The islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra make up the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The islanders have long been known for their excellence of weaving but up until the middle of the 19th Century, their cloth was only used on their crofts or sold at local markets. This all changed in 1846 when Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, chose to have their clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed.
The results proved so successful that Lady Dunmore began to devote much time and effort to marketing the tweed to her wealthy friends further afield and as a result of her enthusiastic work sales and trade of the island cloth were soon established with merchants across the country.
For over a century Harris Tweed has been woven with skill and care by crofters in their own homes just as it is today. With skills passed from generation to generation, Harris Tweed is crafted by hand without the aid of automation or electricity. Woven on treadle powered looms, the low-impact production and reliance on natural materials throughout make the cloth a truly ecologically sound textile.
Weaver’s skills take months to learn and years to master and every step of the Harris Tweed process is in the hands of skilled islanders, from dyeing to delivery. The cloth is literally dyed in the wool, with separate pigments of wool carefully blended to ‘special’ recipes before being spun. Just one single yarn can contain several different colours in order to obtain the perfect tone or hue, each reflecting the natural surroundings of heather, mosses or mountains. Each length of Harris Tweed can be traced right back to its individual weaver and mill. Made by 100% Pure New Wool, the cloth is dyed, blended, carded, spun, warped, woven, finished, examined and stamped only in the Scottish Outer Hebrides by local crofters and artisans.
By law all Harris Tweed must be produced in the Outer Hebrides and nowhere else. The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 enshrines in law that every metre of Harris Tweed will conform to exacting standards and adhere to legal definition. When you see The Orb you are guaranteed the cloth is authentic. Harris Tweed is a unique fabric in that it is warm in winter and cool in summer. It resists water and wear and tear with ease, cleans easily and can be repaired with the simplest of tools.
The world’s best designers, fashion houses and artists have embraced Harris Tweed, showing their appreciation through their wonderful creations with every passing season. Dame Viviene Westwood is a great ambassador for the company and a great number of Scottish designers are using it innovately too. My friends at Jaggy Nettle (www.jaggynettle.com) make the most wonderful shoes from it and the lovely Judy Clark (www.judyrclark.com) makes the most divine clothes from it.
Harris Tweed Centre
And then there’s me! I was asked by Louise Butler who works for Harris Tweed Development if I would make some hats for the new Harris Tweed Centre that is opening up later this year. Of course I jumped at the chance! Harris Tweed has such a prestigious name and great reputation I couldn’t wait to get involved and being a Scottish company too makes me really proud. I chose 3 very different colours as I wanted to make 3 very different styles of hats. Firstly I chose the Bubblegum Pink cloth (matches my hair!), with this, using my wok as a block, I made a vintage 1950′s style hat and added a piece of black lace to add a wee bit of quirkyness. For the second hat I chose Vintage Check Harris Tweed. I wanted to make something extravagent with this and also add a feminine touch as I feel this cloth is quite masculine, so I turned it into a giant bow and added cream paper flowers and luckily it turned out just how I imagined! The final hat was made from the Fuschia/Black check. I decided to do a little jaunty hat, a mixture of a riding hat crossed with a trilby. Again, I was pleased with the outcome. The photo doesnt do them justice, much better to see them in real life!
I thoroughly enjoyed making the hats and the Harris Tweed itself is such a beautiful fabric to work with. The actual colours of the cloth are so vibrant, it’s quite hard to believe it’s made so naturally. It is also so soft to touch with a great amount of ‘Stretch’ in it which enabled me to block it easily. I can’t recommend Harris Tweed enough. I want to become a spokeswoman for the company!
For more information go to http://www.harristweed.org
I don’t have an exact date for the opening of the new centre but I’ll let you know asap, hopefully end of September.
So that’s what I’ve been busy doing over the past few months! I have lots more exciting things going on but I’ll keep that till the next time!
Happy hat wearing
Lots of love