9th July 2014: Donald John MacKay MBE – Luskentyre Harris Tweed
Another sunny day, and we set out along the beach road at Luskentyre to find Donald John MacKay MBE’s weaving shed. If you haven’t heard of Donald John Mackay, here he is on an episode of BBC’s Coast:
Donald John MacKay was awarded a MBE in 2011 for his services to the Harris Tweed industry. As shown in the video above, he became famous when he was commissioned by Nike to weave Tweed for use in their trainers. Weavers across the Outer Hebrides were marshalled into action to help fulfil the massive order, which came at a time when the flagging Harris Tweed industry sorely needed a boost.
When I arrived at Donald John’s weaving shed he had been up through the night weaving a black and white herringbone tweed, commissioned to be made in to curtains and which he had just cut off his Hattersley loom moments before I arrived.
He was thrilled to see Aggie and told us about his border terrier puppy, who was unfortunately (for us) away having a run on the beach. It was Donald John’s idea to get Aggie up on top of the loom for an impromptu photoshoot.
Norman Mackenzie – Carloway Tweed
We also visited another weaver named Norman Mackenzie, who gave us an informative talk through the process of weaving from warping to weaving the cloth. I was interested to find out how a Hattersley Loom works as it is very different to my own loom. For example, it uses a pattern chain, a type of punch-card system shown in the photo below, to automatically throw the shuttles in the correct colour order.
If a new tweed is designed, a pattern chain has to be built from scratch using pliers to unlink and rejoin the metal plates to the correct order. In reality, most tweeds follow one of a handful of standard patterns (using different coloured yarn for variation), so weavers mostly get by with a set of standard chains, one for each of these patterns.
That evening we arrived at our next campsite, Eilian Fraoich in Shawbost, where we spent the evening enjoying a beer in the sunshine and I took the chance to finish my weaving project. By this point I had collected all sorts of items to weave into the structure, including sheep’s fleece, mermaid’s purses and a shoe lace from a lost shoe.