Fate must have played a hand in bringing together an Organic Farmer on Mull with a German Cultural studies student to create one of Skye’s most quirky tourist attractions and a highly successful craft business.
Roger and Andrea Holden live at Glendale in North-West Skye in a Croft house that has been in Roger’s family for more than fifty years. The House and their Weaving business sit at the bottom of a steep winding track just off the road to Neist Point.
If you miss the “Skye Weavers” sign you would never find this gem of a business. Nor would you imagine that products from this Croft are adorning the newly refurbished rooms of one of London’s smartest hotels.
Before we explore the growth and success of the business it is important to tell the tale of how Roger and Andrea reached this point.
Roger was an Organic Farm manager on Mull. The farm acquired some looms with a view to weaving the wool from their sheep. Roger had no previous knowledge or experience of weaving but the sight of the mechanical Looms intrigued him, along with the concept of taking a natural product from the farm and turning it into something people would want to buy.
At the same time, Andrea was studying for a year in Edinburgh as part of her Cultural Studies course at a German University. At the end of her studies she spent time travelling throughout Scotland with her brother, picking up work on Organic farms through the WWOOFing movement (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It was during a spell on Mull that she met Roger and after a while she decided to stay and they were married.
Roger and Andrea’s fascination for Looms and weaving grew and one day they put an advert in the Stornoway Gazzette looking for a Loom of their own. The reason they chose Lewis and Harris for their Loom search was that Harris Tweed cannot be woven on mechanically powered Looms. The one thing Roger disliked about the Looms on the farm in Mull was that they were powered and very noisy. He wanted to get his hands on a traditional pedal-powered Loom. The advert soon reaped rewards and their career path was set, as Roger explains.
“We managed to buy one of the Looms and took it to Mull. It was too big to put in a cupboard, so we basically had to become weavers. 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. He taught us to think for ourselves, think out of the box and don’t jump off the pier if something goes wrong.”
To establish the business, they needed space – something they didn’t have on Mull. With little money to fall back on they decided to move to Roger’s family house on Skye. Roger describes it as “a ridiculous place to start a business.”
Skye Weavers produces hats, scarves, bags, cushions, throws and ponchos with Andrea responsible for the creative design process.
“My favourite way of designing is to work from a photograph. We go for walks up in the hills quite a lot and I like taking pictures of little things such as Lichens. I then think about how we can translate that picture into a woven design. I try out designs on the computer then our small sample loom. Eventually, I scale it up and we weave it.”
The business now employs three staff but the focus is not just on design, manufacture and sales. This is a genuine visitor attraction. Every member of the team welcomes visitors with open arms and takes them on a free tour of the various sheds where the winding, weaving and other processes take place. Visitors even get the chance to do some weaving by getting in the saddle and peddling to power the Loom. Roger enjoys interacting with visitors.
“We try and give unconditionally of our time. Our bread and butter is from people who visit us here. Some people are either going to or from Neist Point. Some foreign visitors just stop because they have seen the sign and are curious to find out what a ‘weaver’ is. We also get dedicated weavers who follow Andrea on Instagram and plan a visit.”
The most significant visit to Skye Weavers happened in 2018 and led to their biggest single order, as Andrea explains.
“The Managing Director of the Hotel “One Aldwych” in London is friends with the owners of Hillstone Lodge over the hill from Glendale. They came here on a day out and Simon, the MD, really liked what we were doing. He said they were going to be refurbishing the hotel over the winter and asked if we would like to supply them with throws and cushions. 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. When they placed the order, we had six months to source the raw materials and get everything made. It was nerve-wracking!”
The newly refurbished “One Aldwych” opened its doors in June and Andrea is looking forward to visiting and seeing Skye Weavers fabric throughout the hotel.
The next phase for Skye Weavers will see the story come full circle. Roger’s interest in weaving began when his employers on Mull bought a Loom to make use of the wool from the farm sheep. Now Roger is doing deals to secure up to 1000kg of wool from neighbouring farms on Skye to produce truly local fabric.
“We’ve sourced all of the first clip from Glendale estate for the last few year. It is really exciting to make more use of what is here. We have to charge quite a bit more for the Skye Wool products as it is expensive to process the fleeces. But the people that 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.”
Pedal power - Driving the Skye Weaver’ success story
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