The Woolly Luxury of Harris Tweed
The Harris Tweed Shop claims to supply “the loveliest tweed in the world”, which seems like a herculean claim for a small shop remotely located in the Scottish Highlands. So, what makes Harris Tweed so special?
Harris Tweed is no ordinary tweed, as it is the only textile in the UK protected by its own Act of Parliament. The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 established a new statutory body to uphold the distinct and meticulous standards which the tweed must meet if it is to be given the ‘Mark of the Orb’ awarded by the Harris Tweed Authority. This stamp officially distinguishes Harris Tweed above the rest, prompting the Authority to call themselves the “Guardians of the Orb”.
By law, the tweed must be produced in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland on the islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist, and Barra, and follow a precise manufacturing process. It is made from a blend of pure virgin wool from Scottish mainland and island sheep, which must be washed, dyed, and dried on an island mill before being spun. Dying wool before spinning it is an uncommon production technique, which creates a unique colour rich with labyrinthine shades and hues. Secret proportions of coloured and white wools are then blended together into a yarn, spun, and warped ready for weaving.
Here’s where the magic happens – every inch of Harris Tweed is then hand-woven on treadle looms by islanders in their very own homes; a trade that is proudly passed from one generation to the next. The tweed is then returned to the mill, where darners correct any flaws by hand, and then washed, dried, steamed, pressed, and cut into rolls to be sold. Finally, it is examined by the Harris Tweed Authority, who stamp the fabric with the elusive Orb Trademark.
The Islanders have been making this tweed for generations, but it wasn’t until Lady Dunmore chose the material for her clan tartan in 1846 that it received recognition from the mainland. She loved the material so much that she promoted it amongst her aristocratic circle, and thus, the Harris Tweed industry was born. It has since spread across the globe has been loved by fashion designers, celebrities, and even royalty. Perhaps it really could be the loveliest tweed in the world, after all.
Feeling inspired? Use a tweed wool and a square pattern to get that coveted Harris Tweed effect on your latest knit project.