Something different for the Barga summer this year as during the Annual Barga School of Scots Music, Song and Dance event there will be presented a new tweed which will have been hand woven by Jimmy Hutchison and Erika Cragg of Newburgh Hand Loom Weavers from Newburgh, Fife, Scotland on a hundred year old loom which Jimmy has meticulously restored.
Not a spelling mistake! Waulking (in Gaelic luadh) is the technique of finishing the newly-woven tweed by soaking it and thumping it rhythmically to shrink and soften it – all done by hand in the old days. The songs served to keep the rhythm and lighten the work.
Waulking was the final stage in the long, laborious process of producing homespun cloth
When Harris Tweed comes off the loom it is stiff and rough, and the weave is quite loose. Waulking thickens and softens it.
Nowadays, of course, this is done by machinery, but formerly everything was done by hand – or even feet.
The cloth was soaked in what we call “household ammonia” (stale urine) This useful chemical, known in Gaelic as maistir, helped make the dyes fast, and to soften the cloth.
Waulking was a widespread practice, but it seems that only in Scottish Gaelic culture was it accompanied by singing. Or, at least, it is only here that the songs have survived.
This was a very ancient tradition, and some of the songs are centuries old.
Being passed on orally, they have been transformed into many differing versions, which adds to the interest.
Many of the songs are loosely structured – in order to make a song last long enough for the work, lines might be imported from another song, or perhaps a few lines of improvisation could be thrown in.
One woman sings the verse of one or two lines. It seems effortless, but takes a lot of skill and practice to get the timing exactly right.
The rest join in the chorus, which in the oldest songs are composed of meaningless vocables. Later songs may have some words in the chorus as well.
The waulking would begin with a slow song, increasing in speed as the cloth dried, and the women got warmed up. In Uist and Barra, after being waulked the cloth was rolled up, and patted to smooth it out to the accompaniment of a clapping song (oran basaidh) which was a fast, cheerful song, sometimes an improvised “pairing off” song, when the names of those present would be linked with local young men.
The Thomas Kennedy handloom
Newburgh Handloom Weavers uses a Thomas Kennedy handloom, built in Galashiels around the end of the 19th century.
The Kennedy loom has two flying shuttles which can produce fine tweed in Twill, Herringbone and Houndstooth amongst others.
The loom is a traditional wooden loom, non-mechanised, which works by one hand throwing the shuttle, one hand beating the cloth and both feet working the treadles to change the shed.
These types of loom were common pre-1920’s and require a great deal of skill to produce an even cloth and to balance the loom.
Barga School of Scots Music, Song and Dance 2019
Learn and share Scots and Gaelic traditional song, music and dance in a beautiful hill town in Tuscany. Join us for a week-long School with world class tutors from Scotland and Cape Breton. This year’s School will be held in Barga, Italy, from 31st August – 7th September.
Organised by Càirdeas nam Piobairean, Hamish Moore’s fellowship of pipers.
Tutors for 2019
- Kathleen MacInnes– Gaelic song.
- Kenneth MacKenzie (Cape Breton) – Fiddle (Pipes).
- Gary West – Pipes.
- Anna Murray – Pipes.
- Hamish Moore – Pipes.
- Jenny MacKenzie (Cape Breton) – Step Dance and Quadrilles.
- Christine Kydd – Scots Song.
- Daniel Serridge – Story Telling.
painter and photographer - started barganews.com, the first on line news site in Tuscany, Italy back in 1996