For generations, the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have woven a beautiful and intricate cloth the world knows simply as Harris Tweed.
The islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra had long been recognised for the excellence of their weaving. However, up until the middle of the nineteenth century, their cloth was used only on their crofts or sold at local markets.
In 1846, Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, had the clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed. This was met with such success she began to devote her time to marketing the tweed more widely.
With tweed gaining popularity it became clear that steps were needed to protect the good name of Harris Tweed cloth from imitations. In 1909, The Harris Tweed Association Limited was formed to register the famous Orb and Maltese Cross with the words Harris Tweed underneath as a trademark. This certification mark was registered in 1910 and stamping began in 1911.
By the middle of the 20th century, the Clo Mor (Gaelic for 'The Big Cloth') had secured its status as a true and timeless classic textile.
In the early 1990s, the industry set out to transform and modernise itself by producing a double width loom, re-training weavers, introducing tougher standards and marketing a new wider, softer, lighter tweed. This work was consolidated when the Harris Tweed Authority took over from the Harris Tweed Association as a result of the 1993 Act of Parliament. Thus, the definition of Harris Tweed cloth became statutory and forever tied the cloth to the Islands.
If you're visiting Harris and Lewis
Reach out to meet Iain Martin, third generation weaver from Seaforth Harris Tweed, and learn from deep personal experience about the weaving and crofting way of life. He's a warm and welcoming host with a captivating Gaelic voice. You'll also find the Weaving the Love card selection there.
The Harris Tweed Act (1993) enshrines in law that every metre of Harris Tweed will conform to exacting standards and adhere to the legal definition of Harris Tweed. Where you see the Orb mark, you are guaranteed the cloth is authentically produced as outlined by the Act.
For well over a century, Harris Tweed has been woven with skill and care by crofters in their own homes, just as it is today.
By law, all Harris Tweed must be produced in the Outer Hebrides and nowhere else. Every inch of wool is dyed and spun in an island mill. Every yard is handwoven at the home of aHarris Tweed weaver. These skills are passed down with pride from generation to generation of the island’s community.
Harris Tweed is dyed, blended, carded, spun, warped, woven, finished, examined and stamped only in the Scottish Outer Hebrides by local crofters and artisans.
Harris Tweed 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 some aspect of our natural surroundings. Heathers, mosses, lochs, mountains and sky: all entwined to make beautiful Harris Tweed.
Information courtesy of Harris Tweed Authority.