Harris Tweed

Tweed Day

Apr 3

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Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Of the many smells of Athens two seem to me the most characteristic - that of garlic, bold and deadly like acetylene gas. and that of dust, soft and warm and caressing like tweed."

~ When the Going was Good, Evelyn Waugh, 1946

One of Scotland's most famous fabric exports, the original name for tweed fabric was "tweel", a Scots word for twill, as the fabric was woven in a twill weave rather than a plain (or tabby) weave. A number of theories exist as to how and why "tweel" became corrupted into "tweed"; in one, a London merchant in the 1830s, upon receiving a letter from a Hawick firm inquiring after "tweels", misinterpreted the spelling as a trade name taken from the River Tweed. Subsequently, the goods were advertised as "tweed", the name used ever since! The lichen Parmelia saxatilis, a lichen known as "crottle", gave a deep red colour and distinctive scent to older Harris Tweed fabrics traditionally woven from the fleece of Cheviot and Scottish Blackface sheep. In addition to traditional and haute couture, some textile artists now incorporate tweeds into their artistic designs to make tweedy landscapes and portraits! Happy Tweed Spring! 🐑 🐏

Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed, (Clò Mór or Clò Hearach in Gaelic) is a tweed cloth handwoven by islanders in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides. 


This definition, quality standards and protection of the Harris Tweed name are enshrined in the Harris Tweed Act 1993, and can be recognized by the distinctive label.

Harris Tweed has its origins with the islanders of Lewis and Harris, the Uists, Benbecula and Barra, who wove cloth known as clò-mòr - literally, "big cloth"by hand. Apart from personal use, the cloth was also used for trade or barter, eventually becoming a form of currency amongst islanders, and it was not unusual for rents to be paid in blankets or lengths of clò-mòr.


As the Industrial Revolution reached Scotland, mainland manufacturers developed mechanised weaving methods, but weavers in the Outer Hebrides retaining their traditional processes.


Traditional island tweed was characterised by the flecks of colour achieved through the use of natural dyes, including the lichen known as "crottle" (Parmelia saxatilis and Parmelia omphalodes), which gave the fabric deep red or purple-brown and rusty orange colours respectively. The use of these lichens also resulted in a distinctive scent that made older Harris Tweed fabrics easily identifiable.


Upon the death of the 6th Earl of Dunmore in 1843, responsibility for his estate on the Isle of Harris passed to his wife, Lady Catherine Herbert. Lady Catherine noticed the marketing potential and high quality of the tweed cloth produced locally by two sisters from the village of Strond. Known as the Paisley Sisters after the town where they had trained, the fabric woven by them was of a remarkably high quality. 


In 1846, the Countess commissioned the sisters to weave lengths of tweed with the Murray family tartan. She sent the finished fabric to be made up into jackets for the gamekeepers and ghillies on her estate. Being hardwearing and water resistant, the new clothing was highly suited to life on the Dunmores' estate.  Her ideas were complemented by the work of "Fanny" Beckett who organised the weavers and created training an quality control and promoted Harris Tweed as a sustainable and local industry.


The Countess began to promote the local textile as a fashionable cloth for hunting and sporting wear, and it became the fabric of choice for the landed gentry and aristocracy of the time, including members of Queen Victoria’s inner circle. 


Today, Harris Tweed can be found throughout the world and has been incorporated into works of art by talented textile artists.  To see some beautiful works of art using Harris Tweed, click the ofifical labels to visit the work of Bright Seed Textiles. 

Harris Tweed
Harris Tweed

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