It’s Question Time at Skye Weavers!
One of the nicest things about having visitors to the workshop is the chance to chat and answer people’s questions. We’ve not been able to do that so much this year, so for this month’s blog we thought we’d share our answers to some of the questions we often get asked.
How many miles do you pedal a day – and does it make you fit?
We reckon about 20 miles (32 km) a day – no hills, no wind, no rain. It takes about a mile of cycling to weave a metre of tweed, and on a good day we can weave up to 20 metres of tweed or about 10 throws. Sadly though, it’s not sufficiently aerobic to really enhance our fitness levels – not like cycling up our brae anyway!
Is all your wool from Skye?
We’re really proud of our Skye Wool range, which is made entirely from local fleeces, and this makes up about 40% of our product range. Different types of yarn are suited to different types of product, however. The sheep here (mostly Cheviots) are experts at surviving the cold, and their yarn is perfect for warm throws and hard-wearing tweeds. For garments worn next to the skin, such as scarves, we often use lambswool from other breeds of sheep; and for items such as baby blankets we use ultra-soft Merino.
How many sheep does it take to make a throw or blanket?
Rather neatly, it pretty much equates to one sheep per blanket. A Cheviot fleece weighs about 2-3 kg. About 40% of this gets lost through grading and processing, leaving about 1.5 kg of yarn per sheep – the approximate weight of a blanket.
Is there a history of weaving on Skye?
Traditionally, people all over the Scottish islands would have woven woollen fabric at home for their own use. There was no commercial weaving on Skye, however, until after the First World War, when Harris weavers were invited to set up a weaving community in Portnalong. ‘Port-na-Skye’ tweed, as it was called, lasted until the 1970s and it’s a fascinating story. There was also a spinning and weaving mill in Portree until the 1970s, and other weavers at work in Kilmuir and Portree at that time. You can read about ‘Skye’s forgotten weavers’ in our blog.
How do you compare to Harris Tweed?
Like most Harris Tweed weavers we use pedal powered Griffith looms – in fact we bought our first loom second-hand from a former Harris Tweed weaver. We couldn’t call our products Harris Tweed though as it is a strictly protected cloth (identified by its ‘Orb’ trademark), meaning that all processes have to happen in the Outer Hebrides. Most Harris Tweed weavers are self-employed but they tend to work for one of the three spinning mills on Lewis and Harris, to agreed designs. However there are some independent weavers who create their own designs and sell direct, like us. The joy of running our own business is that we can basically do whatever we like! We particularly enjoy challenging our looms (and ourselves) to create inventive weaves and different products such as scarves and throws.
Is everything made in Skye?
It’s really important to us that we keep things local and rooted in Skye. Everything is designed, woven and sewn here in our workshop on the croft, with the exception of our tweed caps. Hat-making is a specialist process so these are made for us by long established British manufacturers Olney Headwear, using our tweed.
Where else do you sell your products?
We like to have a direct relationship with our customers and primarily sell direct to the public. In a normal year about 80% of our sales are through our small shop on the croft (though of course that has been very different this year), with the rest online. We do also occasionally do special commissions for Skye’s boutique hotels such as The Bosville, Monkstadt House and Marmalade. You can even find us in London, adorning the luxury bedrooms of One Aldwych. But while we love working with these creative clients, we strictly limit these collaborations as we don’t want to overwhelm our small business.
What inspires your designs?
We’re lucky to live in a stunningly beautiful part of the world, providing an inspirational backdrop to everything we do. The landscapes and seascapes are magnificent of course but actually it’s often the small details – such as lichens, heathers, pebbles and moss – that provide the most direct starting point for our weaves. I take a lot of photographs too, and these provide a valuable reference point when we’re planning a new design. If you’d like to know more have a look at our recent blog about the design process.
How did you get started?
We didn’t originally intend to be weavers – it was something we came across by one of life’s wonderful turns. We met while working at Ardalanish, an organic farm on the Isle of Mull. The farm set up a weaving mill to use the fleeces of their Hebridean sheep, and we both became fascinated by the weaving process and excited about the potential of using local resources to make a sustainable product. I also fell in love with textiles and making things, particularly with wool. We later decided to move up to Roger’s family home on Skye, and set up our own business. By that point we had come across pedal-powered looms and knew we wanted to work with them. And now we’re looking forward to the 10th anniversary of Skye Weavers next year!
What’s it like living on Skye?
We feel so lucky to be living here, doing something we love doing – though running a small business has its share of stresses too! Roger says his favourite aspects are: ‘Winter, light and peacefulness’. For me it’s the hugely varied landscape and endless opportunities for outside activities – swimming, cycling and walking. We also feel very fortunate to be part of a friendly and welcoming community. If you’re a city-lover, Skye is probably not for you, but we wouldn’t change it for the world!