By Roz Skinner

Locals and visitors to Waternish will soon be seeing something unexpected – the addition of a 24 foot yurt in the grounds of Skyeskyns.

The company, famed for its luxury sheepskins, will use the yurt as a pop-up tea tent.  General Manager, Dave Till, explains: “We wanted something in keeping with Skyeskyns – something a bit quirky.  The yurt tea room will be open April-October and will serve teas, coffees and home baking.  Visitors can relax by the stove, take in our spectacular views and sample our Highland produce from the comfort of a sheepskin-clad chair!”

The past year saw Skyeskyns add a new storage facility, which means they have a dedicated space for storage and packing.  “We really felt the benefits over the Christmas rush.  It has made everything easier and Pete and Becky, our tanners, are delighted with the extra space for their raw materials too,” remarks Dave.

“Skyeskyns has been producing Highland sheepskins since 1983.  The skins are obtained as a by-product of the meat industry and are usually sourced from Dingwall.  After being stacked in the store, they are given an afternoon and an overnight soak to remove excess salts.”

The next morning sees the skins undergo a warm wash.  Pete and Becky then scrape the remaining fat from the skins by hand – a task that takes roughly three hours .  Then, the sheepskins are placed in a pickled brine solution, after which, they are synthetically tanned.  

Dave says:“Traditionally, long ago, a mixture of bark, urine and animal droppings were used to tan the skins.  However, nowadays our modern solution allows us to produce a machine-washable product.”

After tanning, the skins have a final hot wash and are hung up to dry using “tenterhooks”.  Later, they are placed in a wooden rotating drum to soften the leather.  Once the leather is supple, it is buffed on a granite wheel, making it smooth.  Next the wool is given a comb through a carding machine and finally ironed, leaving it silky and tactile.  The finished sheepskin is then placed in the show room ready for its new home!

Dave, who has been with the company since 2011, explains that the team have been working hard to improve efficiency and increase production.  “We intend to move the machinery in the tannery to allow us more space for wet production,” he states.  “We also plan to install a glass wall to allow visitors improved views of this ancient and traditional craft in action!"

Dave hopes that 2017 will see even more visitors enjoying the Skyeskyns experience.  “Each year, our visitor count goes up,” says Dave.  “We have expanded production for this year so our finished range of sheepskins and other products is wider than ever.  After enjoying a free guided tour of the workshop and showroom, we hope the addition of the tea room will provide yet another draw for people from near and far."