| Verena Wolff |
Scotland (dpa) – The machine pulls the spools of thread unceasingly back and forth.
A dark green is going to dominate this cloth, with strands of gold, red and blue woven in to create an unobtrusive check pattern.
Donald John McKay sits on a ledge jutting from the wall of his work shed and pushes alternately on the loom’s pedals, while his green eyes follow the thread’s path intently.
McKay is one of the most well known makers of tweed on the Scottish island of Lewis and Harris.
Like many of the people on the group of islands which make up the Outer Hebrides, McKay is relatively taciturn.
He does what he does, and that for the past 43 years.
Tweed, the woollen fabric for which the islands are famous,
is nothing special, he says. “Earlier there was nothing on the islands apart from sheep. And the people had to wear something.”
So they sheared the sheep, dyed the wool and wove a thick cloth from it.
“It’s warm, it keeps out the rain to a certain extent and it’s very hardwearing,” said McKay.
These are all the attributes that an inhabitant of the Hebrides needs from their clothes: Even in summer it rarely gets warm, the wind drives the clouds through the skies at a smart pace and rain is an ever present threat.
Material from Harris, the southern part of Lewis and Harris, is well known for its excellent quality.
Fashion designers buy it, as well as tailors and kilt-makers from the big Scottish cities.
Tweed is traditionally a cottage industry, though customers come from all over the world and can place big orders.
“Ten years ago I got an e-mail from Oregon,” says McKay. Nike wanted to make retro trainers with tweed inserts and needed 950 metres in eight weeks – impossible for a one-man operation.
But the weavers here know each other.
“I asked for some help and we got the material ready in two months,” says McKay.
Driving around Lewis and Harris is a real experience and not just because the roads are only wide enough to let one car pass.
The roads weave constantly up and down hill, and sheep often wander across while curious Highland cattle look on.
The views are of a sparse beauty: The cliffs have been made craggy by wind and weather. Rockier landscapes alternate with lakes and lush meadows.
“I love the plants which grow here, especially the purple heather,” says Linda Sutherland, who lives in the village of Breasclete. She knows all the scents of the island since she makes soap from traditional recipes.
Hebridean Mint, Velvet Antlers and Machair, named for the island’s grassy plains, are the names of some of those she makes. They smell very natural and can be found in the bathrooms of the island’s hotels.
Sutherland, a tall woman with crinkly hair, is a former computer specialist who makes the soaps in her traditional island home. “Ever since I came here for the first time I’ve wanted to live in the Hebrides,” she says. “Here I can walk my dog on the beach and not meet a single other person.”
But life on the island can take some getting used to, says Bill Lawson, a retired professor from England who runs the Seallam visitor centre in Northton. “In winter it’s only light for a few hours and in the summer it doesn’t really get dark. It rains all the time and there are significantly more sheep than people.”
And then there’s the wind, which blows all year round.
“Some people who move here complain about the storms. But we say, ‘If you can’t lean on it, it’s not wind’,” says Lawson.
The islanders also have another problem: They are growing fewer and older.
Only around 1,600 people now live on Harris.
“Young people can’t live here because they can’t find any work,” says Lawson.
There are even fewer sheep now than in former decades.
“The people aren’t able to look after such big herds. And because of the European Union subsidies it isn’t worth it anymore,” says Lawson.
Some immigrants, like Linda Sutherland, love island life, which doesn’t run by the clock but rather by the weather.
But for others it isn’t just the weather which is offputting, but the language.
For many here, English is only the official language – among themselves they speak Gaelic.