The luxury, hand woven wool fabric that is protected by an Act of Parliament and which is in high demand the world over.
WHAT IS HARRIS TWEED?
The rare character of Harris Tweed is attributable to the fact that it is the only fabric produced in commercial quantities by truly traditional methods anywhere in the world. Hundreds of distinctive patterns have developed over the centuries, each is unique with its own characteristically subtle designs and complex natural shades.
The wool is fibre dyed before being blending and spinning, allowing the Harris Tweed Hebrides Design Team to introduce a multitude of colours into the yarn. With each thread containing a myriad of different colours inspired by the landscape and seascape of the Outer Hebrides, a cloth of great depth and complexity is produced.
Because of the way that Harris Tweed is created there is almost an unlimited number of patterns, shades and colours to choose from; all the way through form Plain Twills and traditional Herringbones to more complex Plaids and modern design combinations.
HARRIS TWEED HEBRIDES
Harris Tweed Hebrides is the largest producer of Harris Tweed in the world. At their mill at Shawbost on the west side of Lewis they currently employ over 80 people and work directly with over 130 self-employed home-weavers located around the island of Lewis and Harris. Harris Tweed Hebrides not only supplies the UK but exports the unique fabric all over the world, with the USA, Japan and increasingly China important markets for Harris Tweed. Even with the global success of Harris Tweed Hebrides the same production techniques and skills are employed that have been used for decades on the islands.
SHEARING AND WOOL GATHERING
The Harris Tweed story begins with pure virgin wools, which are blended together to gain the advantages of their unique qualities and characteristics.
Although most of the wool is grown principally on the Scottish mainland, in the early summer, the island communities join together to round up and shear the local sheep, which are dotted throughout the landscape.
Once this wool is shorn and collected then it is time for it to be scoured and dyed.
BLENDING AND CARDING
The coloured and undyed natural wool are weighed in predetermined proportions and then thoroughly blended to exact recipes to obtain the perfect hue.
This wool is then carded between mechanical, toothed rollers which tease and mix the fibres thoroughly before it is separated into a fragile, embryonic yarn.
All Harris Tweed is handwoven on a treadle loom at each weaver's home, not at a mill.
The warp and yarns for the weft arrive from the mill, and then the weaver sets to work hand-tying the new yarns to the tail-ends of the previous weave, to make it easier to thread onto the loom.
It is then a matter of steadily weaving the cloth, always observing the fabric as it is slowly woven together through the loom.
The tweed returns to the mill in its 'greasy state' and here it passes through the nimble hands of experienced and sharp-eyed darners who correct even the smallest of flaws. Once ready, the cloth is finished.
Dirt, oil and other impurities are removed by washing and beating in soda and soapy water, before it is dried, steamed, pressed and cropped to a perfect, flawless condition.
A detailed film explains the different stages of the Harris Tweed production process that are carried out by the Scottish company 'Harris Tweed Hebrides'.
HARRIS TWEED & FASHION
Thanks to its subtlety and depth, Harris Tweed has been much sought after by the major fashion houses of the world. Harris Tweed Hebrides fabric has been used by Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Vivienne Westwood. Today Harris Tweed is just as likely to be featured on the catwalks of New York, London, Paris and Milan as it is to be worn by the crofters and fishermen of the Outer Hebrides.
This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Harris Tweed Hebrides; in particular, Margaret Ann Macleod must be thanked for all of her help in creating this exhibit.
All rights belong to Harris Tweed Hebrides unless otherwise stated.