October 3, 2012 § 11 Comments
It was a weaving day. Probably the most satisfying and literally liberating part of this new life is the freedom to do what you want to, every single day. There are no time cards to punch for anyone, no set hours to satisfy any employer, no meetings, managers, bosses or staff to tell or be told what to do. I rarely plan ahead, the days work is determined by the weather and what grabs me that particular day. Of course there are obligations, animals need fed, larders and wine racks need stocked, bills are to be paid…but how I go about meeting these obligations is entirely in my hands.
And so to weaving.
The loom shed is around thirty paces from the back door amd thats the morning commute. From this spacious old byre I can saddle up and turn 100% pure new woolen yarn into yards after yard of genuine Harris Tweed. And the tweed I make gets turned into luxury goods by designers all around the world. And into money for me. Some days I can’t believe my luck, to be one of only 130 weavers able to do this. And all from this humble croft in the back of beyond. Amazing really.
The first task of the day was to prepare the loom, finger pumping a little red oil can to lubricate all the moving parts, a lick of paraffin to ease the passage of the rapier and a sheen of WD40 on the drive belt. A handturn of the main cog, just a click, to maintain tension lost overnight, a quick check of warp and wefts and we’re ready to go.
The loom is running really, really well in its new home. After months of hitches and glitches it just sings, all of its faults seemingly ironed out and any that remain I can remedy myself now I have a greater feel for the beast and a little more knowledge. The first turn of the pedals and the loom springs into life with its familiar ta-tickety clicks, a little stiffly at first but warming up quickly as friction and oils begin to work together. The temperature can affect the looms feel some days, assuming it’s to do with the viscosity of the lubricants and the tiny expansion and contractions of the metal parts. Today it feels good and yard after yard of a grey plain twill begins to form before my eyes, the rapier flying, reed beating, rollers turning yarn into cloth.
I usually do 29 meters a day, half a standard tweed, which can take anything between 6 and 8 hours depending on how well the loom is running and how many breaks interrupt the flow. Today the loom is flying and the day passes quickly. I break every hour, usually after a pair of warp bobbins runs empty and head back to the kitchen for a cuppa. While I weave there’s usually an audiobook burbling in the background, today it’s Gilead, perceptible, just, over the cacophony of the machine.
I finish up for the day around 3pm, sweep the floor of yarn threads and wool fluff, pack away the various tools that had been fished out during the day’s activities and wonder about what the rest of the day might entail. Mac the dog sits at the gate, thick coat ruffled by the prevailing south westerly and watches to see whether he’ll be included in the remains of the day’s plans.
I suddenly feel hungry so need to fix some lunch, there are half a dozen scallops in the fridge gasping to be cooked so after mashing a tin of anchovies through some butter they all go into a pan until caramelised and brown. Tipped onto a plate with lots of the butter and accompanied by a guilt-free glass of Sav Blanc it proves to be pretty decent late lunch…
August 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
And another new blog to the fold.
Crofter Becca and her Harris Tweed weaving tales about to take off…
August 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
This is the time of year I love, the beginning of the Autumn / Winter fashion season when designers all around the world begin to release their collections. As with so many years past, Harris Tweed features heavily in the very best of them as the nights draw in and a little extra warmth is required for the colder days ahead.
First out of the blocks is street style icon Nick Wooster who has extended his creative touch to a partnership with Japanese retailer and menswear label United Arrows. This Harris Tweed jacket, part of a nationality and tradition-defying collection, confirms Wooster’s affinity for patchwork, camouflage, and a mix-and-match aesthetic shown off in the blending of different materials, textures and patterns.
A medley of tweeds in varying patterns of classic Herringbone, Black Watch plaid and unusual Pinstripe forms the base of the winter-weight jacket, while his signature camouflage lines the interior. There are also matching trousers, waistcoat, tab-collared shirt, bow tie and longwing brogues to complete the look.
It’s an innovative, fresh take on traditional clothing staples. The collection will see a pre-release on August 24 at the United Arrows Harajuku flagship, with a wider Japanese launch scheduled for September 14.
P.S. I now blog over at www.harristweed.org/blog so you’ll be seeing double sometimes…
August 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
So the byre is almost done, at least to a basic level.
Once the stall walls were levelled and removed the floor needed a bit of work with a hammer to bring it level but it was ready to take the Harris Tweed loom at long last. There is still a draining channel that needs filled but most of the walls have been nicely whitewashed and I’ve made a start in treating the rafters with wood stain and they look pretty good.
We had fun and games putting my loom in. It weighs a ton and is so dang cumbersome to move. Usually it sits on two wooden blocks, held in by huge bolts but to move it requires jacking it up on a set of pallet lifters, removing the blocks and fitting castor wheels before lowering it again. Then its the simple matter of removing the seating, handles, chain, pedals and pushing it up a set of steep steel tracks into the back of a Luton truck. The truck we borrowed was higher than expected which left the gradient ridiculously steep, so much so that the loom cantilevered at its mid-point. It took four of us to wrestle it into the back with a few hairy moments. And that was the easy part as it was simply moving from a flat garage floor directly onto the ramps, the Ness side proved far harder.
To get to the new loom shed required backing the truck up a long steep driveway and then negotiating some gravel, a narrow gate, a sloping grass path and then a narrow door with 6 inch step. It took six of us, assorted bits of wood, levers, strops, lifters, blocks and brute strength to finish the job – all in clouds of the worst midgies of the year.
But the loom is in and looks great (and undamaged) in its new home. Phew.
Still got much work to do to the byre, a wood stove for heat, better lighting, some electricity points, workbench, seating etc. but all in good time…
July 26, 2012 § 4 Comments
Ok, we’re back!
Broadband has been connected and we’re surfing 2MB of internet goodness from the remote district of Ness, here on the croft at long last.
More thoughts on the move soon but meantime…
Week 1 on the croft…
First thing on the agenda is to convert the old byre into a loom shed to take my Bonas-Griffiths loom. Right now weaving Harris Tweed is my main source of income and without my loom on the croft then I just don’t earn. The Harris Tweed Act of Parliament 1993 decrees that Harris Tweed must be woven at the residence of the weaver so it’s not like I can wander into a factory and just keep pedalling. The loom weighs about a million tonnes and is over 3 meters long so finding a home for it has been a challenge.
The byre on the croft in a 1950′s/1960′s Board of Agriculture build (I think) and is pretty solid, some 8 meters long (haven’t measured tbh) by 5 metres or so wide with a high peaked and raftered roof. There are two rickety, old wooden doors, one in the gable end, and four cloudy skylights as the only source of natural light.
Until yesterday there were also an interior dividing wall, door frame and lintel and three stalls complete with old Oxford sinks as feeding troughs. There are a few nice old iron features for chaining cattle and some odd, old ceramic air vents. Dividing the stall-end is a water drain which drops about 6 inches into the concrete floor and runs to a drain in the far wall. That was until yesterday.
A day of swinging a sledgehammer brought the walls and stalls tumbling down and after an afternoon of clearing the remaining rubble there is a nice big airy space left to play with. The door and lintel were a bitch to bring down, made from hand poured concrete and barbed wire. But once they fell the rest seemed a breeze, very satisfying to be honest. I’ve left in the Oxford sinks to take out a little more gracefully with a hammer and chisel if I can, they look worth preserving, even just to sell on if not reuse. There’s a little tidying up to do on the floor and walls where the brickwork joined but it should come up nice and not necessitate re-screeding the floor. It has a lot of character and I’m loathed to make it shiny and new again.
There’s still a lot to do before it’s the way I want it, have some nice old light fittings and bulbs sourced, the walls will get limewashed, it would be good to get windows in and a wood-buring stove on the go for the winter. But it will be a perfect weaving shed when it’s done, a couple of Harris Tweed upholstered chairs and a place to stash a bottle of whisky and I may never want to leave it.
More on the croft and accompanying thoughts as it happens but we’re underway again.
All good things.
January 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
Or put more simply, flow is roughly the equivalent to what most people refer to as being “in the zone” or “in the groove”.
Being such a desirable state, flow is naturally linked to happiness.
Flow leads to those inexplicable moments when we are “surprised by joy.” These precious moments seem to be gifts, almost accidental peak experiences in which life seems rich with meaning, joy and wonder. When and why do these magic episodes intrude upon our humdrum existences?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes:
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments of our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…the best moments of our lives usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary moment to achieve something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen…for each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
I and the loom were in flow for most of Friday, the tweed rolled off with ne’er a hitch, glitch or snarl and the first tweed was soon finished, cut out and tied ready for collection.
Part of the pleasure in weaving is tuning in to the sound of the loom as it weaves. Any change in sound is a good indicator that something has changed or gone awry but when nothing goes wrong the cacophony of rattles, burrs and clanks can make for some interesting aural Rorschach.
One can easily imagine the relationship of the Bheart Mor to Gaelic song, their meter and timings go hand in hand, but my mind, still trying to shake 15 years of clubland, can’t help but slip into the 4:4 of classic Chicago House and Detroit Techno.
And so, as the rapier blurs back and forth, the sound of Joey Beltram’s infamous 1990 release mentally looped over and over internally, reed-beat cutters providing bass, weft weights clattering like hi-hats and heddle snares coming in from everywhere…
Not quite the idyllic Hebridean scene but whaddya do..?
January 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Sometimes there are days when you know you should just stay in bed.
I was late getting into the loom shed today, although it was still technically morning, just, and was set to make headway into the tweed that had been tied in the day before.
Yesterday evening had involved “pulling through” the myriad of freshly knotted yarns, a slightly nerve racking affair involving manually winding the threads through the heddles and dents of the reed and onto the the front rollers to be woven. A ratchet wheel to the side draws knots through like tiny herring on a thousand feathered lines and there’s always a slightly tense moment as they strain through the balleen teeth of the beater. A successful pull through is a fine thing, to see every knot take the strain and hold fast. And it was and they did.
Warp prepare to meet thy weft.
Weft bobbins sit on a rather inglorious side table into which various holes have been drilled and nails perfunctorily driven. The bobbin table is like the nerdy little brother to the big loom and I always feel the designers could have made it much cooler, given it some flair or at least a bit of paint. But it does its job geekily enough and that’s all that matters I suppose.
There was only to be one colour of weft thread but good practice stipulates that the weaver uses two alternating bobbins to ensure a ubiquity of colour as the cloth progresses. Two threads from these bobbins get strung up, through, over, between, around and into a maze of holes, grips and bars until they finally spring through the wiry, Claptonesque fingers of the guides that eventually direct them into the maw of the rapier to be bound in the grip of the shed.
(Riveting stuff huh? Well you were warned…)
Now it’s time to saddle up, check your bells, pump the pedals and ride, weaving just a few inches at first to check the pattern emerges correctly and everything is behaving as it should, all is in the right place, things are tickety-boo. And they were. A nice left-to-right plain twill emerged in tradition tweed colours, natural, mottled, tasteful. A Zen master, had there been one handy at this point, may have whispered the word “Shibui…”
So the planets appeared aligned, a new Harris Tweed was ready to be brought into the world, on a croft in the Outer Hebrides as tradition and law dictates, the Gods had spoken…Let It Be!
But either my karma was do-lally or I’d got sinful fluff in one of the looms’ chakras because it all went downhill from this point forward…
January 4, 2012 § 1 Comment
There’s been a lot of emails asking for A Complete Guide To Harris Tweed Weaving on here but as I’ve said before, maybe it’s a good thing to keep a little of the magic hidden. It’s also more than likely that, when broken down, it really doesn’t make for particularly riveting reading unless you’re a bit of a geek and in which case you’ll likely knows the ins and outs anyway.
But to keep things ticking over maybe another esoteric peek behind the weaving shed door is in order?
Just before Christmas the first offical beam of yarn miraculously appeared in The Croft weaving shed. It was rather unexpected but it sat there, delivered covertly by the Santa Clauses of Shawbost Mill complete with fancy bows (leases!), a tag cryptically written in codes that only a few of us can decipher, and a white sack stuffed with weft bobbins.
Happily I’d already set up the loom for a plain twill. In weaver parlance I had “changed the draft” meaning, at its simplest, that the yarn threads were set in the correct order through the heddles which hang from the boards. Heddles are wee metal loops that hang off four long lengths of metal (boards!) and there are around 1600 of them. Changing the draft is probably my least favourite part of the process as it’s ridiculously easy to cock it up and ridiculously laborious to correct your mistakes. Anyway, I’d spent the day prior making sure it was done perfectly so some smugness ensued.
The next stage is to load the beam onto the loom. It’s a fairly cumbersome bit of kit, think of an oversized Romanian weightlifter’s barbell wound silly with wool. There was only 15 meters on it though, there can be 10 times that sometimes, so this was a doddle. One end is lifted and clipped in, then the other, so the beam is held securely in the loom and two simple pins hold everything in place.
Now the lengths of woolen yarn can be pulled off the beam and onto the loom ready for tying in. There were roughly 1400 individual threads wound onto the long beam, separated into nine or ten groups by special ties. Now all that remains is to tie each individual length of yarn from the beam onto its corresponding partner in the loom. Its exact partner, in the exact order, to be paired off as if God Himself had ordained it. A well practiced, simple, rolling of the fingers technique ties the knot over and over again in a five hour ceremony each union blessed with a wave of the hand to the right as the weaver moves along the ends.
It’s a part of the process I love.
Concentration is all. The weaving shed door is closed, there can be no distractions, one mistake can lead to hours of toil to fix at a later date. But it is five hours of silence and inevitably the mind wanders a little as the rhythm and flow of the process takes hold. It’s a time to think and contemplate, what starts as a life difficulty at the beginning may end as a resolved issue at the other. With every twist of thumb and forefinger comes a resolution or new aspect to the mental conundrum. After 1400 of these convoluted thoughts, the meditative, metaphysical end result is often an epiphany or at the very least a new perspective.
And so it went today. I tied in this new tweed and with it a little part of my life was bound up in the process.
It’s highly satisfying to tie in a tweed.
October 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
The weaver’s knot rolls nicely off the thumb. After a little practice.
Tying in is not for the un-nimble of finger (or weak of back).
There are two warp yarns in every dent. Except on the selvedge which has three in each of the first four making twelve. Then there’s a gap of five dents followed by the leno (two of) .
Then comes the tweed.
Go right to left, keeping a grip with the left and tying with the right.
The plain twill draft is a doddle. Except when you have to change from a herring bone.
2 1 4 3
1 2 3 4
Warp, weft, rapier, beams, boards, heddles, yarn, bobbins, dents, reed, leno, tappets, shed…