Welcome to Scapa Crafts founded by traditional Orkney Chair maker Jackie Miller in Orkney in 1993. Jackie has been strawback chairs the traditional way since the 1980's and continues to use traditional methods along with wife Marlene to ensure a level of quality and finish which they are rightly proud of.
Jackie and Marlene have exhibited Scapa Crafts chairs at various trade shows and exhibitions both within and outwith Scotland.
- 1980s Jackie starts making strawbacks for chairs
- 1993 Scapa Crafts founded
- 1996 Purpose built workshop opened in Kirkwall
- 2001 First website launched
- 2005 New website launched
Jackie Miller’s life long interest in Orkney Chairs was sparked as a child growing up on a croft on the island of Eday.
Straw work was part of daily life and was used to make chairs, ‘cubbies’ or baskets even mattresses.
'I used to watch my grandfather and father working with straw: the cutting, stooking. It was brilliant, beautiful, absolutely perfect, a completely natural thing.'
In his late teens Jackie moved with his parents to a different farm
on Mainland Orkney but the appeal was not the same:
‘I just loved the old-fashioned farming. The more modern the farming methods became the less I liked it.’
As an adult Jackie left farming but never forgot his early connection with strawwork or his dream of working again with straw. In the late 1980s an opportunity arose to make strawbacks for Orkney Chairs.
‘I loved it then I actually became very good at it.’
In 1993 Jackie decided to set up Scapa Crafts with his wife Marlene to make Orkney Chairs together.
Work has never ceased since the workshop opened its doors in 1996.
‘We’re always busy. We have visitors coming to see the chairs and to choose a chair that is right for them. We have orders from the web, from all over the world and we do send chairs to customers thousands of miles from the workshop.’
And what gives Jackie Miller the drive to make chairs?
‘It’s the satisfaction I get seeing a beautiful chair completed. Each one is unique, each one has its own charm. Every chair carries my signature and the Scapa Crafts quality seal.’
And the best thing about making the Orkney Chairs?
‘The customer telling me they are delighted. I know my chair is going to be cherished and that it has brought pleasure to its new owner.’
‘It’s what you are creating and it’s a pure way of life for me now’
Like her husband Jackie, Marlene, also grew up on a farm and has a life long connection to Orkney and to crofting. Her parents farm was in the West Mainland of Orkney at Marwick, Birsay, a well known local beauty spot. One of a large family Marlene was used to helping from an early age with the demanding variety of tasks a busy farm entails. Working with the straw was part of daily life.
‘We had fields of oats and corn. The straw was used a bedding for the cattle and it was cut with a binder just like the one still used to cut the straw we use for the chairs today.’
It was good early training for working with Jackie later:
‘I had done the crofting work, I knew what it was about.’
Marlene has been preparing straw since she and Jackie began working together in the early 1990s.
‘The straw just has to be right you see. Jackie needs it to be clean of any dry and loose pieces and I strip every single piece of straw to prepare bundles of clean straw all of an equal length. It takes time and has to be done right otherwise the whole stitching process is slowed down’
It can be hard on the hands but Marlene does not use any gloves.
‘I like to feel it in my hands and don’t think I could do it right with gloves on.’
And does Marlene enjoy her work?
‘It’s very relaxing and flexiable’, she smiles.
Nicola, is the eldest daughter of Jackie & Marlene’s own eldest daughter.
‘I remember Grandad always working with the chairs while I was growing up. There was great excitement when the workshop opened’
From an early age Nicola helped with customer orders and queries and now qualified in business administration she keeps the office running smoothly.
‘We’ll give you an indication of when we can make your chair when you order and keep you up to date with it’s progress.’
‘If you have any special requests just let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.’
George Drever, has been working with wood since his early 20s and for many years ran his own busy joinery business. Now his time is devoted to chair making which he enjoys in his own workshop.
‘When Jackie originally approached me years ago I was too busy to fit the chairs in to the work I already had. Now it’s only chairs I make and I’ve been making chairs for Scapa Crafts for over a decade. The first chair I made was for my son’s Christmas.’
Ian Kirkness recently followed his father into the joinery trade:
‘I wanted to be a joiner like my father when I left the school but there was no chance then, no apprenticeships.’
Ian became a carpet fitter instead but problems with his hip joints forced him to stop and gave him the opportunity to make Orkney Chairs full time.
‘It’s a lot better, I’m not on my knees all the time!’
Ian made his first Orkney Chair from an old wooden bed end. Many more followed until they are now making Orkney Chairs full time.