When in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, I visited Harris Tweed shop, treasure trove full of tweed and all things vintage or antique, owned/managed by a former weaving teacher. I spent there a good hour, asking many questions…
Harris Tweed is a complete product of the Outer Hebrides – it is made from 100 % virgin wool, spun, dyed and hand-woven on treadle loom by the islanders in their own homes. Local wool as well as wool from the Highlands is scoured, dyed, blended and spun in the woollen mills in the Outer Hebrides, of which Lewis and Harris are part. The spun wool is also warped in the mills and then delivered to weavers homes together with bobbins of yarn for the weft, along with the design instructions and a pattern sample from the mill. Finished bolts of ‘raw’ tweed are collected from weavers and returned to the mill for finishing where it is thoroughly washed, pressed, quality checked, stamped with the Orb Mark and rolled. You can see pictures of the process here. If part of it is done elswhere the fabric can still be called tweed, but not Harris tweed.
rolls of Harris Tweed in all corners
toys made locally from the tweed
tweed yarn and jackets
In the past all wool was dyed with natural dyes, mainly lichens, imported logwood and indigo and peatsoot. The last weaver, Marion Campbell, who did all the process the traditional way (dyeing with natural dyes and spinning all her weft yarn as well as hand weaving) dyed in 1996. We visited the shop and a wearhouse set up by her family in Tarbert, Isle of Harris, selling the tweed and other products locally as well as from their website.
Treadle loom in the wearhouse in the Harris Tweed and Knitwear shop, Tarbert, Isle of Harris; Harris tweed musn’t be woven on a power loom in a mill.
There is quite a number of other shops&boutiques there, some of them stylish, selling not only the fabric but also hanbags, shoes, accessories, jackets, hats and toys. If made of the genuine Harris tweed, each item carries this distinctive label with Orb Mark in the middle recognisable throughout the world. One can obtain the label only with a purchase of the cloth.