Harris Tweed was first woven on the rocky, barren island of Harris over 150 years ago. Originally the wool was washed in soft, peaty water and then coloured with dyes from local plants or moss scraped from the rocks. The yarn was woven on a very early type of handloom.
Originally called tweel, (twill), the name tweed is rumoured to be a misreading of handwriting and a mistaken connection with the River Tweed that fed the border textile industries of the 19th century. It stuck nevertheless and has become a national treasure and global success.
This is no ordinary material, it is the only cloth in the world protected by an Act of Parliament – the Harris Tweed Act of 1993. It is defined as cloth ‘made with 100% pure virgin wool ‘(h)andwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra.’
The yarn must be dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides and every 50 metres of cloth is inspected and approved before being stamped by hand with the orb trademark. No other fabric can call itself Harris Tweed.
Clò-Mòr (meaning big cloth), could only come from these Hebridean islands. The essential balance of raw ingredients, harsh moorlands, men who work the land, the hues and tones, wind and rain, the hardy sheep – each element contributes to the literal fabric of that once itchy material that is always in fashion.
Historically, when an estate owner wanted to choose a tweed for his gamekeepers, the tailor would dress them in a range of cloths before sending them out on to the moors. When the first gamekeeper disappeared from view they knew which tweed to choose.
Harris Tweed is tactile, breathable and warm. With each thread containing a myriad of colours, no woollen cloth has a greater depth or complexity. If you have sewn with Harris Tweed you will know how satisfying an experience it is. We have used tweed to make up several of our patterns. it is perfect for a sleeveless Trapeze, shown here in ‘Applecross’ and the Strand coat using ‘Bernera.’
All of our Harris cloths can be found on our wool page here.
All photos by Roderick Field.