With a small premises on the island and the manual labor required to power the loom, at the heart of Skye Weavers is its interaction with the visiting public and customers. They can experience the sustainable process at work and even lend their muscle power to the weaving! Taking constant inspiration from their Scottish rural surroundings, Andrea and Roger are promoting sustainability and traditional craftsmanship through their beautiful wool creations.
Mood of Living Q&A
Mood of Living: What was your profession before founding your own company? What did you learn in other jobs that prepared you for launching Skye Weavers?
Roger Holden: Before starting our own business I worked in farming on a variety of organic farms. The practical skills I gained in agriculture have proved invaluable in starting our weaving business. Both require the ability to solve technical problems with the resources one has available.
Andrea Holden: After finishing a university degree in cultural studies I decided to spend the summer volunteering at Ardalanish, an organic farm and weaving mill on the Isle of Mull. There I met Roger and my life plans changed. While on Mull I worked in a variety of jobs including gardening, cheese making and sewing. Bob Ryan, a Yorkshireman living and working on Mull, taught us the basics of weaving. Without his help and that of everyone at Ardalanish we couldn’t have started our business.
Roger pedals the loom to create Skye Weavers’ fabric.
MoL: What pushed you to go out on your own? What is the mission of Skye Weavers?
AH & RH: The owners of Ardalanish decided to sell the farm. While we were on Mull we had heard of the bicycle pedal powered looms the Harris Tweed weavers use on the Outer Isles. We both love cycling and the idea of producing a fabric on a pedal-powered loom really appealed to us. We managed to purchase one of these looms on Lewis. The slow speed of weaving enables us to share the process with our visitors, which is important to both of us. We are passionate about small scale manufacturing and introducing our visitors to the production processes.
MoL: How do you seek to be innovative or unique in the textile industry?
AH & RH: Like many weavers we are very much influenced by the unique landscape we live in. We seek to be innovative by collaborating with other crafts people and using locally available resources.
Andrea setting up the warp.
MoL: Where do you look for design inspiration? How do you incorporate and celebrate the rich history of Scottish textiles?
AH & RH: We really enjoy looking at the small things in the landscape. Many of our designs are based on a close-up look at lichens, mosses, bark or rock formations. While we love the history of Scottish textiles and tartans, we are normally trying to come up with designs which are less traditional.
MoL: What challenges did you face becoming an entrepreneur? How did you maintain the courage to persevere?
AH & RH: Before starting Skye Weavers neither of us had run a business. There were many challenges including learning about accounting, websites, social media, suppliers, cash flow, infrastructure, time management and honing our weaving skills. We attended various start-up courses run by our local business development agency. Courage is easier if you can share the load between two people.
Andrea and Roger take inspiration for their textile designs from the beautiful landscape around them.
MoL: How have you built the company to be socially and environmentally responsible? How did you develop the idea of the bicycle-powered loom?
AH & RH: The loom was built for use by the Harris Tweed weavers, who are not allowed to use a motor for weaving. We just loved the idea of pedal-powered weaving. Much of our equipment is made from old and recycled parts or old British made textile machinery. We see providing year round employment in an area where most of the jobs are seasonal as an important contribution to the community.
MoL: How do you engage in the local community? What is your involvement with The Campaign For Wool?
AH & RH: When we arrived in Glendale a few years ago our neighbours and people in the village made us feel very welcome. Last year we ran a competition to design a Glendale Check Tweed and we had lots of local entries. This competition was our wool week event. We usually do something special every year that raises awareness of wool and its many positive attributes. Wool Week is an annual celebration of wool organised by the Campaign for Wool.
The beautiful landscape of Glendale on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.
MoL: What does Skye Weavers have in store for the future?
AH & RH: We have ordered a second loom ( pedal powered of course) which will enable us to produce patterns of a more complex nature. We hope that this will enable us to do more commission work as well as keeping our shop and website better stocked. In the longer term we would like to provide an apprenticeship so that we can pass on some of the skills we have acquired.
MoL: What music inspires you?
AH: If we are in a hurry to get the weaving done, dance music and techno is a good choice.
MoL: What is something you know now that you wish you knew before?
AH & RH: Probably best not to know too much, otherwise it might be difficult to pluck up the courage to start something new.
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit?
AH & RH: We both really enjoy hill walking, so on Skye we are totally spoiled for choice.
MoL: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or those who want to pursue their passion?
AH & RH: As long as you are passionate about your plan, just go for it and the rest will somehow fall in place.
Roger climbing Macleod’s Table on the Isle of Skye.