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The Story of Bobbin, our Handmade Mill Mouse

No mill is complete without a mouse. Our resident mouse is our adorable jute mouse mascot, named Bobbin. Handmade by local designer, Maggie Duncan, Bobbin has become a bit of a Verdant Works icon. In this blog, we chat to Maggie about the process behind each jute mouse, as well as her creative ethos, and what it means to use Dundee jute; something with a profound connection to the designer.

Following the decision to create a Verdant Works mascot mouse in 2022, and a social media poll to choose its name, we asked Maggie Duncan to create an adorable jute mouse; worthy of becoming our Verdant Works icon.

Each Bobbin mouse is handmade in Maggie’s studio right across the street from our mill – using jute that has been processed here – making it a truly unique character, with a special story to tell. We had the pleasure of visiting the designer in her studio to learn more about the story of a Bobbin mouse being crafted.

Detail of jute mouse

Hello Maggie! Thank you for having us come and visit your lovely studio. Please could you introduce yourself by telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?

“I’m Maggie Duncan. I left school thirty-one years ago and got an apprenticeship as a soft furnisher. I’ve worked in the sewing industry ever since, and I think I’ve found my niche now; using up old scraps that other people would throw away.

“My mum was a dress-maker, so that’s where it’s all come from.”

In your childhood, did your Mum encourage you to sew?

“My Mum was a trained bridal dressmaker and worked for one of the big Dundee firms, J.K. Mearns. As children, she taught us to walk, talk and sew; as soon as my legs were able to reach the pedal on the sewing machine, I was taught to sew.

“When I left school and was offered the apprenticeship, it was a natural fit. I have been sewing ever since.”

Working with the Verdant Works jute is an honour.

Maggie Duncan

I love these Singer sewing machines you have in your studio!

“I don’t use all of them, but these sixty–year-old sewing machines are like tanks; nothing ever goes wrong with them at all. They’ll keep going and going, and I’m sure that this machine I’m using will outlive me.

“There are very few things on these machines that ever need repaired, whereas the modern machines have one-hundred different functions on them; though you probably only ever need two or three of those functions.

“The more parts that are on machines, the more likely they are to break. Plus, the modern ones don’t look as nice as the Singer ones, to me!”

What’s it like to have your studio here in Meadow Mill?

“There’s a real community. Everyone in the studios on this floor knows one another and we kind of work hand-in-hand with the WASPS Studios upstairs.

“If someone needs something, we all work together.”

How did you start making Bobbin and other jute products for Verdant Works?

“Heather at Verdant Works asked me if I would make things out of the jute, so I started making tea cosy covers, peg bags, that sort of thing. Then, I was asked to make a mascot for the mill – Bobbin.

“I made the big Bobbin mouse mascot and then was asked to make smaller versions to sell in the gift shop, so that’s where Bobbin came from!

“I’d never worked with Dundee jute before. Over the years, I may have used jute that had come directly from India, but I had never worked with jute that had actually been processed in a Dundee mill like this.

“Working with the Verdant Works jute is an honour, to be honest.

“A lot of members of my family worked in the jute mills. My gran and grandad actually met in Cox’s Mill, then they went out to Calcutta and my grandad was manager of a mill out there. It’s special to be using the same product that they produced.

“I love working with jute – you get covered in fibres, but it’s a really nice material to work with.”

Singer sewing machines in Maggie's Dundee studio

How do you make Bobbin?

“Every Bobbin mouse that I make is unique. All of the materials used are natural. As well as the Dundee jute and British wool, they have wooden eyes, wooden buttons – however I do have to use a bonder in them to fix it together, as the material has a loose weave and I want them to last for a long time – and it is stuffed with flax tow.

“I tend to make Bobbins in batches, as it is easier to do that. To make ten, it takes me a couple of days. Each one takes over an hour at least; there’s a lot of fiddly work.

“The cutting of material is the biggest part of the process. Once you’ve got the parts all cut, Bobbin goes together pretty well. The stuffing takes a while – it’s amazing how much flax tow you need to fill it.”

Maggie uses scrap materials that would otherwise go to waste

Alongside using scrap materials, how else do you stay sustainable in your craft?

“I try not to use plastic and instead focus on using all natural fibres. You can’t get any more natural than jute!

“The linen that I use was sourced from an old linen mill that closed down in Kirkcaldy and my wool is – as far as I know – all British. I take apart sample books and use them, as well as scraps from the furniture industry, and pieces that have been used for flame retardancy and rub tests.”

Detail of fabric

“To be honest, I feel guilty whenever I see a nice piece of jute, wool, or linen being wasted. There’s so many processes that go into making the final bit of fabric that it just shouldn’t be wasted.

“As for my machines, I would rather have a machine repaired and serviced every year rather than buying a new electronic, plastic machine.

“Being one of seven children, I was brought up not to waste anything. When my Mum taught us to sew, she taught us not to waste any fabric and I’ve just brought that through into my own work.

“I also feel really passionate about trying not to buy brand new things, or trying not to buy foreign imports. We have such a wealth of industry in this country, so we should be trying to promote and celebrate it as much as we can – never mind the carbon footprint of importing products. It’s non-stop.”

I feel guilty whenever I see a nice piece of jute, wool, or linen being wasted. There’s so many processes that go into making the final bit of fabric that it just shouldn’t be wasted.

Maggie Duncan

“Buying on mass takes away the uniqueness as well, because most times it’s a product that’s been made by a machine or on a production line; it takes away the story.”

Your Bobbin mice and other jute products are loved by our visitors from all over the world, so thank you!

“That’s so nice to hear! When I first made the tea cosy covers, my aunt in England bought one and sent it over to another family member in Australia. We got an email with a picture of a tea cosy made in Dundee, with Dundee jute, from the other side of the world.

“There’s such an important connection between jute and Dundee.”

Send us a picture of your jute products from all over the world – bonus points for any Bobbin mouse pictures!

Thank you to Maggie Duncan for giving us a behind-the-scenes tour of making Bobbin the mouse and some fascinating background into her creative process and textiles expertise.

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