After a run of wet, windy and cold weather, the crofters of the Outer Hebrides are seeing some sunshine and double digit temperatures at long last. With a little more warmth, now is the perfect time to get rid of the winter wooly jumpers and start shearing the sheep to allow the creation of our beloved Harris Tweed.
Crofters in each village will usually gather their flocks at a local “fank” or group of pens and do all the shearing as a group, with many hands making light work. A skilled shearer will do the clipping, usually with electrical shears (but sometimes with the traditional hand blades) while the others will handle the animals, roll and pack the fleeces and make sure the job is done as efficiently as possible.
Shearing not only provides wool from which to spin yarn but also keeps the sheep cool and free from a build up of parasites in their coats, an essential part of the sheep-raising process. Once clipped the fleeces will be sent away for grading, washing and eventually returned to the mills to be dyed, carded and spun, all the ingredients for weaving the perfect Harris Tweed!
In other island news, word has it that new Harris Tweed weavers are to be trained this year with up to a dozen places being made available for those wishing to learn this age-old craft. It takes three months of tuition, five days a week, eight hours a day to get to learn the basics and many more years to master. At this moment in time we hear there are over 50 local applicants which shows just how popular the work can be and reinforces the good news that the industry continues to go from strength to strength.