Monday, 10 November 2014

Weaving Harris Tweed - or how to keep warm!

I am just returned from a week long visit to my mother's home on the Isle of Lewis.  I visit her as often as I can - usually about once a month - but as it is an hour's drive followed by a three hour ferry journey from Inverness, I can't just nip across for a quick visit.

My mother's health is failing and she now needs quite a lot of help with various things around the house, but cooking and sorting out her wardrobe can only take up a small amount of each day.  I like to be busy, so a few years ago I bought an old Hattersley loom and taught myself how to weave Harris Tweed.  Whenever Mother decides to have a rest on her bed, I pop out to the weaving shed (one time garage) and pedal away.

I was really looking forward to this visit.  Last time I was there I had made, threaded and tied in a new warp to a new weaving pattern but I had not had time to actually do any weaving.  The colours are gorgeous - deep pinks, dark plums, purple - and the weave structure is a herringbone, but rather than the normal 8-8 or 12-12, this one is 8-8-4-4.

But we are now in November and the autumnal gales are making themselves felt.  The garage is a cold place with no heating - quite daunting to go out there with a howling gale and lashing rain!  It wasn't bad weather every day.  This photograph
On the Pentland Road, looking south west to the Uig area of Lewis
was taken last Wednesday morning when I drove across to Carloway to buy some tweed - I don't have enough time to weave all the tweed that we need for our Anna Macneil products.

I had a few adjustments to make to the heddle boards - adjusting the heights to create the correct shed at each press of the peddles. At the start of each tweed it's a good idea to weave with a contrasting weft yarn so that any mistakes in the threading become apparant.  I found a couple of threading errors I was able to collect, and another one I decided I could live with!
the pale grey weft makes it easier to see the pattern

All adjustments made, it was time to wind the bobbins.  My bobbin winders give me space to wind 6 at a time - but one keeps losing the drive belt so I am down to 5.  However, I can only just keep all 5 winding in sequence, so I have not spent time trying to sort it.  I find it easiest to wind 5 different colours at a time.  I chose bright pink, deep magenta, raspberry, dark plum and navy to give me a good variety of colours.

Then I was ready to start weaving.  Once I got going, I very quickly peeled off my fleece jacket. A few metres on and the jumper was off!  The Hattersley loom is operated by foot pedals.  It is a sort of pumping motion rather than cycling.  With each press, the shuttle flies from one side to the other, the beater comes forward to push the weft against the already woven cloth, the cloth beam winds a little bit forward and the shafts swap position ready for the next pick. All this happens at roughly a beat per second and keeping a steady rythm makes for a more trouble free weave.  I am not really OCD in nature, but I do have a tendency to count (paces to the bus stop, pegs on the washing line, pins in and out when I am sewing) and so I very quickly fell into the habit of counting the beats of the loom.  This does have an advantage. 
the tweed has been wound forward leaving an unwoven section
The amount of yarn on the weft bobbins is pretty much the same from one bobbin to the next, so if I get 88 picks from one bobbin, the chances are I will get between 85 and 90 for all subsequent bobbins of that colour.  As I am quite small (5ft 2in) I find it difficult to see into the shuttle without popping off my seat - and that involves stopping pedalling.  So knowing when to slow down and stop is useful.  If one over-runs and weaves with no yarn, then one has to back-track - this slows down the weaving a lot, and is likely to introduce problems with the weave density if you have to re-wind a bit.

All Harris Tweed is woven at the home of the weaver on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, but most of this weaving is done under contract for any one of the three mills.  And this is nearly all woven as lengths of one colourway & pattern - i.e. the whole 80 metres is exactly the same for the whole length.  For me, the important thing is to get lots of variety in each length, and also to weave in short lengths - 180 cm at a time.  Then I wind the loom on for 20cm or so and start weaving again.  This gives me the option to weave each short length with a different colour of weft.  I use these lengths to make our very popular wraps and hooded capes - watch this space, new wrap design coming soon!  What I tend to do is weave a few lengths in each colourway, but make a different garment or accessory with each, so no two things ever exactly the same.  And as each warp is unrepeatable, created with a rather random selection of yarns to give my trademark stripey tweeds, each garment will always be unique.  There are only a few weavers willing to weave these shawl lengths so they are in short supply.

In between making Christmas puddings, soup to stock the freezer and a new dress for my mother, I managed to weave some 25 shawl lengths in 6 different colours. 
tweed bundled ready to deliver to the mill for washing
I cut it all off the loom and this morning got it wrapped up and off to Carloway Mill for washing and stamping.  Every piece of Harris Tweed is inspected and stamped by the Harris Tweed Authority with the world famous Orb trade mark.  To qualify for stamping, the tweed has to be handwoven at the island weaver's home using pure virgin wool that has been scoured, dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides and then washed (finished) also on the islands.  This ensures the quality of this fantastic, hard-wearing woollen cloth.  I recently had an order for a hat - this customer had bought her original hat from my mother at a craft fair in Stornoway town hall back in the 1980s and she has worn it ever since!  So, you may not be able to keep warm by weaving the tweed - but you can keep warm by wearing it!
left - bright pink weft / right - navy weft - very different tweeds from the same warp

Saturday, 10 May 2014

New Website for my Ecclesiastical Embroidery

It has been years in the planning, but it is now finally here.  Ecclesiastical Embroidery by Ruth Black

My husband Len is a priest, but in his spare time he designs and manages websites.  On the basis of "there's no point in keeping a dog and barking yourself", website design is something I get my husband to do for me.  However, his paying customers always seem to get priority.

Mind you.... I paid in kind!  This was a cope I made for Len a year past Christmas - the deal being, I
would make him a cope in time for Christmas and he would do my website during the Christmas holidays.  I got the cope made, but Len didn't quite get around to keeping his side of the bargain!

However, the new website has been worth the wait.  It has lots more on it than before - more pictures, more information.  It also provides the facility to order a stole online and to enquire about commissioning a vestment using an online form.  I hope this will make it easier for people to use.

In addition to the website, I have built up a public web album of stoles I have made over the years.  This will get added to as and when I have time - I'm a bit like my husband in that respect, sometimes I just don't quite get round to things that don't have a deadline.

I managed one deadline recently - this chasuble made it to Australia in time for Easter.  It was made to match a stole I had made for the same client the year before and is inspired by the Evangelists page of the Book of Kells.

Just now I am working on another chasuble that has to be ready for an ordination at Canterbury in June, and earlier today I completed the design for a red cope that has to be made in the next two weeks so that it can get to Australia in time for Pentecost.

All this ecclesiastical work gets fitted in around the work of my main business - Anna Macneil where, along with my daughter I make hats and scarves, wraps and capes, bags and purses, wallhangings and cushions plus various nick-nacks.

Added to that, I visit the Isle of Lewis for a few days every month, partly to look after my mother (founder of Anna Macneil) and partly to indulge in one of my other interests - weaving.  I have an old Hattersley loom set up in my mother's garage and when I am on the island I weave Harris Tweed.  I have just come back from a recent visit having woven about 30 metres of tweed.  There is still another 20 metres of warp on the beam and that will get woven on my next visit.  The warp is a mix of pale greys with cream and beige and I am using a variety of different coloured wefts so that I will end up with some 10 or 12 different tweeds on the roll.  They will get made up into scarves and wraps once they come back from the mill, washed and stamped.

Last year I was given a fleece by my mother's next door neighbour.  This visit, I finally got round to taking my spinning wheel across and I have started spinning the wool. 
My intention is that I will spin enough to be able to weave a couple of metres with it - and then instead of sending that length to the mill for washing, I will do that myself the old fashioned way - waulking the tweed.  I managed to spin enough this visit to weave about 20cm, so don't hold your breath!

For a cloth to be called Harris Tweed it has to meet certain criteria - it must be 100% pure new wool, hand woven at the weaver's home in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and the entire process of manufacture from preparation of the wool through to finishing of the cloth must be carried
out on the Outer Hebrides.  Only then can it be stamped with the world reknowned "Orb".

In two weeks time I will be teaching a workshop at the Highland Wool Festival in Dingwall.  The theme of the workshop is Celtic knotwork embroidery and I will be helping people to create simple hand-embroidered knotwork designs.  Places are limited, so book your space as soon as you can.

Back to today - at the studio I had the embroidery machine going all day stitching the embroidery for the green chasuble.  It is Macdonald tartan that I have embroidered onto silk dupion.  This will be used as orphreys and edged with bias strips of tartan.  Now all I have to do is make it up.

Post Script - Friday, 23rd May 2014

It' been a really busy week of highs and lows!

High point: Saturday - finished the chasuble.  Got is all finished and pressed in time to have my
husband model it for me after church on Sunday.
Low point: Tuesday morning 9.15am, sat down at the sewing machine to start sewing up a red cope (all the embroidery had been done the week before - it just needed putting together). I stitched a 3 inch seam and the sewing machine went BANG! and a lot of blue smoke with a strong smell of electrical burning issued from the back of the sewing machine.   Fortunately when I phoned my sewing machine dealer (David Drummond in Edinburgh) he was able to find a replacement L-board.  £170 pounds worth, but I had it the next morning at 8.45 and by 9am the machine was running sweetly.
High point: Wednesday evening - finished the red cope - bit of a marathon, I was up till midnight hand-sewing the hem, but it was good to get it finished.
High point: Thursday morning - Janis from Morven Gallery on the Isle of Lewis phoned - she had sold another big wallhanging - so could I please make her another one!
Low point: Thursday afternoon - half way through stitching said big wallhanging, the machine stopped - check Y motor error message.  The frame wouldn't budge.  After phonecalls to my wonderful engineer and taking the covers off the machine I ascertained that the reason it wasn't working was that the strip on which the bearings run had come completely loose resulting in the tiny ballbearings being scattered all over the inside of the machine.  With the aid of a magnet I managed to extract them and after about two hours had managed to fit all but four of the balls back into their housing.  Dave assured me that the missing four would not be a problem, at least in the short term, so I got everything back together, put the covers on, managed to line up the frame to where it had stopped and the machine ran smoothly and quietly from then on.
High point:  Got the red cope photographed - had to borrow a friend for this as my husband is too short for a standard length cope!  This morning it is off to Australia and with a bit of luck should arrive in time for the celebration of Pentecost!

I have a stall at the Highland Wool Festival tomorrow and then on Sunday I am off to Lewis for a few days to do some weaving.  I am hopeful that it will be a less stressful week than the one I have just had!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Isle of Lewis in early spring

I spent the last week of March on the Isle of Lewis.  Regular readers will know that I travel there every few weeks to look after my mother and to weave Harris Tweed.  This time I was joined for a few days by my friend Gail.  We had difficulty working out when it was we were last together on the island - probably about ten years ago, when we were both undertaking commissions for St Moluag's Church, Eoropie - see

Then, Gail was designing and making a stained glass window and I was making an alter frontal. To see other examples of Gail's work, click here.  You can see more of my ecclesiastical work on this website.

This time, Gail was just having a holiday - I was combining my usual routine of cooking and weaving with making some deliveries and having some much appreciated time off.

I made three deliveries - to Blue Pig Studio at Carloway, The visitor centre at Calanais Standing Stones and Morven Gallery at Barvas.  

We had lovely weather for most of the week.  The night I arrived there was a really noisy hailstorm with hailstones the size of marbles being hammered onto my bedroom window by the strong north-easterly wind.  The grass looked as though it was covered in snow when we got up on Sunday morning, but it was the hailstones.  Because they had been so big, they took a while to melt.  After that, the weather improved all week and by the end of the week it was easy to see why Lewis had been voted as the top island holiday destination in Europe (Trip Advisor)

We took time out from the delivery round to visit Dalbeg Bay, a small cove on the west of the island
Dalbeg Bay
between Carloway and Shawbost.  The high surf was rolling in and the wind was catching the top of each wave, blowing spray back off the crests - spectacular to watch, almost tempting enough to make one want to try surfing.......well, maybe not my style!  
The surf rolling in at Dalbeg

Norse Mill & Kiln - left is mill, right is the kiln.
As we were driving back to my mother's, Gail spotted a sign saying "Norse Mill & Kiln".  I have visited it several times in the past, but Gail had not so we parked the car and headed off down the path. The path must have been restored since my last visit as it was a good sturdy gravel path with no puddles and bogs!  The mill and kiln buildings are an interesting restoration project -

Inside the restored Kiln where in Norse times the grain would have been dried

Inside the Norse Mill where the grain would have been milled

Underneath the mill, where the flow of water would have driven the paddles, driving hte mill stones above
well worth the short walk.

My mother joined us for the outing to Calanais where we had a lovely lunch in the visitor centre - soup followed by coffee & cake.  As I pushed my mother in her wheelchair across to a vacant table I saw someone I knew - well one often does in places like this! - but this was unexpected.  Joan Baxter is a tapestry weaver who lives on the east coast of Sutherland and we had been invloved together on a big project several years ago.  It turned out this was her first visit to the island and she was over because she was setting up her exhibition in An Lanntair (a arts centre in Stornoway) called "Between the Web and the Loom. 

The Calanais Visitor Centre shop is now well stocked with our hats and scarves, bags, wraps and cosy Hebridean Hoods.  If you are going to visit the stones, it's worth calling in at the shop first to buy one of our hats as the wind around the stones can blow fierce and cold.  Our hats are designed to cope with Lewis weather!

Gannets divinghand made felt and embroidery on Harris Tweed
We left a bundle of small wallhangings with Jane Harlington at the Blue Pig Studio.  These are a bit

Oystercatchers - hand made felt and embroidery on Harris Tweed
different from our normal range, done specially for Jane, so worth taking time to drop into her lovely studio and see all the interesting and quirky things she has for sale along with her own paintings and prints.

Last stop was at Morven Gallery, owned and run by Janis Scott.  This lovely contemporary gallery is only open from Easter till the end of September, but well worth a visit to see - and buy - some stunning art - paintings, sculpture, glass, jewellery and textiles, including some of my big wallhangings.  I took three for her to choose from - she wanted them all!  She also took some small Celtic cross wallhangings and some purses and phone pouches, so something for everyone.  If you call in here you can also get superb coffee and cakes, so well worth a visit. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photographs of the big wallhangings - so if you want to see them, you have to visit the gallery!

The other delivery I made was taking my latest batch of tweed to Carloway Mill for washing and stamping.  I am really looking forward to getting this one back.  It is mostly black but with hints of charcoal, navy, bottle and very dark plum.  It will make up into stunning wraps, so visit the Anna Macneil website soon!  If you email me, I can let you know as soon as they are ready -  I managed to fit in making up a new warp and got a few metres woven before we left the island. 

tying in new warp - with extra bar clamped onto back beam
One aspect of weaving that I am not good at is tying in a new warp.  Each one of the 696 ends has to

New weaving in progress
be individually tied onto the corresponding ends of the old warp.   An experienced weaver does it in about 30 minutes.  I was taking 4 hours, and getting very sore back and leg muscles in the process.  This time, I did a bit of improvisation and managed to speed up to 3 hours, but I avoided the muscle aches by temporarily securing an extra bar onto the back beam so that I didn't have to lean over to tie the knots - made a huge difference.   The new warp is a mix of pale greys, cream and oatmeal and will mostly get made up into our cosy Hebridean Hoods - but I won't get the weaving finished until early May and it will be another few weeks after that before the tweed is ready to use. 

After all that, it was back home on the afternoon ferry.  We popped into An Lanntair gallery to see Joan's exhibition and to have our lunch while we waited for the ferry and then it was off home and back to normal life!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A good day for ....... Dyeing Sheepskin

A lovely day today - lots of sunshine, but there was a stiff breeze, making it ideal weather for drying things outside.   The embroidery machine has been kept going the last couple of days embroidering a new batch of our Hebridean Hoods.  These cosy Harris Tweed hooded capes have a generous hood
lined with polar fleece and trimmed with real sheepskin.  They fasten with a single hand-made button.

The range of colours of sheepskin available is rather limited, so from time to time, I dye strips in other colours so that I can have a bit more variety.   Today was the day!

I have been experimenting with the process over the last 3 years and I think I have now finally got a fail-safe system where I get consistent and predictable results.  Over the years I have tried various methods, some with disastrous results, others just about OK, but I am now sufficiently happy with my method that I am prepared to share it.

I am using two different makes of dyes - Kemtex acid dyes and Gaywool dyes.   Sometimes I mix them together, sometimes one or the other.

The first step is to protect the skin side of the sheepskin and I have found the best way to do this is to generously brush white mineral oil all over it (the kind used for oiling the sewing machines) - being careful not to get any of the oil onto the wool.  The oil soaks into the skin and this means it stays supple once it comes out of the dye bath to dry.

I have about 4 or 5 litres of water in my big stainless steel stock-pot, with a generous splash of clear vinegar and a tablespoon of urea.  I use about 5g of dye per sheepskin strip (they measure 5cm x 86cm but I have no idea how much they weigh).   The water is heated to about 85°C, the dye dissolved in a little boiling water and added to the pan, then put in the sheepskin strips and mash them about with a wooden spoon until they are completely wet and submerged.  I keep the temperature between 80 and 90 - no more than 90 as maximum otherwise the skin starts to shrivel.  I give it a stir every 5 to 10 minutes with the skins staying in the dye bath for about 40 minutes in total.  Then I lift them out and rinse in cold water till the water runs clear.  Outside, I whirl them around to shake off as much water as possible and then peg them up to dry.   Even on a day like today, they will take a long time to dry so I had to bring them inside before I left the studio.  If they are still damp tomorrow they will get hung outside again.  Once dry, they get a good brushing with fine carders and then they will be ready to be sewn into the hoods.

Depending on what colours I want, I may add a bit more dye to the pan and add in more sheepskin strips - these bright green strips were done first using a combination of Kemtex green, Gaywool lucerne and Gaywool rosemary, but once I took them out, I added some Gaywool logwood and put in another two strips to get a darker more olive green colour.  These strips actually started off a pale pastel green, so they had some green there to start.

These navy strips were all in the same dye bath, but two started off as a mid-blue colour and the third started as pale green. They dyes used were Kemtex navy and Kemtex black

The purple strips started as natural white and the dyes used were Gaywool orchid and Gaywool mulberry.

So......... over the next couple of weeks we will be making up more hoods.  As well as the colours you see here, we will have some edged with skins we have not had to dye - aubergine, teal, dark brown, natural, grey, bright blue and red - and some I have dyed previously - wine, purple.

Plenty to choose from!  And I reckon there may still be winter weather to come, so you won't need to wait till next winter to benefit from having one of these wonderful garments.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

This is not just black................

This is dark as ebony, as deep as jet, dark as coal, but enriched with darkest plum, midnight navy and bottle green and softened with touches of charcoal............

For the benefit of my overseas readers, this is a tongue-in-cheek take on an up-market food supplier's advertising campaign for luxury food, but it does properly describe my latest limited edition Harris Tweed.

Weaving Black Harris Tweed

Last Saturday I arrived on the Isle of Lewis in the early afternoon.  After spending some time with my mother (the main reason for my visit) I chose yarns from my yarn store and prepared a new warp.  I knew that we needed black tweed for making scarves and wraps, but it didn't need to be pure plain black.  Indeed, if I want plain black, I would be better off just going to one of the Harris Tweed mills and buying it.  I like to be more adventurous, so while most of the yarn I selected to make the warp is black, I also picked out some dark charcoal, very dark navy, very dark plum, peat brown and dark bottle green yarn.   When preparing a warp I use 24 cops of yarn.  For this warp I used 16 cops of black, 4 charcoal and one each of the other colours.  From a distance it reads as black,
but it is not a "flat" black.  The other shades give a liveliness that makes it really interesting.  The photograph here shows the colours much brighter than they really are, but it is just the effect of the flash.

On Monday I got the warp beamed and half tied in.  An experienced weaver can get this part done in under an hour. I am still taking 4 hours and I have not yet managed to figure out a way of doing it without putting a strain on my back muscles.  I obviously need to improve my technique!
Tuesday was taken up with other things, including attending an interesting presentation about fashion trends for spring and summer, 2015.   Lots of things to consider there, but it did seem that subtlety was a common theme.  So my new black tweed should fit in nicely.
On Wednesday I did various things with my mother - took her to the hairdresser's salon and then out to lunch and then finished the tying in.
About two years ago I bought some tweed with the intention of making myself a new winter coat, but somehow I always seemed to be busy making things for other people and had not set aside time to do anything for myself.  However, before I left for my Lewis trip I cut out the coat pieces and did some embroidery on the front, back, cuffs, collar and pocket welt pieces.  I took with me everything I needed, including some very posh hot-fused glass buttons made for me by my friend Gail of Half-A-Moon and in the evenings, when it is too cold and dark to head out to the loom shed, I sat at the sewing machine and made my new coat.  When there was handsewing to be done I could do this while sitting talking with my mother. 

Thursday and Friday were free for weaving.  The loom has been working smoothly and I have managed to weave over 30 metres in the two days.  I am weaving in lengths of 1.8 metres then advancing the loom to leave approximately 20cm unwoven between lengths. These will be used to make scarves or wraps which have fringed ends - it saves having to unravel the tweed to make the fringes - a great time saver and allows for longer fringes.

Some lengths have been woven with a black weft (the yarn which goes from side to side), some with charcoal and I have also woven a couple of lengths with a red weft and one with a white weft.  For these colours, the random herringbone weave pattern is very striking. This photograph was taken while weaving with the red, but the white was still visible on the cloth beam, where you are seeing the back of the tweed rather than the face.

At the moment I am heading back to the mainland so the weaving will take a break until I next return to the island towards the end of March when I should be able to weave the remaining 25m and get it off to Carloway Mill for washing and stamping (to certify it as genuine Harris Tweed).

(The internet connection ran out at that point, so I couldn't do any more of this till I got home - to be met off the bus by my husband.  He's not much for cooking, but he had visited the above mentioned store.  We didn't just have beef, we had rich, succulent beef, wrapped in melt-in-the-mouth flaky pastry................. I'm sure you get the picture!).

I left the loom all ready for the next visit.  The little black mark on the warp beam flange is where the warp came to when it was first beamed, so you can see how much I have used and how much I still have to do.  I just need to decide what colours of weft yarn to use, and then start pedalling...... and pedalling.......!!!! 

In April we will start making up the tweed into scarves and wraps, perhaps the odd Hebridean Hood with any small pieces being used for little wallhangings.  Watch this space........!

I wore my new coat to church this morning and when we got home, Len photographed me wearing it. If you want a posh coat, let me know.  I won't make you one exactly the same as this, but I am happy to work out designs and let you choose tweed - visit the website for more details.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

February - hard work, but a lot of variety

Rachel testing out a new buttoned wrap
January was something of a mad rush trying to get things ready for exhibiting at a trade show in Glasgow, followed by sending out the urgent orders taken at the show.  Our new buttoned wraps were Canongate Jerseys & Crafts on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and Tartan Plus on Buchanan Street in Glasgow.   If you can't get to the studio or to either of these shops you can of course buy from our website -
very well received and some have already gone off to two of the shops we supply -

Anna Macneil has just been featured in an e-news publication called SLOGAN - an email campaign that goes out all over the world for those with an interest in Scotland and all things Scottish.  Have a look here - and Have a look to see the offer from Anna Macneil.
why not register to receive future editions by email.  It is full of special offers from featured organisations. 

This week I finally got the new Anna Macneil catalogue finished and my husband has put it onto the website - have a look here.   It is a big catalogue, so takes a wee while to load - please be patient!

Yesterday Mary and I did a bit of playing - we needed some pieces of felt for wallhangings.  So we had a nice hour or so guddling about with bubblewrap and soapy water as we massaged the wool fibres to make the felt.  If you fancy having a go yourself, why not come and do a class with me - see website for details.

Lauren wearing one of our Hebridean Hoods
My granddaughter Lauren was 15 a couple of weeks ago.  She is very keen to be a hairdresser, so I gave her some hairdressing scissors for her birthday.  This looks as though it is going to be a very worthwhile investment as she cut my hair yesterday - and a really good job she made of it!  She had instruction and supervision from Carly and Cat at Gorgeous - a hair and beauty salon in Inverness. 
new haircut!
The lovely girls at Gorgeous help us out with hair and make-up when we are doing photo sessions.  The latest of these was the one we did last month at Clava.  If we get some nice snowy weather we may do another session to get some nice winter pictures for hats and scarves, but otherwise it is likely to be the summer before we do another such session.

Back at the studio this morning I got yesterday's felt pieces onto the embroidery machine and made some oystercatcher wallhangings that will shortly be posted off to the Blue Pig Gallery at Carloway on the Isle of Lewis.  I have a few more small pieces to make to complete the order.  Beauly Gallery just a few miles away.
I also embroidered and made up some long narrow wallhangings for

Mary spent much of today cutting out tweed for making our cosy Hebridean Hoods and gorgeous wraps.  We are trying to get ahead and build up our stocks for the very busy summer season which will be on us before we know it.

This evening I was in the neighbouring village of Kiltarlity giving a talk to the WRI about my exploits over the last two years weaving Harris Tweed.  My presentation seemed to go down very well and I had lots of questions along with compliments for my tweeds which I had taken along to let them see.  I am looking forward to getting back to weaving.  Because of the trade show last month I din't manage to visit the Isle of Lewis in January, but I am planning to go there on Saturday for a week.  I just hope that the threatened gales don't reach The Minch until after my ferry crossing.

It seems almost every day the news bulletins are reporting on some weather related story - floods, gales or snow, but here in Inverness we seem to have escaped it all.  We have had a bit of rain and wind but nothing to write home about, certainly nothing like the south of England has been getting.  But the Isle of Lewis ferry has experienced a lot of cancellations due to bad weather.  We are all looking forward to when the new ferry comes into service - due this summer - and hoping that it is a more stable ship.  All being well, I will get to Lewis on Saturday and have a full week at the loom.

So....... the hard work continues, but it looks like the variety will continue - we have orders for shops for hats, scarves, bags, wallhangings, cushions, wraps, purses, keyrings.  All we need now is to figure out how to fit 12 hours of work into an 8 hour day!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Scotland's Trade Fair - Our show preview

From Sunday 19th to Tuesday 21st January, Mary and I will be at the SECC in Glasgow exhibiting at Scotland's Trade Fair.  This is an annual event for buyers to source stock for their retail outlets.  It is a trade only event, but any buyers interested in seeing our products will be very welcome on our stand - E40.  All visitors should register on the show's website -

On Sunday afternoon - as part of our preparation for the show we were out braving the cold weather to get photographs of our new products.  Fortunately it stayed dry and the fog which had been forecast didn't materialise.  I had 4 models - my daughter Mary, her daughters Rachel and Lauren and Mary's friend Amanda and they all really entred into the spirit of the thing.

They started off at Gorgeous - Hair and Beauty Salon where their friends Lynne and Carly did a lovely job with hair and make-up - thanks girls!  Looking suitably lovely, we headed out to Clava, an ancient site (about 5000 years old) with chambered cairns and standing stones just beyond Culloden Battlefield, a few miles from Inverness.  It is a place we often go to photograph our products because there is a good atmosphere and different back-drops of trees or stones.  Today the weather was cold and dull enough that we had the place to ourselves.

Then it was down to work.   We had a few new products to photograph.  First off was our buttoned wrap.  This one fastens with a large hand-made button through a decorative buttonhole and has Celtic knotwork embroidery on the overlapping section at the front.
Lauren chose the blue one to model while Rachel (scroll to bottom) opted for a cream & pale grey version.

Our Hebridean Hoods have proved very popular over the last couple of years, but this time we have teamed them with some more new products - spats and cuffs.  Here you see Amanda sporting a rusty brown ensemble - all made with tweed that I wove at the tail end of last year.

Undaunted by the cold, Amanda then changed into her little black & white dress and teamed it with a black wrap embroidered with black & white and then donned black & white checked spats and cuffs. 
Combining different patterns of black & white is very much on trend this season and when you see it on Amanda with her lovely black hair, you have to agree it makes for a striking outfit.

In addition to the long wrist-warmer style of cuffs (which we will be selling as pairs) we are also introducing a short cuff designed to be worn as a bracelet.  Mary has both blue and red streaks in her hair, so she made herself a blue one and a red one which she plans to wear at the trade fair next week, but no doubt she will wear them on other occasions as well.

All these things are now on the website.  There is also an additional page with some of the lovely feedback we have had from our customers over the last year.  Do let us know what you think of our things - we are always happy to hear your views.