Their cloth is spun from the very fibre of the island where they live. Now Roger and Andrea Holden are taking their weave to the world with a little help from the pedal power they use to produce their tweed on the Isle of Skye.
They are the only people on the island using a traditional pedal powered loom to make the island cloth. They are also the only ones using wool from sheep bred on the Glendale Estate, making their products a true island affair while supporting one of Scotland’s first community-owned estates.
“So many clients want to know where things come from and they want to know that the raw materials are local – it is great to be able to get this quality from local yarns,” Andrea said.
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The couple live and work at a croft house at Glendale in the north west of the island. The property has been in Roger’s family for more than 50 years, with the couple relocating from Mull, where they met, to start weaving full-time.
Roger described the spot where they live and work, tucked away on a steep path off the road to Neist Point, as a “ridiculous place” to start a business, but Skye Weavers has nevertheless forged ahead and is now a tourist attraction in its own right. Visitors have come from all over the world, with some planning a trip after seeing Andrea’s work on Instagram.
A major breakthrough for the couple came last year when they landed a contract to supply 160 throws to smart London hotel One Aldwych.
The managing director of the hotel visited Skye Weavers during a trip to visit friends on the island.
Andrea said: “Simon, the MD, really liked what we were doing. I was really excited, but Roger was a little sceptical that anything would come of it. However, I was invited down to London to discuss patterns and we made some samples that they really liked.
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“When they placed the order, we had six months to source the raw materials and get everything made. It was nerve-wracking. It is amazing to have worked on such a job. We need to go down to have a little holiday and see our work in place.”
It is hard to say how many miles they need to pedal to produce the cloth for their blankets, throws, hats and scarves, but needless to say this form of weaving is a physical affair.
Andrea, who is originally from Germany, said: “We both love the pedal power and we both like cycling. It is amazing we can produce something in this way. If we didn’t do any other exercise, I think we could get a bit out of puff. Certainly, we don’t need to go to the fitness centre.”
The couple met on Mull in 2005 where Roger managed an organic farm and Andrea was working as a volunteer after finishing a year studying at Edinburgh University.
Roger was already weaving some cloth on Mull but decided to ditch the mechanical equipment in favour of a quieter, traditional loom. An ad went into the Stornoway Gazette looking for the type of equipment used to weave the world-famous Harris Tweed.
Roger said: “We had a crash course over about a year on Mull. We had the help of a man called Bob Ryan who had started a weaving business at Craignure. He is 84 now and still weaving.
“Bob took us under his wing. I think he felt sorry for us as he realised we were completely clueless and doomed to failure. He now says he is so glad he was wrong. Bob’s biggest gift to us was attitude.”
Orders are now in place for 1000kg of wool from farms on the Glendale Estate to keep the work of Skye Weavers truly local.
Roger said: “We have to charge quite a bit more for the Skye wool products as it is expensive to process the fleeces. But the people who come here want to buy products made from the wool of the sheep they have just seen on the drive through Glendale. It is very exciting.”