Weaving in the Blackhouse

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Buoyed up with inspiration and bowed down with a sackful of tweed bobbins over my shoulder from the mill, I get back in the van and head on out along the coast road to Garrenin, the blackhouse village. I buy a ticket for the museum and would like to linger in the shop and cafe (my fridge is empty) but I go straight to the weaver – also on an old Hattersley – and pounce, and cannot leave. He is tying the ‘weaver’s knot’: tying in the new warp to that of the outgoing cloth. Now that might not sound all that exciting but there has been a build up to this: my Glasgow friends admired the agility of his fingers as he knotted with great speed. I asked if they were sure that he wasn’t twisting the yarns together as I’d seen them twist it in the Ardalanish Mill on Mull. No, they were sure that he was knotting. And so that I happen upon him at just this stage in the process is a stroke of luck. He is leaning over in the authentically dim light and as other visitors and I crowd in to see we block his limited light and he can see even less. I say that I’m really keen to learn this speedy knotting technique and he gruffly asks me to hold the crossed warp threads a moment. This is an honour indeed, as though he is there to demonstrate to the public, he is weaving an actual tweed for the mill, and if I drop these ends, he is in trouble. He gets a magnetic LED light and sticks it to the underside of the ‘castle’. He takes back the threads, and his left hand holds the ends, whilst his right ties the knots, no left fingers involved at all. He can tie 540 knots in 35 minutes. He shows me the technique, offers an old cloth-end for me to practice on, and as his apprentice takes over I challenge him to a race. We don’t stop nattering, and as the apprentice is on knot 12 I am still only half way through my first knot. I get my fingers in the wrong place endlessly and can’t believe my clumsiness, but enjoy learning about weaving and the state of the market, the culture of crofting, the changes and challenges, and they invite me to take home my cloth-end to practice on.

Who would imagine that a simple knot would absorb me for the whole afternoon. Hanging out with a loom is like hanging out in a beautiful place, or hanging out with a warm, cud-chewing mammal.

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One thought on “Weaving in the Blackhouse

  1. Pingback: I LOVE BEING IN THE ARTS WORLD! Barter, media, cross-fertilisation and creative enquiry | These Isles

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