Look closely at a piece of Harris tweed with a magnifying glass and you never quite reach the end of the colours and textures in its depths. The cloth reflects its origins on Scotland’s beautiful but exposed western Atlantic fringes. From the vast peaty moors of Lewis to the beautiful beaches, mountains and inlets of Harris, the Outer Hebrides are so interwoven with the rugged tweeds they produce that it’s hard to appreciate the one without the other. Last year I was privileged to be a guest of The Harris Tweed Authority on a journey to discover this most wonderful of tweeds.
The colours of Harris Tweed
To be a true Harris tweed, stamped with the Harris Tweed Authority seal of approval, the Orb, various legal requirements have to be met; in particular the need for it to be woven at a weaver’s home in Harris and Lewis. Most work in weaving sheds next to their houses on modern looms that weave full width cloth. Some still use older Hattersley looms, which produce half width cloth.
Blending the wool before spinning at Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost
Warping at Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost
Some weavers carry out the whole process, from warping to weaving. These few produce limited runs of unique cloth that are much sought after. However, most weavers work in partnership with one of three mills and most Harris tweed cloth is the product of this relationship. I visited one of the mills – Harris Tweed Hebrides in Shawbost. Wool delivered to them is dyed and then spun. Dying before spinning the yarn results in a depth of colour much deeper than when the yarn is dyed after spinning. The yarn is then warped – wound onto large cylinders which are delivered to the weavers, who weave the cloth on their looms by adding the weft, the yarns which cross the warp to form the completed length of cloth. Once complete, the weaver returns the cloth to the mill to be finished. This process involves washing it (to make it softer), checking for defects and applying the famous Orb before it’s packed and dispatched all over the world.
Donald John Mackay weaves in his weaving shed at Luskentyre
Harris tweed isn’t a mass-produced product, it’s a home-made cloth that contains the essence of the islands in which it’s made. At present the future of Harris tweed and the craft of weaving looks secure; but it would be more so if we all appreciated the value of this product and went out of our way to support it by buying Harris tweed off-the-peg clothing, furnishings and accessories or by asking our tailors for it by name.
Donald John Mackay MBE, Luskentyre Harris Tweed
I’m very grateful indeed to the Harris Tweed Authority, whose guest I was. I received no payment. All views are my own.
A selection of Harris Tweed Clothing are available at britishwelove.com:
Harris Tweed Authority – here you can find out more about how the tweed is made
Harris Tweed; From Land to Street by Lara Platman – a photographer looks at everyone involved in making the cloth.
From The Land Comes the Cloth by Ian Lawson – a sumptuous photographic record.
by David Evans www.greyfoxblog.com