The Tweed Road
This year I will be launching my first collection and exhibiting at Highland shows across Scotland. I knew I wanted to use Tweed as I have been working with it for some time and part of my ethos is to support local makers. So to the best of my ability I will be using all fabrics made in the UK, and the upcoming collection will be designed and handmade by me.
I really wanted to go to the homeland of Tweed and see the people who produce this quality fabric that is so rich in heritage. I decided why not make a journey to the outer Hebrides and meet the people behind the cloth.
I'm from in the highlands (Ardnamurchan, west coast), which is almost as remote as the Isle of Lewis! It took about 4 hours to drive to Ullapool, then from there on the ferry over to Stornoway. My first meet up was with Iain Macleod at Breanish Tweed. Breanish Tweed is situated on top of a hill overlooking the dramatic Atlantic ocean, giving you a feeling that you really are on the edge of the world. Iain showed me beautiful tweeds and his working Hattersley loom, which was in a shed beside the shop. The quality is unbelievable, with weaves including cashmere and lambswool, which can be a lengthy process to weave. It can take four days to weave a bolt of cloth (approx 30-50 metres) by hand, involving three miles of walking back and forth to create the initial warp by hand on a frame, then tying over eight hundred knots before they even begin to start weaving. Like all weavers here, the process is to pedal by foot with no motors for help! It is interesting to see the time it takes, the love and patience going into the cloth which gets passed down through generations.
I also visited the Carloway Mill, which has recently changed hands and had almost closed it's doors last year. Luckily the Mill was saved and I was delighted to see it was very much in use and starting a fresh chapter in it's new life. The machinery is over 100 years old, but completely still up to the task for further use. I love seeing the nuts and bolts of an old machine, and marvelled at how something so old can work so well today. Walking around the Mill is like stepping back in time, no computers here! Every order that is taken is done so on paper. In this day and age I found that remarkably refreshing to see. You could say, If something has worked well for so many years, why change?
It was interesting to see just how many colours of yarn goes into one tweed cloth. You can be looking at what you think is a plain tweed, then if you look closer you will see flecks of many different colours, giving the finished cloth depth and complexity.
I also met with an independent weaver Norman MacKenzie who allowed me to view his old hattersley loom from the 1950s. His shed was converted into a small studio where he weaves and displays his finished tweeds. I was in awe of finding this little gem of a place. Just tucked away down an old farm road, I came across it by accident, and did not leave empty handed!
This trip to Lewis has reinforced my feelings to the ancient weaving craft. There is something so special about a skill being passed down generations. The way of life for the islanders is very important, some farm and weave, being of the land and using materials from the land. The island people I met still spoke gaelic and it's as if they have been untouched by today's hustle and bustle living. They have kept their traditions and language alive. I want to support this way of life, and tell their story as well as mine through my designs.
Soraidh leis na h-eileanan