When I was 23, and a new immigrant to Japan, I wandered into a craft supply store near my apartment and was agog at the wide array of high end materials and tools on every one of the 4 floors of the handcraft wonderland that sprawled out before me. I remember letting out a delightful squeal when I noticed they were importing and selling various spinning and weaving implements from New Zealand. They had tools I'd only dreamt of using and that would have taken months to arrive by special catalogue order to America.
I remember feeling a bit smug and thinking: "I've finally found people who take this as seriously as I do."
After daydreaming for a time about all of the Ashford wheels and hand tools in the textile making section of the store, I decided to buy a rigid heddle loom. I took it home in its flatpack, put it together carefully, and wove exactly one scarf before I realised I should probably stick to knitting. 17 years on, the loom has become a wall ornament of sorts, collecting dust and the occasional cobweb. Once every six months, dust cloth in hand, I tidy it up and think, “I should try this again”. While I’m not terribly driven to weave myself, I still find the craft and all the tradition and custom surrounding loom weaving incredibly seductive. I love watching weavers, and listening to weaving stories from all over the world, especially the stories from the UK, about people who make rustic tweeds, and woolen cloth.
I discovered “Woven in the Bone” when I began studying tailoring in 2019. I’d been long lusting after the fabrics woven in the Hebrides, and had picked up some “Moon Tweed” (made in Yorkshire) while I was visiting the UK with my family the year before. The moment I came upon Sam’s process videos, her obvious love for craft, and her incredible sense for composition and beautiful photography, I knew I wanted to wander quietly into her atmosphere and admire her close up…someday.
I followed along with her instagram for a time before I decided to reach out and see if I could purchase some cloth, just so I could own a tiny piece of the beautiful things I watched her do each day. I was happy to find she had a bit of stock on hand. I purchased 3 different lengths and qualities of her earlier work, and carefully stashed them away in my haberdashery.
In the meantime, the majority of my days were spent furiously making inroads into my tailoring apprenticeship, but Sam’s shuttle was always zipping back and forth in the back of my mind. The colours, the textures, and the romance of Buckie, even viewed from the distance of Tokyo were a welcomed respite from the emotional discomfort of being a student at the age of 37.
In 2018, I sent the first clip from our family farm off to Blackberry Ridge Woolen mills. I was positively determined to make a good hand knitting yarn. At the time, knitting was the only thing I did, so that was all I could imagine as a future prospect for our fiber. I received the finished product that summer while I was in America on a short stay. It was good yarn, but I had it spun at worsted weight, so the limitations were evident.
I realized that if I wanted the yarn to be a bit more versatile, I’d have to go much finer, from worsted to sock weight. We did two seasons of “epic sock” in 2019 and 2020, but while I was waiting for the next shearing, I had an idea.
Cloth. I want to make cloth.
When I started asking questions, the path became clear immediately. It was a happy coincidence that the sock singles we were already spinning were perfectly suited for weaving a lightweight tweed. While waiting patiently for a spot in the blackberry ridge spinning calendar I received another really exciting email that sealed my aspirations. Elsa from Colorado, another long time hero and mentor, had 18kg of black Cormo wool she wanted to sell that was left over from her last shearing. The collaboration kept getting better, as now we had the means to make a beautiful contrast grey herringbone, while keeping the 100% Cormo handle.
The mill owner in Wisconsin tried more than once to dissuade me from the extra expense of shipping the yarn abroad to make tailoring cloth in the UK and sent me in the direction of having blankets woven nearby in America. I politely declined such practical business nonsense, and hung my hopes on the romantic dreams I’d conjured of someday tailoring with the cloth from our own flock. Hopeful, and slightly indignant, I shipped my freshly spun yarn to Scotland.
And so we begin...
Sam has a very busy production schedule, so when she told me my fabric would be on the loom in January 2023, I booked a flight, and landed graceless and with empty hands on her doorstep. We’d discussed a visit previously, but with covid still having an influence on just about everything, I wasn’t sure I’d ever leave Honshu again. I had no idea what to expect from travel. I hadn’t ventured far from Tokyo in 4 years, and had imagined all sorts of things that might go wrong. Funnily enough, at home now and looking back, the entire trip was smooth from start to finish.
Arriving in Buckie was exactly what I hoped it might be. Sam picked me up at the train station in Elgin, and we drove through the countryside past quaint little stone buildings and over green hills, to the sea. After the many diversions of London, the small towns were welcomed peace. In the car I got the chance to ask all the questions I hadn’t had time to ask over the phone when we were trying to sort out yarn details, hand samples, and how much cloth we should make. I received a history that filled in all the blanks and made me understand just how deep Sam’s connection is to textiles and woven cloth.
Sam began her career with a bachelor's degree in woven textiles at the Glasgow school of Art. She then spent twenty years in Australia working as a textile designer and product development for two different companies. She brought her skill set back to Scotland in 2007 and while developing training for Harris Tweed weavers, she witnessed first-hand the clickety-clack of the Hattersley looms. She was enchanted by the machine’s romantic charm and impressive Victorian engineering. In 2013 Sam applied all of her knowledge, experience and skill to open her own mini mill producing heritage cloth using the Hattersley machinery she’d fallen in love with. She's now weaving cloth for some of the best tailoring houses on Savile Row, like Richard Anderson, and Anderson & Sheppard.
When I asked Sam why she weaves, she told me she wants to make the most of all the skills and experience she’s collected in her life so far, and to do what she loves. She feels that her work at Woven in the Bone is exactly what she was made to do.
Just as those words escaped her lips I thought: I understand that.
I was still experiencing the mid-day discomfort of jet lag, but that seemed to right itself after lots of fresh air, and a spirited session of rowing with Sam’s club at the harbor.
Later that evening we wandered down to the town’s pub where Sam and her sisters Belinda and Sally, treated me to a wonderful evening of good food, stories, and new friendship. We sat and learned about each other in front of the fire until we decided to part ways and meet at the mill in the morning.
My London struggles with sleep seemed to dissipate completely, and I woke up rested and anticipating all of the new experiences awaiting me at “The Shed” (as Sam lovingly calls it). When we arrived, I got straight to work examining and admiring all of the beautiful tools, implements and artifacts of the Hattersley weaving process.
Sam’s sister Belinda came in shortly after, and so I watched her weave. She told me about the working order of the Dobby loom, and how it has taken on a personality of its own in the time she’s been acquainted with it. The Dobby Hattersley is special in it's own right, as it is one of only two in working condition in the entire world. Belinda lovingly patted the Dobby and said "When he gets cranky, we just play him some Simon and Garfunkel!".
Belinda showed me how she pedals the loom, how the mechanisms work, and then did the unthinkable. She offered me her seat (made of the staves of a whiskey barrel no less), and told me to give it a go.
While I desperately wanted to protest and immediately fret about ruining the cloth, I thought: wait a tick... This is my cloth, If I ruin it, well, it’s my mess, this is a once in a lifetime offer... sit down.
So I did.
I reminded myself that I’m relatively capable of riding a bicycle, pedaling a spinning wheel and also running a foot powered sewing machine, so, how difficult could it be?
While it wasn’t impossible, it was definitely different from all of those things, and quite challenging in it’s own right. She had me pedal a while without the shuttle, and also without moving the cloth forward on the roll so I could understand the resistance and momentum of the machine. I improved, but it’s certainly not something that I could say I was proficient at. I’m sure that takes decades of steady work and constant rhythm until it is remembered in one’s muscles and bones. The challenge given was getting the shuttle across and back, and not being too forced by the momentum of the moving parts to keep it on the right side when a pirn (a small spindle that holds the yarn in the shuttle) was spent. Weaving on this loom requires constant awareness of how much yarn is still on the shuttle, and stopping at just the right point in order to change it, wasting as little as possible. It’s a skill set that seems to be learned over lots of years watching the shuttle zip back and forth. Sam cut the first two meters of cloth they’d made adjusting the settings off the loom and set it in my lap. While it has a few odd spots in it due to loom adjustments, it is lovely, and soft, and everything I hoped it would be.
Just before we left the shed, a wee Robin made a ruckus outside. Sam heard his requests for a snack, so she let him in, and he hopped around the workshop. We fed him crumbs of ginger cake and biscuits, chatted to him like he was visiting from the next town over, and understood every word we were saying. He was the fluffiest little ball of feathers I've ever seen, very unlike the scrawny, insipid North American Robin. Watching him joyfully hop through the shed made me forget all of my recent misery, and for a few moments, nothing else mattered except observing him happily finishing his treat.
We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a walk on the beach, and then settled in for a Burn’s night dinner, which I’ve become very fond of. Vegetarian haggis is one of those warm and sticky foods that is perfect in cold weather. Sam added a bit of veggie gravy for an extra ounce of winter comfort, and spoiled me with a generous pile of green peas. We ended the evening with some colourwork knitting on Sam’s nest-like sofa, while we discussed the ins and outs of our lives. A little past 8pm my eyes were starting to flag and she and Sally sent me directly up to bed to turn in for the night.
I fell asleep thinking I hadn’t felt so taken care of, and well looked after in a very long time.
Unfortunately my time with Sam and her family was coming to an end.
I woke slowly the next morning and we headed back to Elgin so I could hop on the 11:30 train to Edinburgh for the next chapter of my UK adventure.
It was only one weekend, but the time we spent together felt like one solid brick in the foundation of a really lovely friendship. Now back in Tokyo, I find myself longing a bit for Buckie, and another chat with Sam, as over the days in her presence, she gave me the best gift I’d received in a very long time…
The gift of feeling deeply understood.
Sam’s business “Woven in The Bone” is named after a Poem written by Donald S. Murray. Looking back on my time in the Shed, in the Moray Firth, and with Sam, Belinda and Sally, I can truly feel why she was touched by his words.
There is much that we overlook within the weave,
hidden in lost patterns,
like how a place stays with us when we leave,
till long after we have parted,
we can see faint glimmerings in the path
around our feet, some thrift or bird’s foot trefoil,
a blue bell tinkling in long grass,
sea-rocket soaring out of sandy soil.
And too in my ideal stretch and length of tweed,
there would be reminders of steps made
across machair by the long stride of my feet,
a mingling of colours, shades
of iris, primrose, gentian, centaury,
a kaleidescope of orchids so rare
that’s naturalists might think such flowers could never be
stitched or sewn from memory to allow others to share.
The conclusion of this happy tale has not been reached. There will be more information coming soon, however first and foremost: There will be tailoring cloth. I'll be making announcements soon about how a person might procure some and what lengths are left, as it seems quite a lot has already "been spoken for".