A Weaver's Dream Vacation
When planning our annual summer vacation this year, I decided to “go big” and proposed to my husband that we should consider passing on our usual trip to either the beach or the mountains, but instead take a trip to Scotland. It was a trip that appealed to both of us: he would get to sample some truly superb single malt whiskies and eat fish and chips to his heart’s content, and I could get my hands on some wonderful Harris tweed and other Scottish woven goods.
Well, I just returned from that trip and it was truly wonderful. We spent four days on Islay, an island in the outer Hebrides with a very fine woolen mill that produces very fine cloth. (In fact, it was fun to see that the whiskey distilleries on the island had their own, unique tartan which was typically woven by the local mill. The Scots take their weaving seriously.) We then spent four days in Edinburgh where Harris tweed could be found in shops across the city. It was wonderful to see how proud the shop employees were to explain Harris tweed to the tourists admiring the beautiful works of weaving.
For those of you who are not familiar with Harris tweed, it is cloth woven from virgin wool spun and dyed in the Outer Hebrides and then handwoven in the homes of weavers on those islands. Protected by the Harris Tweed Act of 1993, all true Harris tweed has the official “orb” seal that marks it as such. While I’d read a bit about the tweed, and had even found a vintage men’s jacket at thrift store made from the beautiful cloth, I was unprepared for seeing so much of it in person.
What struck me about the cloth first and foremost, was how colorful it was. I know that tweed comes in a rainbow of colors, but it was still surprising to see the pinks and purples and blues smiling from the shelves. There were, of course, the traditional tweed colors as well, and some pieces that combined traditional colors with just a pick of blue or green here and there. Looking at and handling the gorgeous tweed was a weavers dream come true and the hardest part of figuring out what to take home.
My husband picked out (with my help) a beautiful cap in black and dark grays with just a bit of cobalt blue to brighten it up. I finally chose a sweet little terrier ornament to hang in my office. Unlike most of the Harris tweed productions, he was entirely made in Scotland (a lot of the cloth is sent to England to be turned into jackets and hats and purses and the like). There were also jackets, purses, skirts, trousers, book covers, and even sweet little dog jackets.
Later, we were able to check out the Edinburgh Tartan Weaving Mill, located just next to the beautiful Edinburgh Castle. It was amazing seeing the long, striped warps on the giant warping mill and to look at the industrial looms and the different tartan designs on each one. Looking at all the tartan designs was an inspiration as well. All the traditional clan colors were well represented, and there were many other designs including the “world peace tartan” and one for the late Princess Diana.
In the end I didn’t bring home too much in the way of cloth (the two Harris tweed items and a lovely, vintage point-twill scarf that my husband kept trying to steal all trip), I did come home inspired to sit down and start designing. I took a photo of my favorite tartan (the official tartan of Bruichladdich distillery) so I could recreate it on my loom. Seeing so much beautiful weaving in Scotland including soft cashmere scarves, warm woolen blankets, hardy rugs, and more (it wasn’t uncommon to see chairs in small pubs upholstered in beautiful tweed) made me feel even more proud of being part of the ancient community of weavers.
I’m also very proud to be a part of Interweave, a company that helps so many people to create from weavers like us to spinners and knitters and more with our books, videos, and (of course) our project kits that include everything you need to weave something wonderful. (Well, minus the loom and shuttles and such.)