11th July 2014: Breanish Tweed
The last day of our tour had arrived and we had reached our northernmost location; Port of Ness on Lewis. Our first stop was Breanish Tweed, who produce luxury tweeds using Shetland wool, lambswool and cashmere. Breanish Tweed’s decision not use yarn spun and dyed on the islands means that their tweed can not be called “Harris Tweed”, although it is produced in much the same manner and location.
This is of course a very deliberate marketing strategy; Breanish Tweed have created a unique product, beautifully soft and lightweight tweeds produced with the same history and craftmanship as Harris Tweed. In fact, weavers who produce cloth for Breanish are often also Harris Tweed weavers.
Off the Croft – Mike Donald
Our next, and final, weaving related visit was to Mike Donald of Off the Croft, also located in Port of Ness. Mike and his dog Mara welcomed us to their croft and into the loom shed. Whilst we had a chat, Aggie and Mara took the opportunity to run wild, running laps through the loom shed, in one door and out the other, until they exhausted themselves.
Mike Donald was actually born in Lewis but spent 17 years working away in Glasgow. In 2011 he made the jump back to Lewis, training as a Harris Tweed weaver and taking over his family’s unnocupied croft which was in danger of being lost. Mike writes his own excellent blog, which I’d recommend reading here, and his facebook page here. It gives a real insight into life on a croft through the changing seasons, working with the land, livestock and of course work as a weaver.
Mike weaves for the mills using a double-width Bonas Griffith Loom, and after a thorough explanation I was starting to understand the mechanics of the loom, in principal at least! Mike has also recently purchased a single-width Hattersley loom, which he is building at the other end of his loom shed. It looked like a daunting but very enjoyable task and I’m looking forward to see it up and running.
Heading home for now…
It was the end of our tour, and although we were sad to leave the islands behind we were more than ready to head back to Glasgow and sleep again in our own bed. The tour had been inspirational far beyond our expectations in terms of who we met, what I had learnt, the staggeringly beautiful landscape and of course the weather, which I know we had been incredibly lucky with.
However, my research into Scottish weaving is not yet complete. In September I have made further plans to visit weavers and mills on the mainland, and in October I am very excited to be teaching at Shetland Wool Week with fellow weaver Angharad McLaren. If you happen to be going to Shetland Wool Week our Weave Shetland Tweed workshop is now fully booked, but you can still pop by the Global Yell centre on Wed 8th October for a drop in session.
I will of course be continuing to share my weaving related experiences on this blog and my facebook page.