An indispensable fabric – this coming season’s must-have
In the beginning, there were sheep – and particularly the Scottish Blackface and Cheviot breeds. Conjure up a picture of green, partly bare and earthy brown hills. The wind is blasting around your ears, the sheep stand stoically chewing grass while the grey clouds in the sky are already threatening the next shower.
On the other side of this image is glamour and luxury. The latest fashion is showcased on the world’s catwalks, fashionistas are chatting about the upcoming trends of the season over a glass of champagne.
Two very different worlds. Or are they? One fabric creates a bridge between them – the world-famous and highly traditional Harris Tweed.
In recent years, Harris Tweed has achieved cult status having been rediscovered in the fashion industry.
How did it get its name? What are the unique, high-quality characteristics of this fabric? What are its features, and how do you wear it to its and your advantage?
Here we reveal everything you need to know about Harris Tweed for the next time you meet at your Club.
Beloved by royalty and celebrities
Couturiers such as Chanel and Gucci send models sashaying down the catwalks of the world, showcasing Harris Tweed. Royalty, such as Prince Charles and Camilla, are known for their love of the fabric, and even Madonna, the queen of pop, rocks it on the red carpet.
“Elle”, the lifestyle magazine, recognises that Tweed has key pieces for your wardrobe and has declared it as a fashion “must-have”. Fashion bloggers, such as Beautypunk.com, also recommend combining styles, because teamed with the right items, this famous Scottish fabric looks anything but run of the mill.
And you can really show off this traditional material when participating in a popular Tweed Run. The urban gentleman on a bicycle in full tweeds is ‘in’.
Sustainability is trending
The traditional Scottish production method, the islanders’ handiwork and the use of pure new wool from naturally reared, grass-eating sheep are what make Harris Tweed so popular as a regional product today. It is a natural product with a precise place of production and strict, verifiable guidelines. A product in perfect tune with the times.
Harris Tweed is Vintage
The trend is part of the vintage movement. The idea is to possess a jacket or trousers with history. And Harris Tweed products fit this idea precisely. The more it is used, the more beautiful and valuable the fabric becomes and the more comfortable to wear. Even after years of wear, it will still be an excellent item of clothing. And future generations can look forward to wearing these very items because Harris Tweed is never out of fashion.
Lots of combinations thanks to different patterns and colours
It’s worth taking a closer look at items made of Harris Tweed. When the fabric is dyed in its raw state, it produces very rich and vivid colours. For in contrast to other tweeds, in Harris Tweed the wool fleece is dyed, not the yarn. The dyed fleeces are mixed and spun and thus become the carded yarn. A closer look reveals that these individual yarns can have a fibre mixture of up to nine different individual colours.
Many colour combinations are inspired by the beautiful Scottish landscape of hills, heather and a hint of turquoise sea.
The variety of patterns is breath-taking – there are more than 4000 regularly used pattern and colour combinations. These can be roughly divided into checks & tartans, plain, herringbone, houndstooth, barleycorn and kaona. Experimental types can let their creativity run free here. In order to obtain the desired patterns, several hundred threads must be correctly woven and constantly monitored during the manual weaving process and possibly re-aligned. A weaver produces about 80 to 100 metres of fabric in a week.
Styling tip: a tweed jacket offers unlimited styling possibilities. It never looks outdated, but always classic and timeless. With a round neck sweater and matching chinos, you can create a smart-casual look. Worn with a button-down shirt and a silk square, the jacket looks a little more elegant.
Characteristics of Harris Tweed
The fabric is like the land: rough, hard and durable. It has long proven itself in the battle against harsh Scottish weather conditions. Not only did it have to withstand these conditions, but also had to be suitable for everyday use. The finished fabrics are robust, durable, breathable, wind- and water-repellent. Due to their warmth, they are intended for outdoor clothing. For example, a jacket made of Harris Tweed alone can provide sufficient protection in the cold season: thanks to the high quality workmanship, it is everything but a light fabric; it can weigh about 700 g per metre.
However, you don’t have to treat this beautiful tweed carefully! It is only by wearing it regularly that tweed, which often feels coarse and stiff after the manufacturing process, acquires its soft and comfortable texture – as the saying goes: a tough exterior hides a soft interior.
The Harris Tweed seal of quality
Not all tweed is the same as Harris Tweed. Not every cloth made of sheep’s wool may carry this designation. The Harris Tweed Act defines exactly what can and cannot be sold as genuine Harris tweed.
Harris Tweed is one of the oldest trademarks in the world and is the only fabric in the world protected by an Act of Parliament. Since the Act was passed, production has been subject to strict rules, compliance with which is monitored by an inspector from the Harris Tweed Authority.
But what are the requirements for the Orb Mark? To obtain this hand-ironed label of authenticity, consisting of an orb with a Maltese cross, the fabric must be made of 100% pure new wool. It must also be dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides and then woven on handlooms by the inhabitants of the islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their own homes. The skills for this hand-woven knotted fabric are passed down from generation to generation.
History lesson – how tweed got its name
In 1830, a London merchant received a letter from Scotland about “tweel”. “Tweel” is Scots for twill, a weave that is woven with two threads at the same time. However, the merchant misread the handwriting and believed that it must be a trade name based on the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders. So, without further ado, he sold the valuable hand-woven fabrics from Scotland as “tweed”. However, Harris, an island on the west coast of Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean, was and is, with other Outer Hebridean islands, the fabric’s place of origin.
The birth of the brand “Harris Tweed”
In earlier centuries, farmers wove Harris Tweed only for their own use or used it for bartering. However, the traditional fabric experienced an upswing from the middle of the 19th century thanks to the Countess of Dunmore, Lady Catherine Murray. She was committed to distributing Harris Tweed throughout the British Empire, and did so with considerable success.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, however, the laborious manual weaving method became increasingly uneconomical and it was mainly converted to machine looms. This brought imitation products of much lower quality onto the market which threatened to damage the reputation of Harris Tweed. As a result, the Harris Tweed Association Ltd was founded in 1910, known as the Harris Tweed Authority since 1993. It is the central control authority and, since then, the name Harris Tweed has been protected as a trademark of origin and manufacturer.
Acquiring the raw material
The extraction of raw materials is also a traditional process that is subject to certain rules. In early summer, the sheep are sheared and the robust wool is cleaned. The wool is then mechanically dyed with local raw materials and delivered to the spinning mills. The yarn is then woven by hand by the islanders in a laborious process in their homes.
Once this work is done, the fabric is washed, tumbled and ironed back at the wool factory. It is checked by an authorised representative of the Harris Tweed Authority. If the ‘clò-mòr’, or ‘big cloth’, as the tweed is called Gaelic, complies with all guidelines, it receives the stamp with the orb as a sign of authenticity.
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Your CARL GROSS Team