Harris Tweed Lightens Up!

PUBLISHED: 18:11 14 March 2011 | UPDATED: 10:30 21 February 2013

The Harris Tweed Orb appears on every single Harris Tweed article to prove that item is made from genuine Harris Tweed.

The Harris Tweed Orb appears on every single Harris Tweed article to prove that item is made from genuine Harris Tweed.

Harris Tweed Scotland is set to launch its first Lightweight jacket. 'Hamish' is 20% lighter than classic Harris Tweed.

Harris Tweed Scotland is set to launch its first Lightweight jacket called Hamish. Available in stores across the UK, Europe, USA and Canada from September 2010, Hamish is 20% lighter than classic Harris Tweed.

Traditional Harris Tweed has a reputation of being durable but heavy. Unlike most tweeds, Harris Tweed is still made from 100% pure new wool that is woven, spun and dyed on the Western Isles of Scotland. Its texture and colours reflects the way of life on the remote islands. Harris Tweed is still the only fabric in the world protected by an Act of Parliament and inside every Harris Tweed jacket is the famous Orb label that carries a reference number. This label guarantees the authenticity of the tweed and enables the Harris Tweed Authority to identify the weaver of the cloth.

However, much time and effort has been spent refining the manufacturing process that produces the yarn. This means a lightweight Harris Tweed fabric could be made without losing its special tweed properties. The procedure is complicated and involves twisting the yarn tighter to make it much finer so the resultant fabric is lighter. However, the danger can be to twist the yarn too far which makes it snap and creates faults in the finished tweeds.

Mr Haggas, Chairman Harris Tweed Scotland Ltd comments; We sell a range of classic jackets that are made from traditional Harris Tweed. However, some of retailers who sell to younger men wanted a lighter weight jacket that could be worn all year round and would look good with a pair of jeans. We decided to spend some time this year seeing if this was possible and the result is the Hamish jacket. It was a difficult process but we are now confident that we have a superb lighter jacket.

The Hamish jacket comes in one unique tweed that is styled with the younger man in mind with a slimmer silhouette two slanted pockets; two horn buttons and two side vent design.

Mr Haggas continues: Depending on how the market takes to the Hamish jacket this autumn, we want to extend the designs of tweeds available. Well be watching closely colour trends over the next six to 12 months and speaking to designers and retailers to see what colours would be fashionable.

Click here for more information on the Hamish jacket

Harris Tweed a Romantic History

Across the waters from Scotland, beyond the Isle of Skye lies the barren, rocky island of Harris. One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of this island created a unique cloth, a tweed woven entirely by hand that was to become world famous known simply as it still is today as Harris Tweed. This is their story.

In the very beginning.

By the end of the 18th Century the spinning of yarn from the local sheep and weaving a basic fabric was a stable industry for the crofters in the Outer Hebrides. When asked where the word Tweed comes from many islanders tell the tale of a London merchant from a firm located along the Scottish Borders mistaking the woollen cloth called tweels. He called the cloth tweed referring to the river that runs along the bordering towns, and hence a type of fabric called Tweed was born. Tweeds were traded among other island-produced goods on the Scottish mainland.

19th Century and beyond

However, it was in the 19th Century that the islanders tweed came to be known as Harris Tweed. The 6th Earl of Dunmore inherited the island in 1844 and upon his death, his wife Lady Catherine Dunmore took up the responsibility for the estate. It was Lady Dunmore who became enchanted by the beautiful qualities of the cloth produced by two sisters on the island. These two sisters, known locally as the Paisley sisters, after the town where they trained as weavers, produced a cloth that was significantly higher quality than that produced by the untrained crofters. It was hard wearing, water resistant with a magical hue of colours.

The Highlands Potato Famine

On the islands it was a time of hardship and poverty. Potatoes, a major source of food had been blighted by a fungus and many islanders were living on starvation rations distributed by navy vessels. Lady Dunmore realised that Harris Tweed had economic potential that could help drive the crofters out of poverty. She became the driving force in its promotion and development. She had the Murray family tartan copied in tweed by the local weavers and suits were made for the Dunmore estate gamekeepers and ghillies.

Process to make Harris Tweed

At this time, the wool was washed in soft, peat water and then coloured with dyes from local plants and lichen scraped from the rocks. The yarn was processed which involved being oiled and teased and then carded where the fibres are drawn out to prepare the yarn for spinning. Spinning was done mainly by women on traditional spinning wheels. The yarn was finally ready to be woven on a very early type of handloom that had a manually operated shuttle. The resultant fabric was a magical blend of colours that reflected the rugged landscape and beaches of the islands.

Fame at last

Lady Dunmore worked tirelessly to improve production and was able with her connections to establish a thriving market for the fabric in London and beyond. The tweed was used by those in Queen Victorias royal circle and sales of the tweed started to boom. By the 19th century, her efforts had created the largest cottage industry in Great Britain and Harris Tweed was firmly established as a status symbol. Renowned for its warmth and durability, the Harris Tweed jacket, the mens jacket that has come to define the English Country Gentleman was born.

To this day, crofters on the remote island communities of the Western Isles have woven by hand the magical cloth the world knows as Harris Tweed. In Gaelic this is Clo Mor The Big Cloth.

What makes Harris Tweed so unique the famous ORB trademark

By the early 1900s, lesser quality tweed fabrics started to exploit the niche market created by Harris Tweed. They were a cheap and shoddy imitations of the genuine Harris Tweed fabrics both inferior in quality and craftsmanship. These shoddy cloths were often woven in mills as far away as Yorkshire. This began to undermine the markets confidence in Harris Tweed and the magical cloth was in danger of becoming a cheap imitation of its former self. In 1909 the Harris Tweed Authority was established to find a way to protect the authentic Harris Tweed industry and the crofters livelihoods. They devised the now famous ORB trade mark which looks

like the Maltese Cross. This trademark appears on every single Harris Tweed article to prove that item is made from genuine Harris Tweed. This was done to make sure that Harris Tweed was made to proper standards and always made on the islands.

To this day, Harris Tweed is the only fabric in the world that is protected by the 1993 Act of Parliament and must be with 100% pure virgin wool, dyed, spun and finished in the Outer Hebrides and woven by hand by the islanders in their own homes on the islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra.

The unique Act is policed by the Harris Tweed Authority who monitors all production on the islands on a daily basis. Every 50 metres of length of fabric is checked by their representatives before being stamped by hand with the ORB which is found in every genuine Harris Tweed garment. No other fabric can call itself Harris Tweed.

Future and Beyond .

To this day, there are 3 mills on the Western Isles of Scotland that produce genuine Harris Tweed fabric but still not one single company can own Harris Tweed, it belong as it always has done to the islanders. The iconic fabric is produced for a worldwide audience to make many products from mens and ladies clothing, interior designs, handbags, travel rugs etc the list is endless.

It is amazing to think in this mechanised and mass produced world, Harris Tweed is still woven by hand on the Western Isles of Scotland.

Harris Tweed Celebrity Time Line

  • 1887 Sherlock Holmes wears a Harris Tweed deerstalker

  • 1924 Famed George Mallory dies on Mount Everest where his body lies frozen until 1999. His Harris Tweed jacket identifies him

  • 1971 Clint Eastwood wears a Harris Tweed jacket in the film Dirty Harry

  • 1987 Vivienne Westwood uses Harris Tweed in her winter collection

  • 2003 Gwyneth Paltrow graces the cover of Vogue in Jean Paul Gaultier and shoes made of Harris Tweed

  • 2004 - Nike creates a Harris Tweed edition of its iconic Terminator basketball shoe from the mid 80s

  • 2006 In the film The Da Vinci Code Tom Hanks wears a Harris Tweed blazer when in search of the Holy Grail

  • 2008 Alexander McQueen uses Harris Tweed in his winter collection

  • 2010 Matt Smith, the 11th Dr Who chooses a vintage Harris Tweed jacket to travel through time

  • 2010 Pete Dougherty of Babyshambles and the indy rock bank Mumford and Sons all sport classic Harris Tweed sports jackets at gigs


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