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Family's fashion enterprise is founded on tradition

By Helen Paterson

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Ruth Black in The Workshop
Ruth Black in The Workshop

Ruth Black in The Workshop

A FAMILY-RUN business which designs and makes Harris Tweed fashion accessories and fabrics for the home has opened its first studio outside Inverness.

Run by mother and daughter duo Ruth Black and Mary Wood, Anna Macneil will be based at The Workshop, Inchmore, Kirkhill.

Until now, the business has been run from Mrs Black’s home on Abban Street.

Anna Macneil makes and sells everything from purses and bags to hats, scarves, wraps, belts, cushions and wall hangings.

It was started by accident in 1986 by Mrs Black’s mother Barbara Morrison from her home on the Isle of Lewis — the name of the company derives from Mrs Morrison’s middle and maiden names.

She made herself a hat from a piece of Harris Tweed and people loved it so much, she started making accessories in her spare time.

"She had discovered a demand for hats which were warmer and more stylish than the standard knitted bonnet," Mrs Black explained.

Although the 81-year-old is still very much involved in the business, the day-to-day running now lies with Mrs Black and her daughter, who return regularly to Lewis to pick fabric.

It certainly is a family affair, with Mrs Wood (30) modelling the fashion accessories with her young daughters for the company’s publicity shots.

Mrs Black’s husband Len, the former canon of St Michael and All Angels Church, Inverness, looks after the website, with her brother Michael in charge of photography.

Up until now, the company has sold its products on-line and through retailers, including Historic Scotland, which stocks the company’s accessories and textiles across its attractions, and Highland House of Fraser, Huntly Street, Inverness.

However, opening its own studio is something the company has been considering for some time.

The catalyst came when Mr Black left St Michael and All Angels Church, and therefore the manse on Abban Street.

The family are in the process of moving to Laurel Avenue — with Mr Black moving to St Ninian’s Church, Culduthel Road — but knew they could not accommodate the business in the new house.

"It is something we have been talking about for the past few years," she continued. "This was the trigger."

Mrs Black (56) recognises that a studio presents lots of opportunities to develop the business.

"For me, the good thing is that we can deal with our customers," she said, stressing the firm would continue to sell to retailers and attend craft events.

"We have always said to people, if you see something you like, but it is not in the colour you want, just come to the house and we will make it up in the colour you want. People are reluctant to go to your house. When it is dedicated premises, they are quite happy to come in and browse."

The studio, formerly a joiner’s workshop, contains a workshop and display area so customers can browse the products and, if they wish something made, the fabrics.

"We do everything from the original design right through to the finished product for selling," Mrs Black added. "We more or less do anything in the way of fashion accessories and bits and pieces in the home that can be made from Harris Tweed."

The Workshop, at Inchmore, is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 3.30pm. For further information call 01463 831567 or e-mail www.annamacneil.co.uk

* HARRIS Tweed is enjoying a resurgence, with fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood and others incorporating the fabric into their own designs. It is also a favourite with Inverness fashion designer Sandra Murray.

“It is a material we love working with,” Mrs Black explained. “It is obviously a material that has a worldwide reputation so people know what we are talking about.

Mrs Black loves to experiment with colours and textures and many of the Harris Tweeds in her collection are exclusive to Anna Macneil.

Mrs Black regularly visits weavers in the Outer Hebrides and the company has around 100 plain and patterned tweeds on offer.

Pictish symbols and zoomorphic (animal form) images feature heavily in the collection, as does Celtic knotwork.

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