Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 12 Isle of Harris

At an unlikey gallery, the upstairs of the An Clachan grocery store in Leverburgh on the southern tip of Harris, is displayed a wonderful labour of love. Gillian Scott-Forrest instigated the Millenium Project. A series of hangings was designed, one for each part of the island. The tweed fabric and the wool yarn used for the pictorial embroidery was hand dyed using plant dyes. Of the 1600 people living on Harris, 90 were involved in the project. The images on each hanging depict both history and current events from each area of the island. Each of the 8 panels are 5 fett by 2 1/2 feet. Until the project, called the Harris Tapestry, finds a permanent home, you can get your gas, buy your groceries, have breakfast, and learn of the rich history of the people and the island all in one stop.

From Harris we drove up to Tarbert and over the bridge to the island of Scalpay to visit Sheila Roderick and John Finlay Feguson at croft #37. Scalpay island has 40 crofts in all. Sheila and John have been farming here for 30 years. The farm goes back in their family to 1890. To make a living, the industrious couple have 100 lobster creels, 40 Hebredian black sheep, a flock of ducks, guineas, chickens and raise turkeys for the Christmas market. The photos show a Hebredian lamb and ram and also the end result of the spun fleece. On of the travelers, Doreen, purchased some of the fleece and was clever enough to have brought along a drop spindle. She started spinning that this very afternoon!

The couple still harvest their own peat and grow potatoes in lazy beds. On their Hattersly loom, they weave linen cloth and linsey-woolsey. Some of their fabric ends up in costumes for movies and the theater in London and NY. Success does not come without long hours and hard work but you can hear the love of this rural life in Sheila’s voice.

We all enjoyed sitting around refurbished sewing machine tables to eat lunch at First Fruits Tea Room in Tarbert. Most of us didn't have room, but if you visit, be sure to leave room for their home baked desserts.
Tel: 01859 502 439

Just down the road in Tarbert we visited Terry, a current Harris Tweed weaver. Today, weavers have to complete a weaving course to prove their skill and competancy before going to work for the industry. There are 150-200 weavers on the island that supply the industry weaving on Bonas Griffeth double wide looms that are driven with a pedals like a bicycle. Due to some politics with the newish owners of the mill in Stornoway, there has not been any warps given out to tweed weavers for several months now. And then there is the issue of how to keep tweed fabric in the eyes of the fashion industry. Read more about the history of the industry at

Winding our way back to Leverburgh via the Golden Road, we happened upon Katie Campbell's studio and shop in Plochropol, Harris Tweed and Knitwear. Katie has been weaving tweed for over 40 years. She and her sister grew up at the foot of their father who was also a tweed weaver. "Grannie had 11 girls who all spun. My mom died young. There were 4 of us girls and Dad bought a Hattersly Loom. We went to sleep to the click clack of the loom. It was lovely. It was safe." Katie and her daughter keep two Hattersly looms humming along turning out colorful contemporary and traditionl tweed cloth. Besides yardage for sale, they have their fabric sewn into caps, backpacks, handbags, jackets, teddy bears, etc.

We capped off our 2 days on the islands with a celebration at Rodel Hotel. Donnie and Dena MacDonald have converted a former school into a hotel and restaurant where fresh and simply prepared local fare is served. The seafood, some hand dived for just down the road, was the best we have eaten on the trip, as Jan's face concurs.

Bill Lawson, local history, genealogy expert and author of many books, joined us and told us about the history of the tweed industry and the island. is wife Chris, and the rest of the "Luadh" group did a wualking for us. They thumped, rubbed and passed a length of tweed around a table while singing waulking songs in Gaelic. Waulking was the process used to full and finish the cloth once it came off the loom. All was very orderly and efficient until they asked for volunteers from our group. After that not much waulking but a lot of laughter was acheived!

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