Welcome to the Scapa Crafts Team. Scapa Crafts was founded by traditional Orkney Chairmaker Jackie Miller in Orkney in 1993. Jackie has been making 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 of which they are rightly proud.
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. The best thing is 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 meticulously preparing straw since she and Jackie began working together in the early 1990s and is pleased now to have the support of granddaughter, Leah. 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.’
Ian Kirkness has the joinery trade in his blood:
‘I've always been interested in it, always liked it. I made my first Orkney Chair from an old wooden bed end! 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 return to his childhood dream. He began working with Scapa Crafts in 2004 and has been making beautiful driftwood, oak, sapele and walnut bases for Scapa Crafts Orkney Chairs ever since. ‘It’s a lot better, I’m not on my knees all the time!’
In 2013 Jackie & Marlene began passing down the tradition of strawbacked chairs to Michael, Bridget and Leah.
“We hope it’ll mean the tradition carries on into the next generation and plenty more folk will enjoy having an Orkney Chair in their own home.”
Michael Woolley “When I visited I saw the chairs being made and I just really wanted to have a go. Now it’s become a passion.”
Bridget Moodie "I made my first chair many years ago but with bairns I didn't have much time. Now they are all growing up and I have some time again, it's been a pleasant surprise that my daughter Leah has also wanted to become involved in the craft. For me it's knowing you've created a good quality product that someone will choose for their home and it could be anywhere in the world. It's rewarding and you see something for your work."
Leah Moodie "I've always enjoyed making things. Granny has shown me how to clean straw and Grandad has shown me how to make the rush seats. I'll learn the straw stitching for a chair next."
Nicola Smith is the eldest daughter of Jackie & Marlene’s own eldest daughter and supports the office work. ‘I remember Grandad always working with the chairs while I was growing up. There was great excitement when the workshop opened’
Orkney Crafts Association - the finest collection of high quality Orkney crafts www.orkneydesignercrafts.com
Orkney Tourism Group - representing all business in Orkney interested in the future of Orkney Tourism www.orkneytourism.co.uk
Guild of Master Craftsmen - representing excellence in craftmanship www.guildmc.com
Jackie and Marlene have exhibited Scapa Crafts chairs at various trade shows and exhibitions both within and outwith Scotland.
From left - Made in Scotland, Highland Trade Fair in Aviemore, Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, USA
- 1980s Jackie starts making strawbacks for chairs
- 1993 Scapa Crafts founded
- 1996 Purpose built workshop opened in Kirkwall
- 2001 First website launched
- 2005 Second revised website launched
- 2013 Michael, Bridget and Leah begin learning the craft of chairmaking and straw cleaning
- 2013 Third revision of the website and new Scapa Crafts Story leaflet printed
We look forward to welcoming you to Scapa Crafts!