"I understand now what the Greeks were talking about--how if you want to learn something you go and sit at the feet of a master," Emma told me on our way home from the District Check weaving workshop Sunday afternoon.
During the two-day workshop, Emma kept leaving her loom to go listen to Norman talk. Someone was always bringing something for him to see or asking a question, resulting in an explanation or a story that she did not want to miss. I did not discourage her. I was constantly aware of the time slipping by. How much information could she absorb in two days over the clack of a roomful of looms and the smoky screen of his Scottish brogue? Information sprang from him like water from a fountain, and Emma struggled to catch what she could in her little cup.
Then there was the waulking, which was simply incredible. It is a process whereby the fabric is wet down and beaten rhythmically by a group of people around a large table. After each beat, it is passed down the table in a continuous motion. The fabric shrinks and becomes more cohesive, which is desired because it is more wind and water resistant. Norman sat at the head of the table, picked up the fabric and beat it down on the table, establishing the rhythm. Then he began to sing one of the old Scottish songs.
The women joined in on the chorus. At the end of each song, Norman measured the fabric to see if another round was needed. Shots of whiskey were served to revive the workers. I asked Norman if this tradition was really intended for the men instead of the women, and he asked, "Why would they (the women) not drink it? It was a treat for them." He explained that the work was hard, and they were very poor.
Scottish Estate Tweeds, features gorgeous color pictures of many of the district checks, also called estate checks or tweeds. Emma was delighted to discover that its dust jacket design featured her pattern, Aberchalder. The book was published in 1995 by Johnstons of Elgin, a Scottish woolen mill in continuous operation since 1797 and one that is responsible for many of the district check designs. It gave the following background information about the Aberchalder estate and its associated pattern:
The estate lies on the south-west side of Loch Oich which is part of the Caledonian Canal. It is owned by Miss Jean Ellice. The Ellice family bought Aberchalder, which was part of the Glen Garry estates, in 1860. They brought to Aberchalder the original tweed which Miss Balfour, later Mrs. Ellice, had designed when her family were tenants at Glenfeshie and the tweed was used on their new estate. The tweed is no longer used on the hill but it remains the origin of all Scottish estate tweeds. Although they were not necessarily the original makers, Johnstons first invoiced the tweed to Macdougalls of Inverness on 22nd June, 1846.--Scottish Estate Tweeds by E. P. Harrison, published by Johnstons of Elgin.