It’s no wonder that for generations the Isle of Harris has been home to hardworking crofting families and weavers that produce the world famous wool cloth, Harris Tweed – just look at the views they have to put up with!
The windswept Western Isle was also home to Baa Baa Brighouse this summer as we made the 500 mile trip in search of solitude, hoping to learn about the farming and craft heritage of this rugged landscape and be inspired by it in our own work.
We stayed on a working croft where the sheep wandered freely and Border Collies jumped the fences between fields whenever they felt like patrolling the flock. The house itself, Tigh Finnolagh, meaning Finlay’s House, had belonged to the same family since the 1920s.
The island is mountainous, full of heather clad hills and surrounded by white sandy beaches with water so crystal clear, you can see right to the bottom. But the weather is very changeable. If you’re lucky enough to see a rare golden sunset full of purple sky and peach clouds, take a picture…who knows when you might see one again? When the rain comes in (and it does), it is relentless and the cloud is so thick it sits like pea soup in front of you. When the wind comes (and it does), you’ll be thankful the island has few trees as it knocks you off your feet – tempt a walk on Sacrista Beach and you’ll feel as if your face has been sandblasted. Those are the days you head indoors.
On one such occasion we visited the Gearrannan Black House Village in Carloway on the neighbouring Isle of Lewis with it’s traditional thatched roof cottages overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean. The restored two roomed stone buildings with attached weaver’s shed, housing a traditional Hattersley loom, (manufactured in Keighely, West Yorkshire no less), provides a good insight into island life and how it has developed over the last century or so.
The village and those like it were unable to retain their youngsters as they moved away for work and education so that in 1974, the remaining residents moved out, leaving behind an all but forgotten way of community life.
Thankfully, the weaving of Harris Tweed on pedal powered looms has survived and is thriving with designers and manufacturers dotted all over the Western Isles. There has been a definite resurgence of interest in the craft from younger generations with master weavers now passing on their skills to those that know their weft from their warp.
To see the finished product, head to the Clo Mor Harris Tweed Exhibition at Drinshader. It’s small but you can see how the raw fleece is prepared and dyed before being woven into the designs on display and understand how that Harris Tweed Radley bag you like so much in John Lewis’ shop window came to be there.
When the sun shone, we headed back outdoors where the endless display of heather and towering peaks became inspiration for my latest knitted design – the Heather and Heath Shawl. The shawl is one of our Yan Tan Tethera Originals and uses ‘Crocus’, the January 2015 Yan Tan Tethera Yarn Club yarn by Katie Pearce of Sylvan Tiger Yarn, as its main colour.
The deep, rich plum tones of the garter stitch with flecks of burnt orange are reminiscent of the heather clad hills and long grasses of Harris. It is paired with pastel shades of lilac and peach (Fresh) from the Rowan Super Fine Merino 4 Ply range for the stripes and lace edging.
The result is an elegant, yet substantial shawl that looks fabulous whatever the weather, though the rain certainly helped the needles to work faster! The British Bluefaced Leicester ensures warmth while the Merino adds softness and lends a beautiful drape to the finished garment.
The photo shoot with Shutterspot Photography was fun to do too – luckily there’s little traffic on the Isle of Harris!