Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Qualified qualification

It was with very mixed feelings that I read on Hebrides News that as of 2011 all Harris Tweed weavers will require a formal qualification before they are issued with tweeds by the Harris Tweed mills. Whilst it is a good thing that people's skills are recognised, I am just wondering whether this is not one more nail in the coffin of the Harris Tweed industry.

In the past, weavers learned their skills informally and did not have to gain a formal qualification for the Harris Tweed mills to send them materials to turn into tweeds. They would have been only too happy for any weavers to do work for them, as their order books were bulging and could hardly keep up with demand. And I do not recall that there were major problems with the quality of the work.

I am fully aware that in this day and age, you can only do most jobs if you hold the requisite paperwork (diploma, certificate, whatever) issued by a recognised college. I do not fault anyone for going down this path in the case of Harris Tweed weavers - but only for the reasons given in this paragraph alone.

The Harris Tweed industry has been decimated, with dozens of weavers giving up their looms for lack of work. The closure of the Stornoway mill due to the (lack of) activities on the part of its owner, Brian Haggas of Keighley, exacerbated the situation further. To place a further impediment in the way for people to rejoin the industry is not very wise at all. It shows in a painful manner how skills are being lost that used to be passed down the generations, and commend those in charge of the course for endeavouring to keep them alive.

In my opinion, it would have been much better to have built up a substantial workforce first, and maintain it in later stages using the system of qualifications.

However, there is a final point which is NOT being addressed - the lack of industrial capacity. The mills at Shawbost and Carloway have nowhere near the capacity that used to exist in this island and I am very cynical indeed when I read of all the promotional activity that is going on for Harris Tweed. What is the point of doing all that, including training people to be weavers, if you don't have the capacity to process the tweeds in the volumes that you need to make it a viable industry that will make a substantial contribution towards the economy of these islands.


  1. In my opinion the future of the Harris Tweed industry has never looked brighter. The new qualification serves as yet another benchmark of quality that a textile like this deserves. Current weavers will have little difficulty securing their's and new weavers will simply undergo the formal training that should be required for producing the cloth. Setting these sort of standards is good for a global, high-end market, 21st century industry. And rather than provide an impediment this gives form and structure to the handing down of skills from generation to generation.

    I'm not sure where you're getting your info from regarding dozens of weavers giving up their looms. Certainly when Stickie's closed under Haggas last year many weavers were out of work but the Shawbost mill (thanks to all that "fruitless" promotion) has work gu leor for them now. Certainly weavers I know haven't stopped peddling in the past year.

    As for capacity, well I would assume when the market and industry reaches the point of needing new equipment and mills they'll build and buy them. At the moment in these early days of revival it seems the current set up is working just fine and basic economics will take care of expansion in future.

    Less doom and gloom Arnish!

  2. Thecroft, we do not share much common ground on various issues. That's the way of things, and it would be a very boring world if everybody agreed with everybody else.

    All I can say in reply is that I hope your assumptions come true. In my experience though, you cannot assume anything. Seeing is believing, in other words.

  3. it's the way of the world though, isn't it ...
    sorry to dilute this post with non-island developments, and I probably shouldn't be writing at all today, because my head is bursting, which usually causes an outflowing of 'opinions', which may not be a good thing ...

    The EU is currently drafting laws which will require all soapmakers to have a BSc in Chemistry ... happily (for me) this will probably not be retrospectively administered ... but of what use *at all* is a global knowledge of chemistry to a producer who is required to know only 1000th of things chemically-speaking, to make soap ...??

    As people get generally more stupid in our world, it becomes seen as more necessary to legislate for absolutely every little details in our lives ...

    So many things, which were good and useful, are being lost in this world that it would take a far bigger space than this to list them, and probably a full week off work in order to do so, and can't you just bet that nobody would agree, or would accuse me of being alarmist, or my own personal fear, of turning into my parents or my grandparents ...
    I wonder - is it something which comes with age ...?
    If so, I must be very old indeed ...

  4. or, to be very cynical indeed, could not the new tweed qualification be seen as just another method of 'Control' by those who get their kicks from controlling other people ...?
    ie 'you don't get your certificate unless you're in my gang' ...??

  5. Soaplady, I'll forgive you because your comment just makes the point - there is this fetish with having diplomas for everything, and one of these days we'll be required to sit an exam before we are allowed to flush a loo. Oh dear. Back to Harris Tweed.

    Is there a legal requirement for college certified weavers under the regulations of the Orb trademark? No, there is not. So why all this rigmarole? The weavers are already complaining, they are not happy with this at all.

  6. Good and interesting blogg. I agree with everybody for once. As to personal fears, at least in my case they get bigger as the years roll by, so SL it may indeed be an age thing. But surely not from a Bright Young Thing like your good self?

  7. Which weaver's are complaining? :)

    Let's just recap. The HTO, all the mills and the Weavers Association representing the weavers are all behind the plans. And current weavers just have to fill in a form that's being sent out to them anyway and they'll get accredited for free. So what's the problem?

  8. Barney you are a true gentleman, and thankyou (blows kiss towards sweden) ... However (prob unintentionally) you have given me something else to worry about - I can look forward to even more of this ...?!

  9. Linda, what one looks forward to is what one wants to look forward to ... or?
    As to being a gentleman, I confess that my education was designed to make me one, a plan that I have been trying to unravel through the remainder of my days. Man is good enough, hopefully.

  10. Interesting blog arnish. I am not sure which side of the fence i'm on for this one. So i'll just sit on it for a while.. :lol:

  11. Well, I'll take up the challenge. So, this accreditation will put the HT industry back on its feet. The diploma won't cost any (prospective) weaver a penny.

    Why is it that I get nothing but negative vibes about this idea (hence my negative stance)? Because those who thought up this accreditation have not got an inkling what the Harris Tweed industry meant (past tense, please note) in this island. It was part of a crofting way of life, one of a thousand different jobs a crofter would do (thecroft, you in particular would be aware of that), without being tied to QA and QC and all that BS. He could do a tweed when he felt like it, when it fitted in with the lambing and all that. And have there EVER been complaints about the quality of the weaving? Isn't the Orb trademark there specifically to protect standards?

    The accreditation of Harris Tweed weavers gives a lot of people a job that in actual fact is a complete and total waste of money, money better spent on buying out that Haggas character and getting the Stornoway mill back up and running.

  12. Not sure the typical Daily Mail, knee-jerk, "bloody bureaucrats" reaction is helpful here.

    " So, this accreditation will put the HT industry back on its feet." - No, it won't, I never said that.

    "Because those who thought up this accreditation have not got an inkling what the Harris Tweed industry meant (past tense, please note) in this island."

    The HTO, Mill owners, Weavers Association and weavers themselves have a fair inking of what the industry meant and means. It's abundantly clear from their current efforts that they know where they came from and where they are going. I've been lucky enough to work and speak with a few of them and have absolutely no doubt they have the best interests of the industry at heart and the fundamentally correct approach to the future.

    The days of crofters putting together a wee single width wooden loom in the blackhouse to make a few tweeds to pay rent are long gone. This is a high quality, artisan product in a 21st century global market. Everything that can be done to ensure the professionalism of the work being done and the quality of the training and skills of a new generation of workforce is only for the good. And I can only assume they're rolling out the accreditation to the older experienced weavers to get the whole industry on board with things going forward. And every single skilled trade going has a accreditation scheme, if it's good enough for plumbers, brickies and sparks it's good enough for weavers.

    I, stupidly in hindsight, passed up a place on the the weavers training course this year. It would have provided an invaluable means of learning the skills, understanding the process, working with experienced weavers, learning to run a small business, meeting industry figures and seeing the mill operations first hand. At the end of it all you can make one of the finest textiles in the world. How else could I do that? Sit romantically at my Uncle's loom day after day while he passes on his wisdom? What if I don't know a weaver, do I advertise in the Gazette or go chapping doors to find someone to teach me for free? Like the blackhouses, the days of father passing on weaving skills to son are gone. The training scheme is a brilliant thing, I hope they repeat it next year as if so I'm in.

    Anyway, just ignore me, to be honest I've not spoken to anyone about this, I'm just going on today's local press and stirring the pot as usual. Maybe you're right Arnish, the whole island is up in arms and there will be another historical riot by summer. :)

  13. I think a Certificate in Pedalling is called for and maybe the weavers should wear hard hats like cyclists and compulsory bicycle clips in case their dungarees get caught in the loom.
    I really think it's high time the tweed industry was regulated by the elf and safety bods.
    I would like to see Brian Haggas certified (and sectioned too)

  14. I spoke on the phone (about another matter) last week to a lady who is Brian Haggas's neighbour ... She had no idea what the man had been up to until I told her ... 'spect he may have an unexpected visit next week, as the lady is a tweed enthusiast ...!

  15. Poor woman - imagine having to borrow a cup of sugar from him.
    He'd bore you to death while you waited on the doorstep and probably send you an invoice later.