A couple who decided to radically change their lives by going to live on a Scottish croft are behind a new dimension in sewing and quilting.
The move inspired Chris Hammacott to create beautiful appliqué items, ranging from cushions to bags, with traditional local ‘Harris Tweed’, on their croft near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Her new ebook Harris Tweed Appliqué (published by www.vivebooks.com) reveals the secrets of taking this most ancient of clothing fabrics and turning it into contemporary decorated objects for home and life.
Chris trained as a weaver and has been writing, teaching and designing textiles for over 30 years. In 2012, she and her husband Andrew fulfilled a long-held ambition to move from their home in Wales to the Outer Hebrides – and ended up buying a croft that they found online but hadn’t even visited. The cottage even has an old weaving shed attached to it, in which Andrew hand weaves what Chris calls the ‘wonder cloth’, Harris Tweed.
The downloadable ebook (also available on CD) features several embedded videos of Chris demonstrating techniques; almost as good as being with Chris in her workshop. It covers both hand-stitched and machine appliqué.
For hundreds of years Harris Tweed has been produced from the wool (originally only from the local Blackface sheep) of the Isles of Lewis and Harris, as a tough, warm material for outdoor clothing.
“It is one of the last indigenous fabrics and has to be produced on a hand loom,” said Chris. “Only tweed woven on the Islands can carry the Harris Tweed Orb stamp, a trademark protected by Act of Parliament and now fiercely upheld by the Harris Tweed Authority.”
Surrounded by the stunning views across moorland and the loch, it is easy to see how natural colours inspire Chris’ work and Andrew’s weaving. Their only companions are sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, cats and six pugs, whose images decorate a number of Chris’s designs.
“For years Harris Tweed has been appreciated by haute couture fashion designers and top end manufacturers, but not by patchworkers,” said Chris. “I wanted to take this a step further and try out some of my favourite appliqué techniques on a variety of items. I have something of an addiction for cushions, much to the annoyance of my husband and the dogs who all take it in turns to 'frisbee' them from the sofas, but, patient woman that I am, I just make more!
“I look out across my croft, and see my sheep grazing peacefully. The land sweeps away to the moor. Should I feel the need, I could tramp across it till I reach the sea, most likely not seeing a soul during my walk. The skies are vast, forever changing. In the summer they are awash with rainbows and in the winter the Northern lights or (the 'dancers' as they are known locally) come out and perform for us as we lean in the kitchen doorway.
“The light is pure with no pollution, so colours seem brighter, every wild flower a pinpoint of jewel-like quality. The landscape is reflected in the colours of the tweed, which has a depth not found in any other cloth. Working with it is like having the keys to an enchanting paint box.”
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