I visited one on my friends yesterday to ask her about life as a weaver.
Kathleen, who has 5 year old twins (extememly gorgeous twins, I have to say), decided when they went to school that she wanted to earn some money. She wanted to be around - at least from mid-afternoon - every day, and she wanted to be free at the school holidays. So she reckoned weaving was the perfect solution.
She had never sat at a loom until a year ago, but she went to Lews Castle College for a 12 week course, and learnt the workings of the loom, and how to weave.
The 'bobbans' as they're delivered to her from the Mill.
She gets her tweeds from Shawbost mill, but there are couple of mills on the island.
The 'back' of the loom, with all the threads - the warp - coming from the beam at the bottom. The threads have to be threaded individually through each heddle board.
Each one of these threads has to be tied to an existing, older thread on the loom - seen in the next photo at the bottom of the loom.
One thousand, four hundred and sixteen tie-ins. Yes, that's right, 1416 individual knots to be tied by hand. That's a lot of knots!
On the upper part of the loom, you can see the woven tweed.
The main colour of this tweed is the darker purple, and it has a pink thread running across and down, giving a pink check.
Can you see the pink thread and purple thread (bottom left of photo) running to the front of the loom? These threads are the weft.
The threads on the loom already (coming up from the beam) are also purple with the one pink thread every so often. For this thread, every 50 or so threads is pink.
Here's our weaver peddling to work the loom.
Part of the legislation governing the authenticity of Harris Tweed says that the loom must not be mechanically operated. Its work must be manual.
What a fantastic way to keep fit, don't you reckon!
When I was growing up, the clickety-clack sound of the loom was heard in every village. If my memory serves me correctly, this is the sound to which I woke on many mornings.
It's a good sound. It is in my memory anyway.
Here's Kathleen, peddling away busily.
The light underneath the loom makes it easy to see the threads, and any mistakes will be easy to find. Theoretically anyway.....eh, Kathleen?!
Here, towards the front of the loom (the right of the photo) you are able to see a couple of inches of the woven tweed. Just to the left of the woven tweed, you can see the warp. The rapier carries the weft to the other side, then back ...
Legislation covering the making of Harris Tweed makes the industry a real cottage industry: no more than two looms are allowed under the same roof, and the great majority of Harris Tweed is woven by home-based weavers - normally, like Kathleen, weaving in a shed beside their home.
Although most of the island's weavers have traditionally been men, no doubt more and more people in Kathleen's position will see the benefits of this as a viable cottage industry.
Thanks, Kathleen, for allowing me into your weaving shed for a spell; thanks for showing this ignoramous a thing or two about the loom; and thanks for allowing me to hear the clickety-clack of the loom once again. It brought back happy memories...