Reels of brightly coloured thread are displayed on the wooden shelves of a dresser.
Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley

Weaver’s Cottage

In the 18th century, Kilbarchan, a small town in west Scotland, experienced a thriving tradition of handloom weaving that played a crucial role in shaping the local economy and adding to Scotland's textile heritage.

By the 1840s, the handloom weaving industry peaked, with approximately 1,200 weavers predominantly working with linen. However, weavers transitioned to wool weaving as industrialisation took root in Scotland. The strength of the thread meant that the new power looms of the Victorian era couldn’t weave linen until the 1870s. This allowed Kilbarchan weavers to sustain the industry longer compared to other regions. Once the looms could handle linen weaving, they shifted to high-quality wool weaving, particularly tartans.

A 200-year-old wooden hand loom is set up with orange threads. It is huge! It has the wool threaded into various wooden parts. Pedals can be seen in a hole in the stone floor.
The 200-year-old wooden hand loom in Weaver's Cottage

Wool, a resilient and warm material, was well-suited to the Scottish climate and became the yarn of choice for weavers in Kilbarchan. The availability of wool from local sheep ensured a sustainable and cost-effective resource for these artisans. The handloom weavers’ craft involved not only technical skill but also a deep understanding of the characteristics of the wool they worked with, allowing them to create durable and functional textiles.

The products of Kilbarchan’s handloom weavers were diverse, ranging from blankets and shawls to the iconic Scottish tartans. Tartans, characterised by their distinctive patterns and colours, held cultural significance, and were often associated with specific clans or regions. Weavers in Kilbarchan contributed to the rich tapestry of Scottish tartan traditions, producing unique patterns reflecting local culture and identity.

Handloom weaving was a cottage industry, with weavers operating from their homes or small cottages. The rhythmic clatter of handlooms resonated through the village as skilled weavers meticulously crafted their textiles. The cottage industry provided a means of livelihood for the weavers and fostered a sense of community and shared heritage.

One notable figure in Kilbarchan’s handloom weaving history is William Meikle, affectionately known as ‘The King of Tartan’; Meikle (pictured sitting at the loom, right) was a skilled weaver who gained recognition for his exceptional craftsmanship and contributions to the weaving community. Willie Meikle’s name, along with Francis Stewart, John Houston, and several other Master Weavers, stands out as a testament to the talent and dedication of Kilbarchan’s artisans.

A black and white photo of an older man wearing an apron over a tartan shirt, trousers and hat. He sits at a large wooden loom and is demonstrating it to a group of men, all wearing suits.
Willie Meikle sitting at the loom

The Weaver’s Cottage is a tangible link to the past. Preserved as a historical site, it offers visitors a glimpse into the daily lives of handloom weavers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The creaking floorboards and the lingering scent of wool evoke a sense of nostalgia, transporting visitors back to a time when the rhythmic clatter of handlooms was the heartbeat of Kilbarchan.

The cottage, with its well-preserved artifacts and exhibits, narrates the story of craftsmanship, innovation, and resilience. It showcases the simple, yet profound tools and equipment weavers used, emphasising the hands-on nature of their trade. The living quarters, though modest, reflect the dedication and pride these artisans took in their work.

The Weaver’s Cottage was home to the Christie family, who engaged in wool weaving in the later 19th century. The cottage has a history of female weavers, which is not as unusual as it may seem. If weaving was the household’s primary income, it would often be a male weaver. However, if they were working elsewhere, it was common for women to take up weaving. Men and women could also share the weaving process as a main income for the household.

A view of the exterior of Weaver’s Cottage from the cobbled courtyard in front. It’s a stone single-storey cottage, with green wooden shutters beside the windows. There is an inscription on the lintel above the door.

In exploring the history of handloom weaving in Kilbarchan, it’s essential to recognise the broader context of Scotland’s textile industry. The 18th century marked a period of significant economic and social changes, with handloom weaving playing a vital role in both rural and urban settings. The craft sustained local economies and became integral to Scotland's identity, symbolising the intricate interplay of tradition and innovation.

While King Willie Meikle stands out as a notable figure, it’s crucial to acknowledge that behind every piece of woven fabric lay countless skilled and dedicated hands. The collective efforts of the weaving community in Kilbarchan contributed to the enduring legacy of Scottish textiles, influencing fashion, culture, and trade on a broader scale.

The Weaver’s Cottage, now preserved by the Trust, connects to this bygone era, inviting visitors to appreciate the skill, artistry, and resilience of Kilbarchan’s handloom weavers.