Snuggle up with Skyeskyns
When we arrived at our idyllic wee cottage on the Isle of Skye overlooking Loch Bay as the sun was setting, we were greeted by the lovely Lydia who likes welcome her guests with a bottle of wine, some bicci’s and a well-laid log fire. She’s my kind of lady. She explained to us that she’d come straight from ‘the tannery’. We didn’t have the foggiest what she was on about to be honest, and, looking eagerly forward to a glass of something cold, wet and alcoholic, this was a point swiftly glossed over. A couple of days later when we came across her family business, Skyeskyns, a few hundred yards down the road, all became clear.
Lydia and her husband Clive started their little business when, over a pint in the local pub, a friend suggested Clive should tan the skins of the few sheep they had on their wee croft. That was nearly 30 years ago and now their thriving family business (their daughter also works at the tannery) is one-of-its-kind in the UK and exports it’s beautiful sheepskins, made using time honoured methods, all over the world.
Skyeskyns create their products the way leather was made in the beginning – one of the oldest crafts known to man. The skins are only sold online and at the tannery itself so it is well worth a visit. It’s quite an experience. There, one of the fabulous staff can talk you through the amazing process from start to finish before browsing the beautiful shop – a fabulous way to while away and hour or two.
Now a sheepskin specialist, I’ll talk you through the arduous and highly skilled process. When the skins come from the abattoir (the majority of the skins come from the only abattoir in the highlands and islands, in Inverness), they are preserved in salt while awaiting their preening process. When the time comes they are soaked to rehydrate them and then washed in hot soapy water. The next stage is ‘fleshing’ using an old traditional beam, where basically all the skanky bits are scraped off the back of the leather to make it nice and smooth. They are then pickled and preserved in a brine solution before being tanned into fully washable leather. They are then oiled to make them supple and stretched out to dry. When dried, they are tumbled (in what looks like a big, wooden hamster wheel) to make them soft, buffed to make a nice soft suede, and finished off by being trimmed and combed. Phew. They must really love tanning.
The result is nothing short of beautiful. They are SOFT. With them all piled around the shop, it was anything I could do not to snuggle down for a wee nap. And after you’ve appreciated all that hard work and skill, the prices are surprisingly reasonable. You can pick up a good-sized gorgeous fluffy sheepskin from £45 and they have all sorts of wonderful breeds of sheep and designs, as well as Reindeer skins and cowhides. They also stock a manner of other sheepskinny goods – slippers, mittens, baby booties etc – and some beautiful local knitwear.
Luckily you don’t have to go all the way to Skye to buy one either – they have a great selection of their stock for sale online and the website is well worth a browse. I’ve always loved a sheepskin rug - OK they’re not the most practical household items but who cares? They are just so irresistibly cosy, and the wee dumpling is certainly very pleased with hers – she’ll be lying out in front of the fire on it all winter long. Oh, to be a baby.