THE ISLE OF MULL WEAVERS ARDALANISH…Weaving Land, People, Nature and History together.
Isle of Mull Weavers Ardalanish
This beautiful business is distinct, it is traditional, and though it is also be seen as part heritage, it is extremely relevant. As well as this, it ticks so many beautiful business boxes, being viable and sustainable, mindful of landscape and nature, trading fairly and organically. Oh, did I also mention making beautiful desirable woven products.
This business does something really special in bringing people, history and land together producing a product of traditional beauty. I am sure that whilst clever marketeers in modern offices are paid fortunes to think of catchy business names, nothing can be so evocative as this name… Isle of Mull Weavers Ardalanish.
Weavers in History and Culture
Weavers have played an important part in Scottish cultural, economic and political history. In few other places could one say that Textiles play such an important role in the creation of personal and regional identity. Weaving has been a traditional cottage industry in the islands and highlands since time immemorial, securing links between people, place and animals.
Protecting these leitmotifs of Scottish working traditions and heritage has not always been easy, and in some cases the struggle for the protection of geographical and cultural product origins have shown. Nor has this industry been free from historic drama. The 1787 Calton weavers dispute for instance, was the earliest major industrial dispute in Scottish history and at their deaths the weavers became Scotland’s first working-class martyrs. As Ancestral Scotland remark;
Weaving was a staple industry in Scotland during the 19th Century, with most of the output produced by handloom weavers working from home. By Victorian times the output of weavers was as impressive as it was diverse. Quality tweeds were produced in the Borders and elsewhere, cottons came from the West of Scotland, damask and other fine linens from Dunfermline, patterned shawls from Paisley and jute products from Dundee. Although the work of spinners and weavers was closely linked, there were often serious disagreements between them, arising mainly from the superiority felt by many weavers over their spinning counterparts. Invariably, handloom weaving was carried out by women in their own cottages, with assistance from their children. As with spinning, the coming of the Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on the industry; the cottages giving way to huge weaving sheds filled with power looms.
Today the challenges are different. Mass production and globalisation have flooded the textile and clothing market with cheaper, but not better, alternatives. It may mean access to new markets, but by the same token, weavers and textile makers face competition from countries like China and India manufacturing on an enormous scale. Having said that, these countries are not able to product goods with the quality and provenance associated with the Isle of Mull weavers of Ardalanish.
About the Isle of Mull Weavers
The original Isle of Mull Weavers was founded by Bob and Kathy Ryan in 1987, and when they decided to retire in 2003, Bob helped to move the 1920’s and 1950’s weaving looms to Ardalanish. In September 2011 Ardalanish was bought by Andrew and Anne Smith who had previously farmed on the East coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. Although their idea was to find a smaller, quieter farm on the west coast, on their first visit to Ardalanish they fell in love with the area and committed themselves to taking on the farm and weaving mill. They are now learning all about weaving and the textile industry as well as continuing to farm the land and maintain the herd of Highland cattle and the flock of Hebridean sheep.
The Impact of Land, Livestock and Environment
The Beauty of Mull
The production of their beautiful woven fabrics depends upon the creation of an exquisite harmony between weaver, farmer, land and livestock. Add scourers, carders, spinners and an awareness of ethical business and you create a perfect balance. Farming and working these unique Hebridean landscapes requires skill and understanding. Sheep and cattle which have grown into and out of this mutually dependent eco-system demands extra-special sensitivity. This is a business woven from the land upwards. Black and brown wool of their Hebridean sheep is fittingly emblematic of the earthy nature of these islands. Wools from Sheep raised in their fields, are now mixed with new and different wools such as Shetland and Manx Loaghtan procured from the Highlands and Islands. Now associated with the Isle of Man, the aptly named Manx Loaghtan is actually descended from the primitive sheep once found throughout Scotland and the Hebrides and Shetland Islands. The essence of the island is contained in these wools and these sheep. Tough and hardwearing, this is wool with lineage, which has been tracked back through the ages with traces actually found in ancient burial chambers on the island. This tradition of weaving and using this wool is carried on by the Ardalanish weavers.
Weaving at Ardalanish
Beautiful businesses work hard to create good relationships with those they work with or are part of their supply chain. The Isle of Mull weavers are able to purchase the native breed fleeces, direct from the farms, paying not only a fair, set price to the farmers, but also covering the cost of transport for them. Gaining recognition from others for the things they do, they proudly boast organic certification on a selection of their tweeds and scarves, as well as being licensees of the British Wool Marketing Board.
We aim for quality over quantity, paying close attention to every detail at each stage of the production process. The result is that whatever the garment our finished tweeds will keep their shape and, cared for properly, should last for generations. Alongside our tweeds, we also produce a range of unique and distinctive scarves, shawls, wraps, throws and blankets.
For Ardalanish, the production of textiles from British native breed wool is a step towards revitalising the traditional industry of weaving. The rich black wool of the Hebridean sheep and similarly the Shetland and Manx Loaghtan wool, makes hard-wearing articles. Whilst the exact shade of wool varies from animal to animal and from year to year, the colours range from black and charcoal brown, fawn and silver grey through to a rich creamy white.
Weaving businesses are built around quite distinct preparation process. Grading the fleeces, assessing their quality, strength, cleanliness and usage, is something that those at Ardalanish do themselves. Other parts of the fleece processing are done away from the island. The cleaning or scouring is done in Yorkshire, whilst the woollen carding and spinning is done in the Scottish borders. As if the business could not get any more beautiful, the Ardalanish weavers have also been using natural plant dyes like woad and madder to add a hint of bright colour to these beautiful earthy shades.
The weaving process is completed by the Victorian Dobcross power looms, of the type that have helped sustain the British textile industry for over a hundred years. Although slower than modern looms, they enable us to maintain the highest quality by overseeing every inch of cloth produced. These are hardy machines, no doubt prone to awkward behaviour given their age, but beautiful none the less.
This is a beautiful business working hand in hand with local people, traditional processes and the natural environment. Lets hope like rare breeds, they are supported, not just for sentimental reasons, but as sustainable local businesses.
For more information about this beautiful business visit their website at http://www.ardalanish.com/