Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Isle of Lewis in early spring

I spent the last week of March on the Isle of Lewis.  Regular readers will know that I travel there every few weeks to look after my mother and to weave Harris Tweed.  This time I was joined for a few days by my friend Gail.  We had difficulty working out when it was we were last together on the island - probably about ten years ago, when we were both undertaking commissions for St Moluag's Church, Eoropie - see

Then, Gail was designing and making a stained glass window and I was making an alter frontal. To see other examples of Gail's work, click here.  You can see more of my ecclesiastical work on this website.

This time, Gail was just having a holiday - I was combining my usual routine of cooking and weaving with making some deliveries and having some much appreciated time off.

I made three deliveries - to Blue Pig Studio at Carloway, The visitor centre at Calanais Standing Stones and Morven Gallery at Barvas.  

We had lovely weather for most of the week.  The night I arrived there was a really noisy hailstorm with hailstones the size of marbles being hammered onto my bedroom window by the strong north-easterly wind.  The grass looked as though it was covered in snow when we got up on Sunday morning, but it was the hailstones.  Because they had been so big, they took a while to melt.  After that, the weather improved all week and by the end of the week it was easy to see why Lewis had been voted as the top island holiday destination in Europe (Trip Advisor)

We took time out from the delivery round to visit Dalbeg Bay, a small cove on the west of the island
Dalbeg Bay
between Carloway and Shawbost.  The high surf was rolling in and the wind was catching the top of each wave, blowing spray back off the crests - spectacular to watch, almost tempting enough to make one want to try surfing.......well, maybe not my style!  
The surf rolling in at Dalbeg

Norse Mill & Kiln - left is mill, right is the kiln.
As we were driving back to my mother's, Gail spotted a sign saying "Norse Mill & Kiln".  I have visited it several times in the past, but Gail had not so we parked the car and headed off down the path. The path must have been restored since my last visit as it was a good sturdy gravel path with no puddles and bogs!  The mill and kiln buildings are an interesting restoration project -

Inside the restored Kiln where in Norse times the grain would have been dried

Inside the Norse Mill where the grain would have been milled

Underneath the mill, where the flow of water would have driven the paddles, driving hte mill stones above
well worth the short walk.

My mother joined us for the outing to Calanais where we had a lovely lunch in the visitor centre - soup followed by coffee & cake.  As I pushed my mother in her wheelchair across to a vacant table I saw someone I knew - well one often does in places like this! - but this was unexpected.  Joan Baxter is a tapestry weaver who lives on the east coast of Sutherland and we had been invloved together on a big project several years ago.  It turned out this was her first visit to the island and she was over because she was setting up her exhibition in An Lanntair (a arts centre in Stornoway) called "Between the Web and the Loom. 

The Calanais Visitor Centre shop is now well stocked with our hats and scarves, bags, wraps and cosy Hebridean Hoods.  If you are going to visit the stones, it's worth calling in at the shop first to buy one of our hats as the wind around the stones can blow fierce and cold.  Our hats are designed to cope with Lewis weather!

Gannets divinghand made felt and embroidery on Harris Tweed
We left a bundle of small wallhangings with Jane Harlington at the Blue Pig Studio.  These are a bit

Oystercatchers - hand made felt and embroidery on Harris Tweed
different from our normal range, done specially for Jane, so worth taking time to drop into her lovely studio and see all the interesting and quirky things she has for sale along with her own paintings and prints.

Last stop was at Morven Gallery, owned and run by Janis Scott.  This lovely contemporary gallery is only open from Easter till the end of September, but well worth a visit to see - and buy - some stunning art - paintings, sculpture, glass, jewellery and textiles, including some of my big wallhangings.  I took three for her to choose from - she wanted them all!  She also took some small Celtic cross wallhangings and some purses and phone pouches, so something for everyone.  If you call in here you can also get superb coffee and cakes, so well worth a visit. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photographs of the big wallhangings - so if you want to see them, you have to visit the gallery!

The other delivery I made was taking my latest batch of tweed to Carloway Mill for washing and stamping.  I am really looking forward to getting this one back.  It is mostly black but with hints of charcoal, navy, bottle and very dark plum.  It will make up into stunning wraps, so visit the Anna Macneil website soon!  If you email me, I can let you know as soon as they are ready -  I managed to fit in making up a new warp and got a few metres woven before we left the island. 

tying in new warp - with extra bar clamped onto back beam
One aspect of weaving that I am not good at is tying in a new warp.  Each one of the 696 ends has to

New weaving in progress
be individually tied onto the corresponding ends of the old warp.   An experienced weaver does it in about 30 minutes.  I was taking 4 hours, and getting very sore back and leg muscles in the process.  This time, I did a bit of improvisation and managed to speed up to 3 hours, but I avoided the muscle aches by temporarily securing an extra bar onto the back beam so that I didn't have to lean over to tie the knots - made a huge difference.   The new warp is a mix of pale greys, cream and oatmeal and will mostly get made up into our cosy Hebridean Hoods - but I won't get the weaving finished until early May and it will be another few weeks after that before the tweed is ready to use. 

After all that, it was back home on the afternoon ferry.  We popped into An Lanntair gallery to see Joan's exhibition and to have our lunch while we waited for the ferry and then it was off home and back to normal life!