This year's lambs: next year's wool, tweed and eventually, a garment.
I went to Mull exactly two years ago to the day. Both times I was welcomed with blazing sunshine, so based on my experience, May is a great time to go. I did give a thought to the goings-on in NYC. I stayed in a small hotel near the weavers (the bus driver corrected my southern accent; stress the first syllable - Ardachy). The hotel looks right out onto the beach and bay. This time I went by train and bus. As a result I didn't spend all the time driving to 'interesting places' but went for long walks around the beautiful Ardalanish bay, looking out to the islands of Colonsay, Jura and Isla:
The Isle of Mull Weavers at Ardalanish Organic Farm
Whilst we're on pronunciation, I learnt it's Ardalanish which is again unfamiliar to my native Surrey intone. I spent a few hours with the weavers each day, saw new things and talked about new ideas. They have a lovely new shop - somewhat brighter and more welcoming than the weaving shed. Whilst I don't believe that all businesses have to be in perpetual growth, it's great to see progress:
Why Black Hebridean Sheep?
One thing I was curious to achieve, was to discover more about the sheep. These are the most compatible native breed for this terain. Indigenous to the highlands, they use the land in the most beneficial way. Other breeds that are not native might deplete the soil more, whereas the Hebridean sheep thrive here and maintain the delicate balance of the land which is core to organic and sustainable practices. The other wool comes from other organic and non-organic farms. For example, the cream wool is from Shetland sheep and the fawns are either Moorit or Manx, which are both slightly different shades of fawn. There is some lovely Manx wool in these:
Other exciting news is the arrival of some BLUE wool. The wool is dyed with an ancient natural dye: woad, which is harvested in the UK. Hopefully, there will be some woven so that I can have some ready made up for my main 2008 shows, which start in July.
And here is some tweed being woven up on the loom. The looms are from the 1950's but were copies of 19th century looms. Apparently, in the last 15 years nearly all the old looms have been bought up and transported to China, where the vast majority of wool processing now takes place. It's sad, but all the more respect goes to the weavers for their work to keep these skills alive in their native land.
The more I work with these tweeds, the more I consider what top quality fabrics they are. They remind me of vintage tweeds I have from my older relatives or which I find in vintage fairs and invariably they are in mint condition, despite being over fifty years old. You just don't find woollen fabric like this in 'the shops' these days. Of course, people are surprised at the price. Of course it's expensive; it should be. I'm saddened at the way the market has lowered standards and raised consumers' expectations of 'value'.
It was great to spend time with Alex, Minty & Aeneas and also to meet all the folks working at the farm. You feel part of a bigger community and really get back to why and how you're doing this. It's very easy to be distracted from the core principle. It's a real comfort to work with people who share this approach.
For more snaps, go to my photo album.