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The Barga Tweed – progress report

A new tweed of four colours which will reflect the glorious colours of Barga.

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On the morning of 25th April I travelled from my workshop in Dunkeld close to The Loch of the Lowes to the workshop of Jimmy Hutchison to meet with Erika and Jimmy to decide on the colours and design of The Barga Tweed. Jimmy lives and works in the Fife conservation village of Newburgh on the southern shores of The River Tay roughly half way between Perth and Dundee. The banks of the Tay in this area boast extensive reed beds traditionally used for the thatching of roofs.

Spring was in riotous full bloom with the vibrant green of the hawthorn hedge rows, the subtleties of the lilacs, the lime green of the emerging beech leaves and of course the cherries in their magnificent pink and white flowering.

Jimmy has restored a loom which originated in the weaving town of Galashiels and now along with Erika Craig, is weaving beautiful tweeds. I love the atmosphere in studios and workshops and Jimmy’s is typical in the that it is unique; its orderly in a working sort of way, its dusty and it tells the stories of a joiner and weaver.The world of the creative artist and their work places has long since fascinated me.

After the statutory cup of tea we gathered round the enormous work bench surrounded by doors which Jimmy is currently making, all his machinery and most importantly the two looms. We studied yarns of every colour and weight while pondering over Barga and her colours, what the tweed might be used for; clothing – ties, skirt lengths, waistcoats, wall hangings or blankets.
It was a beautiful process and I was doing what I love doing most.

We decided on four colours which I hope will reflect the glorious colours of Barga and Jimmy and Erika will weave a sampler of different designs. Once this is completed we will make a final decision and the tweed will be woven ready for its journey to Barga in September.

Both Jimmy and Erika are renowned traditional singers and it will be with great pleasure that we welcome them to Barga to join in some of the informal singing sessions and most importantly to Waulk The Barga TweedhaNISH MOORE. This is planned for the afternoon of Friday 6th September in Piazza Angelio. Mary Ann Kennedy who just happens to be on holiday Borgo a Mozzano that week along with our own Kathleen MacInnes will lead the walking with the Gaelic Song Students.

What an occasion! History being made yet again in Barga.

Thanks to Jimmy and Erika for the good faith in undertaking this project and to all who are helping make it happen. – Hamish Moore

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.

What’s waulking?
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 songs
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.

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