The story of an island fabric, world-famous in fashion.

Harris Tweed is the Outer Hebrides' most famous export.

From the crofts of Lewis, Harris, Barra and Uist to the catwalks of the continent, Harris Tweed is an elegant and enduring gift to the globe.

It’s traditions are timeless and it’s uses, ubiquitous.

So let’s look at what goes into making this marvellous material, and why it’s so loved by so many.

From The Land Comes the Cloth

Harris Tweed must be dyed, spun, woven and finished in the Outer Hebrides. If it isn’t, then it’s not Harris Tweed.

It’s always been this way and always will be. Even the law says so.

“Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been - 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” Harris Tweed Act 1993 p3, s7

And the reason is simple.

The iconic colours, patterns and cuts of Harris Tweed represent the hues of the landscape, the beauty of the vistas and the values of the people who call here home.

Harris Tweed is this special place made manifest. A true fabric of society and vice versa.

Harris Tweed History

It’s unknown when Harris Tweed was first woven, but until the mid 19th century it was only available on the Outer Hebrides.

Then, in 1846, Lady Dunmore (widow of the Harris landowner) commissioned a tweed in her clan colours.

She approached the Paisley Sisters, a duo who’d honed their skills in Glasgow before returning to the islands to make the most refined cloth ever seen at the time. 

Lady Dunmore was ecstatic with the results and immediately ordered more - marketing it to her wealthy friends on the mainland.

From there, Harris Tweed hit heady heights. 

But success inspired imitations.

So, in 1909 the Harris Tweed Authority (HTA) introduced the celebrated Orb and Maltese Cross trademark to symbolise the real deal, and Harris Tweed’s popularity continued apace. 

To cope, HTA expanded the trademark in 1934 to include mill-spinning (yarn was previously only hand-spun) and production skyrocketed, reaching a peak of 7.6 million yards in 1966. 

In 1993, things changed permanently, by preserving the same.

The landmark Harris Tweed Act statutorily protected cherished traditions, forever tieing the cloth to the islands. A world first for any fabric.

And 2018 saw more recognition still, as the Outer Hebrides were awarded City of Craft status.

The island’s are the first region in the UK to receive the honour and only the second in Europe - all as a direct result of Harris Tweed heritage.

How Harris Tweed is made

The crafting of Harris Tweed takes the skill of many islander artisans.

Wool

Pure virgin wool is thoroughly cleaned and dyed prior to spinning.

Yarn: 

The wool is blended, carded, warped and spun into yarn at one of Lewis’s 3 mills. 

Weaving: Weaving happens in weaver’s homes around the islands, as is tradition. Each Harris Tweed is hand-woven on looms, using unparalleled expertise.

Finishing: Tweed is washed, beaten, dried, steamed, cropped and pressed, before an inspector calls - only stamping the trademark onto Harris Tweed that makes the grade.

“Only when satisfied that the article is genuinely deserving of our historic orb will we brand the cloth with the certification mark” Lorna Macaulay, CEO Harris Tweed Association

How Harris Tweed is worn 

In short, however you like!

Jackets, dresses, Kindle cases, slippers, hats, handbags… you name it, Harris Tweed adds style and prestige to anything.

The colours, twills, herringbones and plaids of Harris Tweed are all part of a rich island tapestry. An ongoing evolution of a fabric adored across the world.

All you have to do is wear yours with pride.

Related

The Harris Tweed® Story Room
Harris Tweed
The Harris Tweed® Story Room

Sgeulachd a’ Chlò Mhòir is an introduction to the unique world of HARRIS TWEED, the people, the provenance and the sense of place that makes it so special. There are weaving demos twice weekly and private tours bookable for up to 12 people.

Crossbost Harris Tweed and Western Isles Designs
Harris Tweed
Crossbost Harris Tweed and Western Isles Designs

The Weaving Shed; an independent studio shop and Harris Tweed weaving shed. Stocking Harris Tweed fabric, clothing, bags and accessories, plus original artwork and jewellery crafted from seashore finds.