Friday, 24 February 2012

Celtic Harris Tweed Coat

Today I finished a coat for a customer.  Making clothing is not mainstream to our activities here at Anna Macneil, but both Mary and I enjoy a challenge, so when one of our customers asked if we could make her a coat with some of our embroidery on it we allowed ourselves to be coaxed!

Siobhan came out to choose fabric a couple of weeks ago and to let us work out a pattern with her old comfy coat as a guide.  There was not enough of her first choice of fabric, so between the three of us we played around with ideas and decided to use two tweeds that were close in colour, but one had a pattern in the weave and the other was plain.  We used the plain tweed for those sections that were going to be embroidered and for the facings.

Before Christmas I had made Siobhan a pouch for her Kindle with a zoomorphic bird design and she asked if I could use the same design for the pockets of the coat.  The rest of the embroidery carried on the zoomorphic theme with bird-like creatures entwined in Pictish style vinescroll designs.   I used two threads - both dark steely-blue grey, but one metallic and the other in rayon.

Other features of the coat - lined with a quilted lining, but the pockets and hood are lined with polar fleece so that they are warm to the touch.  Fastens with a zip which has a tweed flap behind it to keep out the wind. Has a loop inside so that it can be hung up on a coat hook.  The bottom edge is shaped so that it hangs a bit lower at the back.

Siobhan and I seemed to be equally delighted with the results, and when she came to collect the coat this afternoon she kindly allowed me to photograph her wearing the coat.

Siobhan and her partner Tom are both creative professionals - see their website Nimba creations - and so it was very easy to work with them as they had a clear idea of what they wanted and were equally responsive to suggestions from me.

Next week Mary will be working on a tweed jacket for another customer and after that she has to concentrate on making a wedding dress which she will have on display at a wedding show in Strathpeffer Pavillion in 4 weeks time.  This is part of her new venture - LochDress.   Mary will still be working here at the studio and both of us will be carrying on with our work making embroidered Harris Tweed fashion accessories.  At the moment we are still busy working through the trade orders but our shop is well stocked and we are just about coping with the pressure!

A bag of hats (Morag and Maggie styles) is just about to head off to one of our new trade customers - The Naked Sheep - in Dunkeld, Perthshire.  Here you will find a lovely selection of knitwear and other quality wool cothing and accessories.  His website is just a holding page at the moment, but here is the link for when it comes on stream, or visit his shop if you are in the area.  For details of other shops that stock our products, visit our website.  It is not a comprehensive list but it includes those who buy from us most frequently.  Sadly, our longest standing customer, the Harris Tweed Shop in Tarbert, Isle of Harris has decided to close its doors after failing to find a buyer.  It is a pity as they have stocked our products since my mother first started the business back in the 1980s.  I wish John and Patricia well in their retirement.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A felt wallhanging for the Mercat Centre

Today I have been working at the Mercat Centre in the village of Milton, near Invergordon in Ross-shire.   This was the second of 5 days where various members of the community have been working together under my supervision and tutoring to make a large felt wallhanging for their hall.

This project has been made possible with funding arranged through Highland Council.  We have three aims.  We need a large wallhanging to help with absorbing some of the noise in the hall and reduce the echoing.  We want a picture of some of the landmark buildings of the village and surrounding area.  And we want to help people learn a new skill by working together.  

We have people ranging in age from 10 to 90 working on this huge project.  I created the design from taking lots of photographs of the area and then selecting those with the most interesting features and character to produce a montage.   The first day was spent making pieces of half-felt - some in various shades of green that could be used for depicting trees and others in various soft earth tones from which we cut out the shapes of the various buildings.    By the end of the day we had a huge pile of shapes to depict everything from Balnagowan Castle down through the village to the church at Logie Easter and an oil rig on the Cromarty Firth.

Today we spent the morning making the background for our design, laying down fleece and wetting it with soapy water, covering this with bubblewrap and then rubbing to ensure that it was all wet.   By lunchtime we were ready to start working out where all the pieces went - like a giant felt jigsaw. 

Once everything was in place, a bit more soapy water was added, the whole thing covered again in bubblewrap and then it was a question of rubbing...... and rubbing........and rubbing - for three hours.  At the moment the piece measures 9.5 metres long and 1.1m deep and looks rather like an impressionist painting.  By the time we have finished we should have managed to shrink it down to about 7m so that it can fit along the end wall above the windows.   By the end of the day we were satisfied that everything was joined together and we were able to simply cover it back up with the bubblewrap and leave it overnight.

In the morning we will turn it over and rub on the back for a few hours and then we will be able to start the fun bit of adding lots of detail with needle-felting.  We expect to spend about a day and a half adding all the detail and then comes the back-breaking work of rolling and milling the felt.

Friday, 3 February 2012

My new (old) Hattersley loom

I have just got back after my latest trip to the Isle of Lewis.  This time there were two tasks to deal with - moving the loom and moving the yarn.

My brother-in-law, John, kindly offered to come and help me and I am very glad I took up his offer.  I would most certainly not have managed on my own.  We arrived on the island on Monday and were blessed with beautiful, if somewhat cold weather.     That afternoon we set about dealing with some work around the house for my mother - e.g. taking down the no longer needed boiler flue that was hanging off the wall ready to fall on someone's head, and then clearing old work benches out of the garage to make space for my loom.

On Tuesday we went in to Stornoway first thing and hired a van and then drove across to Shawbost to make a start on sorting and loading the yarn.    Paul, a friend of a friend, had been coerced into moving the loom and came across with his van and trailer. (Grateful thanks Paul!)  The loom had been dismantled as it would not fit intact through the door of the loom shed.   I now have something that looks like a million pieces of loom laid all over the workshop floor!

John and I sorted through the cops of yarn - some were almost empty tubes and there was no point in storing them.  They have gone back to the mill at Harris Tweed Textiles in Carloway to be re-used.  Within an hour we had completely filled the van and headed back to Upper Coll.  We had just got the van emptied into the garage and were about to head back to Shawbost for the next load when Paul arrived with the loom so we stopped to help him unload.  The heaviest thing was the bobbin winder which had come intact and it took all three of us to get it into the workshop.   The loom parts could mostly be managed by one person.

We headed back to Shawbost to get the next load of yarn and when we got there Donald's son and son-in-law had managed to get enough yarn moved to get the warping frame detached from the wall.  It went into the van first and then we piled the yarn in all around.  Again, we filled the van to the roof - and there was still yarn left that didn't fit in!

Once we got back to Upper Coll we had a brief break and then started on the job of getting the first batch of yarn up into the attic.  This involved trundling sacks of yarn along from the garage using the wheelbarrow and then man-handling them along the hallway to the bottom of the loft ladder.  Having John at the bottom of the ladder made it a much easier job than last time.  He loaded up the Ikea blue bag and I hauled it up to the loft using the pulley I had installed on my last visit.  

Very quickly it became apparent that the attic was not going to provide sufficient storage space.  A quick trawl on Google provided a phone number for some warehouse storage and on Wednesday morning we took what was still in the van to the store.  Then we were back to the house to take out the warping frame and load up the old work benches and flue for a quick visit to the dump - sorry, recycling and waste management centre!   From there we went to Shawbost again and got the last few sacks of yarn and got them back to the store in Stornoway - 250 cubic feet filled right to the top!

On Thursday morning I headed up to visit Callum (Butt of Lewis Textiles) as I needed a particular tweed to complete an order for hats that is heading to Japan.  This particular trade customer likes to choose his tweeds and wanted several hats - Maggie , Mairi and Callum styles - in a grey herringbone and also in a lovely earth-tones checked tweed.  Callum had the grey herringbone, but the check tweed is off at the mill being finished, so it will be another week or two before I get that.

We were lucky that all week the weather stayed dry and although the breeze had a cold bite to it, it was not a strong wind.  The whole process of moving the yarn and loom was much easier than it would have been if the weather had been typical for the time of year.  We spent the morning doing a few more odd jobs around the house and then had a comfortable sailing back home this afternoon.

My next visit home will be in March - and then I hope to get the loom assembled and start learning to weave.  I have experienced weavers lined up to help with these tasks - though looking at the loom pieces laid out on the floor, one finds it hard to imagine that it could ever fit together again!  Watch this space.............!