The Weaver at Work: Aneas Maclean
We asked Aneas Maclean, Chairman of the Association of the Harris Tweed Weavers, to explain to us the workings behind Harris Tweed® patterns. The right man for the job, he is an engineer as well as weaver who knows looms inside out and the industry back to front.
As a small boy in Garynahine (with its stunning views towards the Isle of Harris) he used to go down the croft to watch his father weave:
“It was pretty grim – one wee bulb, no windows and a thatched roof.”
His father thought weaving was “the bees-knees” and taught it at Lews Castle College.
Aneas himself worked as a textile maintenance technician, fixing up to 300 looms in Wakefield, Yorkshire. But in the 1970s much of the industry disappeared and he returned to Lewis to work with his father on the croft. Always interested in tweeds, he began weaving for the mills and recognised the double-width loom as a “way forward” for the struggling 1980s industry.
Now, he says the consistency of Harris Tweed® is paramount – from yarn thickness to shots of thread per inch to dye colour. And he recognises the importance of supporting the weavers who are part of ensuring that continues. The Harris Tweed® Act states that weavers weave at their homes. “This keeps them independent and self-employed. It is important weavers have a voice.” They used to be crofters first – focused on sheep, peat and fish. Weaving came second. Now they are exclusively weavers – investing time, money and skills into this full-time occupation, creating a special cloth of exceptional quality.
Aneas’s wealth of knowledge is evident as he explains how pattern cards, headles, tappets, boards, warp and weft work together to create the twill, hopsack, barleycorn and herringbone patterns we love. These days he works in a loom shed with strip light and windows, but on the same croft as once lived his grandfather, father and now his daughter. He looks forward to retiring to concentrate on enjoying those beautiful views. And he remembers a time when his elderly father – by then suffering from Alzheimer’s – would sit beside him at his own double-width loom and ask: “This is a fascinating thing! What does it do?”
With Aneas’s help, we set out to explore the patterns achievable with a Harris Tweed® loom.
Photographs by Alison Johnston/Encompass