing Workshop in Loch Ness
Day one was spent with Dwynwen Hopcroft at her home studio, learning how to dye with natural materials found in her yard and kitchen. Dwynwen was a wealth of knowledge about the unique history of Scottish plants and natural dyeing.
We started the day dyeing with basic dried black beans for a cold water bath and ended it by pulling leaves off a tree for a hot water bath. We created a range of beautiful natural colors to use in our needle punch projects.
Day 2: Visit to Knockando Woolmill
I was so excited to visit another mill! Twenty-three years of my career were spent working at mills in the US, yet since starting Design Pool, I don’t have many opportunities to visit mills. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I stepped into Knockando and smelled that familiar mill smell.
Much like Avoca, Knockando Woolmill has done a fantastic job at reinventing itself for the 21st century and is now a working mill, museum and historic site. The history of Knockando is fascinating. It opened in 1784 as a place for local farmers to bring their fleeces to be processed into wool usable for weaving or knitting. Knockando’s history also includes a Waulking song that fans of Outlander will surely recognize. Read more on Knockando.
Day 3 – 5: Dell of Abernathy and Needle Punching
The Dell of Abernathy was a beautiful, picturesque, and Instagram dream! Every nook and cranny was bursting with character, and it was all set against the breathtaking Scottish Highlands. My three days there were spent learning a new fiber technique, needle felting, eating delicious local food, and taking long leisurely walks through the woods. All this proved to be the perfect recipe for some much needed R&R and creative inspiration!
The worst thing about this creative vacation? I now have three new creative techniques to distract me from my long to-do list, yet still the same number of hours in my day. A good problem to have, for sure!