Catherine is inspired by the dress of her forebears

It is unlikely the Hebridean herring girls, who travelled the coast of Britain for decades, ever saw themselves as fashion-setters for the future. They were working too hard.

By Brian Wilson
Monday, 30th August 2021, 4:06 pm
Updated Monday, 30th August 2021, 4:06 pm
Catherine MacDonakld
Catherine MacDonakld

Catherine MacDonald from Back, one of the contributors to the “graduate show” at An Lanntair, sees it differently. The functional women’s clothes of past generations have become an inspiration - and images from Catherine’s degree project explain why that makes complete sense.

Freumhan (Roots) which helped win her an honours degree in fashion design from Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen is a salute to “the strong hard-working women that I have been inspired by my whole life – particularly my own mother and grandmothers”.

The herring girls, she notes, wore “large aprons, layered over high neck or knitted collared polo tops with long or rolled up sleeves” – essential working clothes then, but also a basis for chic modern design.

Sign up to our daily Stornoway Gazette Today newsletter

Rachel Kate MacLeod

She sees the same inspiration in “pinafores worn layered over tops which were everyday uniform for most Hebridean women in the 1900s” or “aprons and bibs which were worn by many Hebridean women for working on ferries or in hotels”.

Catherine’s research started with Harris Tweed’s past uses and evolved from there. “I began my research by draping Harris Tweed on a model to mimic similar silhouettes I had seen” - of island women, clothed in tweed and going about the hard work of crofting life.

Her own family were lacemakers in Tolsta from the late 19th century and all their clothes had lace trimmings. Catherine notes how many leading designers have adopted styles that relate closely to forms of dress once commonplace among Hebridean women.

Now living near London and doing a Master’s in Fashion Management, Catherine’s aim is to develop her own brand based on Scottish heritage, meanwhile working with other brands. “The graduate collection”, she says, “is the start of developing my creative journey”.

More from Freumhan can be found at

As reported last week, 11 creative graduates from Lewis who could not see their work featured in the normal graduate shows because of the pandemic have come together to mount their own exhibition at An Lanntair.

Harrris Tweed Hebrides are the exhibition’s “exclusive partner” and friends of the artists have supported it through a Kickstarter fundraiser. Admission to the exhibition is free.