Author Vixy Rae is likely best known for her work in textiles. The first female to take ownership of Edinburgh’s popular bespoke tailoring company, Stewart Christie & Co., Rae has dedicated her life to bringing authentic, high-quality garments to the people of Scotland and beyond.
When she is not mastering creative design, however, Rae is a master storytelling, known amongst her peers for her ability to spin a good yarn.
“The first stories I wrote were called the Wee Mice Tails,” she tells Celtic Life International via email. “I worked on Victoria Street for twenty years and, in that time, met a few mice. I loved the idea that under the cobbled streets and shops – from the cheese shops to the whisky shops – they’d have a bloody brilliant time. The stories were made to read to my Goddaughter Stella. Their adventures started in the Old Town of Edinburgh, exploring the shops and the cellars, and by the end of the book they had progressed up to the Outer Hebrides. I don’t sleep much at night, so they kept me entertained, transporting me off to another world.”
Her latest literary effort, The Secret Life of Tartan: How a Cloth Shape the Nation, is more personal.
“The new book was written as a record of my own journey, from my youth to my current position as an owner. In some ways it is a reference guide to tartan, something for me to go back to when I have forgotten things. The process had me looking at my own life and the actuality of where I have come from and where I am now.
“In that way, writing is a way of looking back to look forward – a sort of exercise in self-exploration.”
At just over 300 pages, The Secret Life of Tartan investigates the history of Scotland’s most recognizable fabric, while exploring its modern influence upon Celtic culture.
And though the topic may be close to home, Rae admits that the project had its fair share of challenges.
“Time was perhaps the greatest issue. Working full-time and running two companies with my business partner is never easy. However, he allowed me the time and support to write the book, as he knew it was an important part of my personal development. I completed it all in only six months, which felt like a world record! But, after speaking to other writers like Alexander McCall Smith, I felt a little lazy!
“There was also a significant amount of research involved,” she adds. “As I had asked several people – all of whom I respected very much in the world of tartan – to be in the book, it had to be correct and worthy. The history side I liked as it had a relevance to it, but I can never remember dates – except for 1822 and 1745, two huge years for tartan and Scotland.”
Still, she notes, seeing the book in its final form – and receiving positive feedback – made it all worthwhile.
“Having the hard cover version of it in my hands, opening the cover and seeing my own face looking back at me was a bit of a surreal experience. The most rewarding part, though, has hearing from people who are in the book or those that know me well. I am very respectful of other opinions, particularly of myself. To be quite honest, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the reaction.”
Since its publication, the tome has received several celebrity endorsements, including one from Outlander’s Sam Heughan.
“He has been an amazing support, says Rae. “Similarly, Alexander McCall Smith, who wrote me three personal stanzas, has been a huge help. I feel very lucky to work with the people I do, and that was what has essentially made the book; my career has always been driven by people.”
With so much attention on cultural preservation these days, she acknowledges the importance and timeliness of the work.
“Looking back, perhaps in ten years time, it will give me a snapshot of how Scots create, weave, wear and design their national cloth. In that respect it is a good bit of modern social and cultural literature.”
Although she has a number of projects lined up for the coming months, Rae says her future is never set in stone.
“I don’t know what is next,” she jests. “I guess one day maybe I will write The Secret life of Tweed!”