Event review: Scotland Group Cradle Making Workshop, 13th December 2023

Read the event review of Icon member, Claudia Bolling who recently attended an in-person cradle making workshop organised by the Scotland Group.

12 Mar 2024

It’s the middle of December, 6.30am and pitch black. I am standing on a cold platform in the Scottish Borders waiting for a for a train to Dundee, to attend a book cradle making workshop at the V&A organised by Icon Scotland. I must admit, when I woke up at 5.30am, my enthusiasm for the day ahead was rather muted. But I meet two friends on the train who I rarely see, they are heading for a funeral on the west coast. This sweetens the journey even if they look a bit confused when I explain where I am heading.

When I finally arrive in Dundee, the sun is shining and the V&A is looking fabulous. After brief introductions (curator James Wylie from the V&A is our friendly host), we head to one of the workshops to begin our day’s work. Coming from a historic house museum where all our back of house spaces were once something else, a purpose-built workshop is a wonder to behold. There is light and space and purpose-built furniture!

Book conservator Brannah MacKenzie from Museums and Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, loses no time and launches straight into her cradle design. I have a slight moment of panic when she mentions maths, but her detailed instructions (handily printed in A3) and her immense patience will, by lunchtime, propel even me over the finishing line to completing a non-adhesive book cradle. She happily answers the many questions, I and the other participants have.             

Cradle Making Images from Document 1.jpg


I get a couple of bits wrong and upside down, but my cradle fits my book, is stable and I am very proud. The cradles consist of four flat parts and can be stored away like a flat pack when not in use.

During the lunch break, I take up James’ very kind offer to visit the Tartan exhibition.After a whizz round (it is excellent), I have just ten minutes for a quick sandwich before it is back into the workshop for part two.

This time we are making adhesive cradles with Abigail Bainbridge ACR, director of Bainbridge Conservation who joins us on zoom. I feel emboldened by my success in making Brannah’ s cradle and this one seems very straightforward. Less Math. But I quickly realise that to achieve a display ready finish is far trickier than it seems at the outset. Lots of very exact measuring required (which I realise is not my strong point).


Another picture from Claudia Cradle Making Workshop 13.12.2023 jpg


But, at the end of the day, I have two working cradles and feel very satisfied. I carefully pack them into a bag like a child going home from nursery with its creations, and head for the train.

On the journey home, I text my friends from this morning pictures of what I have made. They don’t seem too impressed. I suppose it is a bit niche. The next day, my colleagues in the office are also a bit underwhelmed. I show my efforts to my collections manager and finally someone is enthusiastic and very impressed. This will enable us to produce custom built display cradles in a sustainable and economic way, so vital for small charities like ours.

Now all I need is two hours uninterrupted head space to make one. And as we all know, in our jobs, that's a bigger challenge than maths.

Many thanks to organiser Erica Kotze ACR, University Collections Conservator at the University of St Andrews and the Icon Scotland team for putting this workshop together. Definitely well worth the early start.