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Crofting Connections: A gateway to the fashion industry.
Posted: 31/03/2017

The Scottish press are getting excited by the new generation of weavers being encouraged in schools in the Western Isles now and we feel Crofting Connections is playing its part in nurturing this.  With ‘taster’ S2 sessions in the Nicolson Institute and an SQA award in Harris Tweed for S5/S6 as well as our own experiences linking Crofting, Careers and Culture in Ceangal gatherings reported in this website, weaving is now opening hearts and minds in our young workforce and giving them further reasons to stay in the rural locations they grow up in.

Kinlochbervie pupils visiting a croft in Shetland

Sheep are one of three iconic activities associated with crofting throughout the Highlands and Islands – the others being heritage cereal production and tatties.  Processing wool around the hearth in the croft was part of the provision of basic needs for the family, and telling stories or sharing news was also a part of that.  What better way to study this year of Scotland’s History, Heritage and Archaeology?

Everyone knows about Harris Tweed and the geographical limitations of its wonderful products, but wool lost its market value for a while in Scotland.  Recently however as reported in the link above, the hand-woven fabric has gone from being associated solely with hard wearing, durable, outdoor clothing to a fashionable must-have, available in a variety of colours and used for everything from bags and keyrings to wedding bouquets and hoody tops. 

Crofters traditionally produced their own food, shelter, clothing and energy from the local landscape.  Harris Tweed designs inspired by the light and the iconic landscapes in the Western Isles has been a part of the fashion industry in many subtle ways since the 1830s. It has reflected social changes and trends such as providing acceptable durable outdoor clothing for independent travel by women in the 1890s with the invention of the bicycle, to featuring on the catwalk and screens courtesy of Vivienne Westwood and Tinie Tempah.

Highland and Shetland pupils learning about weaving at the heritage centre in Gearrannan Blackhouse

Over the years, since 2009, our schools have worked with spinners, weavers and dyers, as well as local small-scale processors such as Jamieson and Smith Wool Brokers in Shetland; North Ronaldsay Mill in Orkney, , Knockando Mill in Moray , as well as the Harris Tweed Authority and local Harris weavers in Lewis and Harris and Uist Mill.  We send spinning and weaving equipment to schools and put them in touch with local crafts people who go into schools to teach them spinning, weaving, felting, dyeing and knitting. Crofters introduce pupils to the shepherd’s yearly tasks, such as scanning the in-lamb ewes, dosing, lambing, shearing etc. Some schools are able to raise their own lambs. Crofting Connections is used as a context for delivering current educational priorities such as Learning for Sustainability, Developing the Young Workforce and Raising Attainment for All. 

A pupil from the Nicolson Institute examining the fibers in a Harris tweed sample Learning to weave at the Wool & Lanb transition day in GLenurquhart HS

From among the ranks of the attendees at our events may well be the next generation of designers and entrepreneurs for an industry which about a decade ago was on the brink of disappearing.