Friday, 20 October 2017

Happy Hebridean Wool. . .

Unlike my Shetland trip where I knew I'd have many opportunities to squish and purchase wool, my Hebridean holiday was planned guided walking within a group environment.  We were staying in some isolated B & Bs and we were going to be out walking all day i.e. during business hours, so  I thought the chances of coming across any wool would be fairly minimal and I was completely okay with that.  However, wool just seems to find me!

If you are ever in Ullapool on a Saturday, there is a small but delightful outdoor market set up in the parking lot across from the Ullapool Bookstore (also worth popping in).  And in this market are two wonderfully enthusiastic women originally from Harris, who take the Harris wool (that gets woven into the tweed) and ply three different colours together to create 100g balls of gorgeous marled yarn that knits up as an aran weight.  We arrived in Ullapool just half an hour before the market closed and since we had a couple of hours before the ferry to Lewis, I was just able to purchase some.

Doesn't this yarn look perfectly at home  in the Harris landscape?  I haven't decided yet whether to knit or weave with it.

Our second accommodation was a lovely hotel in the town of Tarbert on Harris.  And just five minutes away was the Harris Tweed shop.  It was closed when we arrived but again, as luck would have it, our ferry the next day wasn't until 11am.  So our guide arranged for a weaving demonstration.

This is Sean, the youngest in several generations of weavers in his family.  He's been winding bobbins since he was a small child at his grandmother's feet and he loves tinkering with these old weaving machines which are not only very fast with lots of complex components, but are quite noisy too. Here, he is weaving in a demonstration room but most weavers have these in their homes. He also told us that the cloth he weaves here actually can't have the Harris Tweed label attached to it; only tweed woven in the homes of Harris weavers can get that special designation.  Amazingly, there are only 192 weavers on Harris who supply all of that lovely fabric that is then sent around the world.  Sean donates his demonstration tweed to the local primary school in the hope that he'll inspire a future generation of weavers, but also some designers too.

I knew we were pressed for time and what you can't see in the photo above are the many shelves filled with huge bolts of the most gorgeous Harris tweed.  I was quietly miming to his assistant to cut me various lengths so I could quickly pay for it before we had to dash.  There was a huge cardboard box with some skeins of wool in it too.  How could I resist?

Here is my little haul.  It's fully my intention to improve on my sewing skills over the next couple of months. I certainly won't be cutting into this precious stuff for a while yet, but very much hope that the brown/burgundy/blue tweed will some day become a handmade skirt. Maybe with mustard or teal lined pockets.

Across from the weaving building was the Harris Tweed store where they sell clothing, bags, scarves, and all manner of items made out of tweed.  I unexpectedly found the coat of my dreams. It was a bit of a naughty purchase but I knew I would have regretted it, had it not come home with me. It will last me for years. so I see it as a great investment piece.

One of the places I had secretly hoped we would get to on this trip was Uist Wool. They had a lovely booth at last year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I just love everything about their backstory - the passion to re-invigorate the wool industry on Uist and pay the crofters a decent price for their wool, and their creative aesthetic and experimentation when it comes to their yarns, all of which are undyed, but offer an incredible choice in terms of colours, textures and blendings.  Their business flyer has a photo of Eavel on the back and I wore my Nuuk sweater, knit out of their Reothart wool, when I climbed it the day before.

Uist Wool was located fairly near to our last hotel. The night before our last day, I asked our guide if it was possible to visit but he said the planned walk was a long one and we wouldn't get back in time.  The next day however, the weather was too windy and he changed our itinerary to drive to Eriskay instead. So at breakfast he told me we could stop by on the way.  Only we were leaving at 9am and it didn't open until 10am.  Drats.  Of course I told him to skip it as the walking was more important.  At the end of the walk there had been plans for a pint at the famous Politician Pub, but when we got there, it was closed for the season!  Which then freed up about an hour, which then allowed us to get to Uist Wool just before closing!  Hooray!  And it was such a lovely store.

Four of us in the group were knitters and all of us had been so struck by the beauty of the Hebrides that falling for souvenir yarn wasn't hard (we all bought lots of yarn).  I went for all the dark Hebridean colours.

And so a trip that was primarily about walking, also turned into a celebration of wool too. It was made all the more special by having seen the sheep, and walked many miles of the landscape that had not only inspired the colours but contributed to the smells and textures too.  You can't get better souvenirs than that.  Now I just have to wait for colder weather to wear my new coat!


Meg said...

The serendipity of a wool explorer! Glad you had a super walking holiday too.

Beth Theis said...

Have so enjoyed vicarious Hebridean walking with you! Coat of your dreams indeed - it's gorgeous.

Blithe Spirit said...

Thank you both for your comments. I love being a Wool Explorer! Knitting with the resulting souvenir yarn is such a great reminder of the holiday and the landscapes I've walked through.