Updated: Sep 8
As autumn approaches rapidly,
it is instinctive for us to seek out warm and comfortable fabrics to keep ourselves cozy. The progression into the new season compels us to surround ourselves with materials that provide a sense of comfort and warmth. One of my personal favourite fibres is wool. It is a remarkable natural fibre that has been bestowed with exceptional qualities. The characteristics possessed by this unassuming fibre have been the subject of intense focus by the textile industry, as they attempt to replicate them in synthetic materials. Although we have made remarkable advancements in the realm of performance fibres, wool remains a renewable resource that sheep provide to us as a gift.
The properties of wool are truly astonishing. It boasts antibacterial properties and provides insulation during the winter, while also offering a cooling effect with its finely woven fabrics in the summer. You may recall the fine weave of Cool Wool used in men's trousers. Wool can be washed with care in some cases, and even boiling it creates a heavier and denser fabric that is highly sought after in fashion, especially for coats and warm clothing. It is worth noting that when Sir Edmund Hillary made history by being the first person to summit Mount Everest, he was wearing layers of wool and a down jacket. “He descended Everest swathed in protective layers of down and wool, lowering his gaze as snow-sprinkled peaks—misty and misshapen—swarm the background.”
It is evident why I have chosen wool to be the featured fibre for this season. However, I would also like to introduce a community of people and a company that has truly embraced this humble fibre and transformed it into works of art with vibrant colours that can rival a painting by Vincent van Gogh. I am thrilled to introduce Harris Tweed as my feature company of the Isles of the Hebrides and the artistry of wool weaving that has become a hallmark industry for the people of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Most people are familiar with the Harris Tweed brand, perhaps having encountered their distinguished wool tweed blazers or hats. However, the story behind Harris Tweed deserves to be told.
Before we begin, if you have not visited the Hebrides of Scotland, I recommend you go to the website of photographer Jim Richardson. His magnificent photographs of the Hebrides of Scotland leave one in awe of their majestic beauty. www.jimrichardsonphotography.com
And, as you are settling in to read this feature, you may as well play Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave), Op.22. The mood is set!
The Hebrides Islands of Scotland are home to the Gaelic people, who have thrived in this rugged and mystical archipelago. There is nothing between the Atlantic shoreline, with its crystalline beaches and rugged cliff sides, and America. The Hebrides are situated on the outer edge of Scotland and endure the storms that pass over the land and its people. For over 100 years, the skills used to create Harris Tweed have been passed down through generations of people who adapt to their environment and utilize the natural resources that thrive in this region, such as the cheviot sheep.
Cheviot sheep have a history dating back to 1372 and were popular due to their hardiness. They developed along the border of Scotland and England and adapted to the harsh and windswept weather of the region. The robust cheviot sheep possess features such as easy lambing and growing abilities, as well as maternal instincts, all of which are necessary not only to survive but thrive in the harsh conditions of the Hebrides.
Harris Tweed is made from 100% virgin wool sourced from cheviot sheep. The wool from this breed is hardy yet easy to spin, resulting in soft and lush weaves. The skilled artisans have perfected over 600 types of weaves throughout the generations.
Today, Harris Tweed is considered a fabric of choice wherever quality and provenance are valued. Its patterns and range of colours have placed Harris Tweed at the forefront of fashion and design, seen on couture runways and displayed in prestigious boutiques on Saville Rowe, showcasing masterfully tailored jackets and coats made from the finest weaves.
The artisans who hand weave these exquisite textiles still operate as a unified group, with each weaver having their own loom at home. They weave yarns that are cleaned, dyed, and spun at the Harris Tweed Mill. The rhythmic clapping of the weavers provides a sense of well-being to families, as the yarns are tapped into place. Every stage of the weaving process, from sheep farming to cloth finishing, involves masters and apprentices trained in their respective skills. Making Harris Tweed is a craft honed over generations.
Harris Tweed cloth - Clo Mor (Gaelic for ‘The Big Cloth’) – is the only fabric in the world governed by its own Act of Parliament and the only fabric produced in commercial quantities by truly traditional methods.
Unusually, the wool is fibre dyed and carefully blended to create a multitude of yarn colours of great complexity, using carefully guarded recipes, drawing from over 50 different wool colours. Blending the wool into unique colour combinations is an art form, like how an artist blends and mixes paints to achieve the perfect colour. The possibilities are endless. These artisan-created colour combinations give Harris Tweed its renowned depth and intensity of colour.
Harris Tweed has a rare character and beauty. Over the centuries, hundreds of distinctive patterns have been developed by skilled artisans, each one unique but unmistakably Harris Tweed. The people of the Hebrides live in harmony with nature, and their destinies are intertwined with the land and the artistry of their weaving. The expansive skies illuminate the vivid relief of landscape and inspire the kaleidoscope of colours embodied in the woven textiles. The colours and patterns of Harris Tweed are influenced by the rocks, lichen, wildflowers, the sky, and the crystal blue beaches.
The people of the Hebrides are a product of their environment, and their way of life is expressed through their craft. In perfect harmony with the diverse elements, the colours and textures given by nature are seen as a gift and are expressed through their craft, which is then passed down as a gift to humanity. In our technologically advanced world, it is essential to protect the fragility of these ecosystems of nature, industry and man.
Currently there is a Harris Tweed Act in Parliament which ensures that all cloth certified with the Harris Tweed Orb symbol complies with this definition. In accordance with the Act, Harris Tweed cloth must be: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”
This legislation, alongside the work of the Harris Tweed Authority, allows the safeguarding of the Harris Tweed name, quality and reputation.
The Harris Tweed Authority Board is made up of volunteers who understand the vital role of the Harris Tweed Authority in protecting the Harris Tweed industry as a sustainable part of the local economy.
More information may be found at this link: https://www.harristweed.org
We are grateful for the beautiful visuals of the artisan weaves and photographs provided by Harris Tweed Hebrides for this blog feature.
Our Feature cushion is handcrafted in Canada with authentic Harris Tweed fabric by Atelier Evalina Couture and is available for special order in a range of masterfully orchestrated colour combinations at WWW.PETUNIABLOOM.COM.
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