FORMERLY throughout the Highlands and Islands the cloth for the family was made at home. At present home-made clothing is chiefly made in the Islands, and even there to a lesser extent than formerly.
After the web of cloth is woven it is waulked, to thicken and strengthen and brighten it. The frame on which the cloth is waulked is a board some twelve to twenty-four feet long and about two feet broad, grooved lengthwise along its surface. The frame is called 'cleith,' wattle, and 'cleith-luaidh,' waulkingwattle, probably from its having been originally constructed of wattle-work. The waulking-frame is raised upon trestles, while the waulking-women are ranged on seats on either side, about two feet of space being allowed to each woman. The web is unrolled and laid along the board. It is then saturated with ammonia, warm water, and soap-suds, and the women work it vigorously from side to side across the grooves of the frame, slowly moving it lengthwise also, that each part of the cloth may receive due attention. The lateral movement of the cloth is sunwise. Occasionally the waulking-board is laid on the ground instead of on trestles, and the women work the cloth with their feet instead of with their hands.
Generally the waulking-women are young maidens, a few married women of good voice being distributed among them. They sing as they work, one singing the song, the others the chorus. Their songs are varied, lively, and adapted to the class of work. Most of them are love-songs, with an occasional impromptu song on some passing event - perhaps on the casual stranger who has looked in, perhaps a wit combat between two of the girls about the real or supposed merits or demerits of their respective lovers. These wit combats are much enjoyed, being often clever, caustic, and apt.
A favourite subject at these waulkings is Prince Charlie, and a favourite song is 'Morag ' - little Marion - the endearing term under which the Prince is veiled. The words of the song are vigorous and passionate, and the air stirring, while the subject is one to fire the hearts and imaginations of the people even at this distance of time, and notwithstanding the spoliations, oppressions, and butcheries inflicted on their fathers through their adherence to 'Morag.'
The song begins as follows:--
'Agus ho Mhorag,
Ho ro na ho ro gheallaidh,
Agus ho Mhorag.
Mhorag chiatach a chul dualaich,
'S e do luaidh tha tighinn air m' aire.
Ma dh' imich thu null thar chuan
Gu mu luadh thig thu dachaidh.
Cuimhnich thoir leat bannal ghruagach,
A luaidheas an clo-ruadh gu daingean.'
(And ho ro Morag,
Ho ro na ho ro darling,
And ho ro Morag.
Beauteous Morag of the clustering locks,
To sing of thee is my intent.
If thou art gone beyond the sea,
Prithee hasten home to me.
Remember, bring a band of maidens,
Who will waulk the red cloth firmly.)
When the women have waulked the cloth, they roll up the web and place it on end in the centre of the frame. They then turn it slowly and deliberately sunwise along the frame, saying with each turn of the web:-
'Chan ath-aodach seo.
Chan fhaoigh seo.
Cha chuid cleir no sagairt seo.'
This is not second clothing.
This cloth is not thigged.
This is not the property of cleric or priest.
Another form is :-
'Roinn a h-aon, roinn a dha, roinn a tri, roinn a ceithir, roinn a coig, roinn a sia, reinn a seachd, roinn a seachd.
'Chan aodach seo do shagairt no chleir,
Ach's aodach e do mo Dhomh'lan caomhach fein,
Do m' chombanach graiclh's do Iain an aigh,
'S do Mhuiril is aillidh sgeimh.'
(Division one, division two, division three, division four, division five, divi- sion six, division seven, division seven.
This is not cloth for priest or cleric,
But it is cloth for my own little Donald of love,
For my companion beloved, for John of joy,
And for Muriel of loveliest hue.)
Each member of the household for whom the cloth is intended is mentioned by name in the consecration. The cloth is then spat upon, and slowly reversed end by end in the name of Father and of Son and of Spirit till it stands again in the centre of the frame. The ceremony of consecrating the cloth is usually intoned, the women, hitherto gay and vivacious, now solemn and subdued, singing in unison. The woman who leads in the consecration is called 'coisreagan,' consecrator or celebrant. After the cloth is waulked and washed it is rolled up. This is called 'coilleachadh ' - stretching, - ' coilleachadh an aodaich ' - stretching the cloth, - a process done with great care in order to secure equal tension throughout the web.
The operation of waulking is a singularly striking scene, and one which Highlanders cherish wherever situated.