Gearing up for weaver training courses in Harris

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Twelve new weavers will shortly be trained in Harris thanks to funds secured by Harris Development Limited from the Heritage Lottery Fund and LEADER.

Courses will begin in September this year with six people being trained on the Bonas-Griffith loom and six trained on the Hattersley loom.

Training will be available to people resident in Harris who intend to take up a career in weaving.

As part of the training, HDL will be working in partnership with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Business Gateway Advisers to provide tailored business skills courses for the new weavers.

The six new Bonas-Griffith weavers will work to fulfill orders secured by the mills. There is strong support from the mills for new weavers to enter the industry at a time when order books are growing significantly, yet the weaving workforce is contracting due to retirals.

Successful small businesses can also be built on the ongoing demand for single-width cloth woven on the Hattersley loom, as has been proven by Luskentyre Harris Tweed.

Whilst many of the low volume orders being placed for single-width cloth are understandably not the target market for the mills, individual weavers marketing directly can make a good living selling to customers sourcing cloth for bespoke tailoring and a wide range of designer, limited edition and hand crafted products.

Hattersley weavers securing orders independently of the mills have to prepare the warp for their own tweeds. For those unfamiliar with the term, the warp is the set of lengthwise yarns wound onto a beam and tied in to hold them under tension on the loom.

Hattersley warping mills are now very rare pieces of equipment to find in good working order. After a long search, it was HDL’s good fortune to make contact with a retiring weaver in Ardross who had a lovingly maintained warping mill for sale.

This warping mill will be erected in the Manish Workshop in The Bays of Harris and will be available there for communal use by local weavers, including any weavers from Lewis willing to make the journey.

HDL will be leasing looms to the new weavers for a nominal fee for the early years of their establishment, to help with set up costs.

Aside from the looms, Hattersley weavers will also be supplied with pirn winders. Again for those unfamiliar with the process, this machine is used to wind the yarn onto bobbins or pirns for use in the shuttles to make the weft (the yarn which is woven left to right across the cloth).

Bonas-Griffith weavers do not have to wind pirns and load shuttles for the weft, this process has been simplified in the more modern loom.

Interest in weaver training has already been strong amongst Harris residents, but HDL is now keen to publicise that the window for formal applications to attend the courses has just opened with a closing date of 11th April 2011. Interviews will take place between the 9th and 13th of May 2011.

Anyone in Harris interested in becoming a weaver should contact me on 01859 502587 in the first instance. Application forms are also available from www.harrisdevelopment.co.uk.