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.
Plain Twill, the card said. Two colours, both dark, bark browns, one warp, one weft. 19 picks per inch on a #18 reed and just 15 meters to produce.
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.