By Roz Macaskill
When Maxine Stephenson of Wheatear Textiles is asked “What brought her to Skye?” the answer may come as a surprise.
“I lived in England and I worked in retail,” she explains. “I ended up chasing a shoplifter out into the street, a coat hanger in hand and a security radio in another. I chased them into a telephone box. After that, I moved to Skye for a slower pace of life!”
These days, Maxine can be found working in her studio with her favourite fabric, Harris Tweed. As the owner of Wheatear Textiles in Glendale, she is inspired daily by the changing landscape and seasons – and the inspiration translates into handbags.
Maxine makes a range of different handbags, named after the islands where she has made her home. “I didn't want the bags to have girly names as I'm not a girly girl,” she laughs.
“Rum holds a humongous amount,” Maxine explains. “I often use it myself for overnight stays. It's by far my best seller.”
Lewis. Maxine's son inspired the creation of the Lewis bag. “He went to work in an office and wanted a bag to carry tablets and small laptops,” she explains. “I made the bag especially for him and my husband made the leather straps to go with it.”
Islay. A chic clutch bag, Islay is one of Maxine's best sellers. “It fits nicely in the hand and can be used for carrying essentials,” she says.
The first bag Maxine ever made, Skye has a special place in her heart. “I made this bag for myself, and I didn't want it to be bulky. It has a diamond base, so it carries a lot without being too big.”
Every one of Maxine's bags is made with a bright and jazzy lining – juxtaposing traditional Harris Tweed with contemporary colour. “I love being in the studio when people open up the bags and go 'Wow!' she smiles. “The linings are batik and they are limited editions – so, the bags are always different.
Meeting locals and tourists also inspires Maxine's work. “The support I've had locally has been amazing,” she says. “I also received a letter from one man from America who wrote to tell me what a wonderful time he had in Glendale. That, to me, is as good as selling a bag. I love having a good laugh with people and giving them a holiday experience to remember. It's just wonderful.”