Skye Weavers: using pedal power to make beautiful woollens
Skye Weavers create beautiful woollen products with a difference — they use a bicycle pedal-powered loom! We share their fascinating story...
It was a shared love of cycling that first brought Roger and Andrea Holden together. It’s a love that has also inspired — and powered — their business, Skye Weavers. Andrea is from Germany and first met Roger, now her husband, during a cycling holiday on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. At the time, Andrea says, Roger was working on the ‘very inspiring’ farm of Ardalanish, near Bunessan, where the owners wove the wool from their own Hebridean sheep into tweed, blankets and scarves on their own mill.
Andrea says, ‘we were fascinated by the whole process from sheep to tweed and when the opportunity arose to weave ourselves on a bicycle pedal-powered loom, we jumped at it.’
The couple moved to Skye, where Roger’s family owned an old croft house. Andrea says ‘we had a very warm welcome from the community and immediately felt at home.’ Though, she observes, setting up a weaving mill there with all its equipment has been ‘an interesting challenge.’
So how hard is it to use a pedal-powered loom? Does it make the Skye Weavers team the Hebridean equivalent of a Tour de France peloton? According to Andrea, ‘At Skye Weavers we all like cycling, which definitely helps to keep pedalling all day on the loom. The pedalling isn’t as hard as cycling on a road (especially on Skye), but if you never did any cycling you would probably be pretty knackered at the end of a weaving day. According to my calculation it’s about two and a half miles to weave five scarves, but we have some internal disputes about calculating the mileage.’
Although the Holdens don’t have enough land to raise their own sheep, they say they really enjoy working with local farmers and crofters to source the growing amount of local wool they use. Their Skye Wool range uses only sheep’s wool from the island. As Andrea says, ‘we like to think the blankets are particularly warm as the sheep here have to be able to withstand the often rough Hebridean weather.’
Skye Weavers try to keep their impact on the environment in mind every step of the way. As Andrea points out, wool is a great way of keeping the process sustainable — it regrows every year, has many fantastic attributes and at the end of its useful life, is fully biodegradable. The company has established good relationships with cloth finishers in the Scottish borders and spinning mills in Scotland and northern England, despite being small scale producers.
Andrea says that in the future, they aim to increase the amount of Skye wool they use and to develop products that suit it. She says ‘we really enjoy developing new weave designs based on often close-up views of the landscape we live in. We’re not very entrepreneurial and have always believed in growing the business slowly and organically.’
They say ‘we’ll see where this takes us.’ And how do Roger and Andrea relax when they need a break? Well, they still take time off to go on cycling holidays.
You can visit the Skye Weavers website here: www.skyeweavers.co.uk.