View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Retrospective - II

The sun is sinking towards the horizon on what has been a gloriously sunny if slightly cool day. The ferry is just preparing to dock on its customary 8.20pm arrival, now in broad daylight. I guess I'm in reflective mood today, with no fewer than two retrospectives.

The J-land Central blog lists the names and blogs of those that have gone before, and I went round their journals, now transferred to Blogger. The year 2007 was not good for our community, but 2008 was not much better, if for a completely different reason.

Lahoma's Laments - Lahoma, RIP 25 December 2007
The Diatom Project - Walt, RIP 27 April 2007
My Reason for Reasoning - Barbara, RIP 20 November 2007
Dribble by Chuck Ferris - Chuck, RIP 1 July 2008
There are no Sundays - Jim, RIP April 2007
I shaved my legs for this??? - Kim, RIP 26 December 2007
One Girl's Head Noise (UK) - Pam, RIP 16 April 2006
Pennie's Pieces of Ohio - Penny, RIP 1 October 2007

Please call round our old friends. Their writings will be there for us all to enjoy for as long as we want.


Every once in a while, I do a retrospective on this blog, and today you're going to get one from me again.

I started blogging in October 2004, as a way of keeping a travel diary. At the time, I was flitting back and forth across the north and west of Scotland, until I settled down in Stornoway. I became aware of a community of journalers on AOL, and was propelled into that when I learned that one of their number, Pamela Hilger (his1desire) had died after a lengthy struggle against breast cancer.

In the two years following that Easter Sunday in 2006, I came quite actively involved in J-land - until AOL decided to commit corporate suicide and pull the plug on various services, including its journals. Since then, most people who wanted to continue blogging went to Blogger, but quite a few have given up. Or moved to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or other social networking sites.

I was very pleased to note the response to an appeal on Call for Support and Facebook for one of the former bloggers, Joyce, who lost her daughter last week. It only goes to show that the community spirit is still alive, although the blogging and commenting has fallen off.

Tuesday 13 April

Nice bright day with good sunshine although with a veil of haze and some cloud about.

The piece below relates to the Harris Tweed industry. It may benefit some of you to know that Harris Tweed is a trademark, and the tweeds have to comply with standards, set out by Act of Parliament. Simply put, wool is processed by  Harris Tweed mill in the islands into yarn. This is then taken to the weaver's home, who will weave it into a tweed. The tweed will then be collected by the mill and processed to a cloth that can be turned into garments or whatever. When reading my critique, it should be borne in mind that until now, the skill of weaving was passed on between people informally.

It was with very mixed feelings that I read on Hebrides News that as of 2011 all Harris Tweed weavers will require a formal qualification before they are issued with tweeds by the Harris Tweed mills. Whilst it is a good thing that people’s skills are recognised, I am just wondering whether this is not one more nail in the coffin of the Harris Tweed industry.

In the past, weavers learned their skills informally and did not have to gain a formal qualification for the Harris Tweed mills to send them materials to turn into tweeds. They would have been only too happy for any weavers to do work for them, as their order books were bulging and could hardly keep up with demand. And I do not recall that there were major problems with the quality of the work.

I am fully aware that in this day and age, you can only do most jobs if you hold the requisite paperwork (diploma, certificate, whatever) issued by a recognised college. I do not fault anyone for going down this path in the case of Harris Tweed weavers - but only for the reasons given in this paragraph alone.
The Harris Tweed industry has been decimated, with dozens of weavers giving up their looms for lack of work. The closure of the Stornoway mill due to the (lack of) activities on the part of its owner, Brian Haggas of Keighley, exacerbated the situation further. To place a further impediment in the way for people to rejoin the industry is not very wise at all. It shows in a painful manner how skills are being lost that used to be passed down the generations, and commend those in charge of the course for endeavouring to keep them alive.
In my opinion, it would have been much better to have built up a substantial workforce first, and maintain it in later stages using the system of qualifications.

However, there is a final point which is NOT being addressed - the lack of industrial capacity. The mills at Shawbost and Carloway have nowhere near the capacity that used to exist in this island and I am very cynical indeed when I read of all the promotional activity that is going on for Harris Tweed. What is the point of doing all that, including training people to be weavers, if you don’t have the capacity to process the tweeds in the volumes that you need to make it a viable industry that will make a substantial contribution towards the economy of these islands.