their story …
The Outer Hebrides is a remote archipelago of islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. The ancestral home of the classic woven wool cloth, Harris Tweed.
Made exclusively on this cluster of islands; from mill to loom, islanders tirelessly maintain their cultural heritage through the evolving production of this fine fabric.
Wild, rugged, and at times bleak, the islands are hugely diverse. A land of heather and rock, inlet and islet, loch, burn (Scots for stream) and bog, mountain and glen, sandy beach and shallow azure sea, all set under the ever-changing skies all intricately woven into the complex natural hues found in Harris Tweed.
For hundreds of years these islands have produced tweed, for much of this time it was almost exclusively used by the islanders, though now its name has become synonymous with quality, high fashion and nobility.
Championed by Lady Dunmore of Harris in the mid 1800’s the cloth was brought to a wider market and an industry was born. Weavers across the Outer Hebrides rose to the challenge of meeting this demand and new mechanisation for spinning was introduced to enable a dramatic increase in production. In its heyday, the mid 1960s, the islands were producing 7 million yards of tweed each year!
In the early 90s the industry set out to modernise with a new double width loom and tougher quality standards; they re-trained weavers, and introduced a wider, softer, lighter tweed, under a new Orb trademark and the Harris Tweed Authority.
Why is Harris Tweed so special?
The attention to detail, consistent quality, versatility, durability and beautiful design make genuine Harris Tweed very special. The use of a natural resource has blossomed into a fully sustainable, successful and highly skilled industry led by artisans. Unusually, the wool is dyed prior to spinning, this process allows the individual colours to shine through the myriad designs of plain twill, traditional herringbone, dogtooth and complex plaids resulting in a catalogue both traditional and contemporary. A brown hued tweed can come alive with colour when viewed close up.
It’s easy to see how island life has been romanticised; beautiful vistas prompt dreams of an idyllic island lifestyle, wholesome and relaxed. In many ways it is, but for me Harris Tweed is about humble roots, a cloth of practical necessity, in a beautiful but sometimes forbidding landscape, combined with historical resilience and the deep creativity of artisan weavers.