Harris Tweed - Traditional clothing and materials
Nothing speaks to the sensibilities of a country gentleman quite like an elegantly appointed Harris Tweed coat. Men's Harris Tweed | Women's Harris Tweed
Tweed is a traditional, woven, heavy woolen outerwear fabric first made in Scotland. The name comes from tweel a Scottish word for twill and not the river Tweed as often thought. It is the fabric that was worn by many of the early Antarctic explorers and also the mountaineers who first attempted to scale peaks in the Alps and Himalayas.
While it has now been replaced by modern high-tech materials for extreme situations, it is still a beautiful and high performing, comfortable material, much used and highly coveted.
Tweed that is made in the Scottish Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra and called Harris Tweed, is widely acknowledged as being the finest available. In its homeland, this revered material is known in the original Gaelic as
Today Harris Tweed is manufactured
on the islands, still often woven in the homes of the islanders
on their own looms.
The Harris Tweed Act, was passed by the British Parliament to give international protection to this unique international industry. The tweed is made in accordance with strictly controlled processes that combine traditional skills with modern methods.
Finished rolls of cloth that pass the strict
criteria are submitted to the independent Harris Tweed examiner,
who will certify that it conforms to the legal definition. If
all is well, then the tweed will stamped with the Orb and Cross
logo of the Harris Tweed Authority and the famous and exclusive
"ORB" garment labels will be issued.
The Certification Mark was originally granted in 1909, registered in 1910 and stamping of the rolls of tweed began in 1911. Originally the cloth was made from wool that came exclusively from the islands where it was produced, but demand soon outstripped the supply from this source and in June 1934 amended regulations were made.
Originally, the tweed was manufactured
totally from resources found on the islands. Before
synthetic dyes became commonly available, the cloth was dyed
using a wide range of vegetable pigments. In particular from
lichens such as the grey lichen Stone Parmelia - known as Crotal
in Gaelic which gave a reddish-brown colour. This had to be
painstakingly scraped from stones around the islands.
The current status of Harris Tweed is owed to Lady Dunmore, widow of the late Earl of Dunmore who in 1846 had the weavers in Harris copy the Murray tartan. She was so impressed with the result that she dedicated much of her time and activity to telling her friends about the cloth and improving the production process.
Hundreds of years ago, urine from red-haired boys however used to be kept separate, this was used to quench sword blades as they were made. It was thought to make the blade particularly strong.
Dyes must be fixed in the fabric using a mordant to stop them washing out. Before chemical mordants became commonly commercially available, the usual substance used was urine. A container was kept in the shed for the whole family to collect and store it. - Don't worry, these days, modern mordant agents are used!