A West Side teenager has been confirmed as the youngest certified Harris Tweed Weaver in the world at the age of just 19.
The average age of a Harris Tweed weaver is 50 – while just five years earlier was 62.
But John Macleod, from Brue, has now completed his training and is set up working studiously on a loom which is remarkably older than he is.
The teenager drifted towards weaving almost by chance after spotting an advert for Include Us - a Western Isles based project, focussed on getting young people into employment, returning to the islands or establishing new business start-ups.
From there John was aided with help and advice from support worker Donald Macsween along the road to a brand new career.
John explained: “I would never have thought I’d be standing here just over a year on from meeting Donald as the youngest Harris Tweed weaver in the world. It wasn’t the route I had set on but I wanted to find out more and I’m happy with how things have turned out.
“The idea came just from hearing from existing weavers about how well they were getting on. I went to Include Us to see Donald but at that stage I wasn’t too serious about looking for a loom but he said he knew someone who might have a loom and after sourcing one he got back in touch.
“I was happy with that and Include Us were a huge help with everything from restoring the loom as it needed a few repairs and parts.”
With prices for a loom anything up to and beyond £18,000 the loom John has set up in his shed is rented for a 12-month period by Include Us who also paid for the repairs to restore the loom to working condition. The Harris Tweed Education Trust helped with a small grant towards the refurbishment of the shed while PTYBS also assisted.
But John has had to work hard himself and for the past year he has juggled one on one mentoring training with a local weaver with his job at a local shop.
This has often meant 7am starts training with Cailean Angus Macdonald, who John credits with being a huge help, before evening shifts at work.
“Cailean Angus has been brilliant at training me up and it helps having another weaver, and one with so much experience, in the same village as me as he is so helpful.
“I got the loom in May 2013 and in that time we made up the premises here in my shed but we are still in the process of doing the installation. We really got started when I finished my training at the end of December and I started earlier this month. I’ve only really been going a few weeks but I’m getting on well and I think I know most of the processes if things go wrong now.”
John’s fledgling enterprise is already enjoying taking off promisingly with a tie in with Shawbost Mill who send orders to him which he fulfils and sends back.
Having enjoyed such a good experience with Include Us it is no surprise he recommends them to any young people.
He added: “I’m coming on well but it takes time to get to know the procedures when things go wrong. It is something you need a lot of patience for. But if you put the time in you can get on well.
“I would recommend Include Us to any young people interested in starting up a new business or just wanting information on their options. They really helped me.”