Did You Know?
- Harris Tweed


Photo of Harris by kind permission of Colin Palmer at Photonet

It was the Dowager Countess of Dunmore who started the Harris Tweed industry in 1842. The Earl of Dunmore wanted some cloth in the Murray tartan for an army regiment and two sisters, originally from the island of Pabbay and who had been sent to Paisley for training in spinning and weaving, produced the first of the hard wearing, warm, water-resistant cloth.

Harris TweedThe Countess saw the potential for the local population in producing quality cloth and her titled connections helped establish the tweed's reputation with the aristocracy for sports and other outdoor pursuits. Later, as more efficient methods of production were introduced, relative prices came down, but it has always been at the top end of the fabric market.

In 1909 the Harris Tweed Association (now renamed Harris Tweed Authority) was established with its famous "orb" trade mark to ensure that cloth called Harris Tweed was made to the proper standards in the Outer Hebrides. Originally, the cloth had to be made from new wool produced and woven in the islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist, Barra and the other islands of the Outer Hebrides. Later, as production outstripped the capacity of the islands to produce new wool, fleeces from other parts of Scotland were allowed.

Large wooden looms were used from the 19th century until the 1920s when the Hattersley domestic loom was introduced. This allowed weavers to create more complicated patterns. The cloth was originally made 28.5 inches wide in lengths of 76 yards but, to meet the needs of modern clothing manufacturers, a new, wider loom started to be introduced in 1996.

Over the years, the popularity of the cloth has fluctuated but nowadays it is being used by trendy designers as well as for more traditional clothing. There are now around 350 weavers working in this real "cottage" industry.

There are a number of on-line suppliers of Harris Tweed such as Harris Tweed Shop plus Galson Harris Tweed and Campbell Family of weavers.

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