As we celebrate individuals who master the materials they work with, the focus of Issue 02 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly, we’re taking a closer look at the group of talented makers featured within.
Today we follow up with Harris Tweed Authority, protectors and promoters of Harris Tweed. Read on to learn more on how they master materials.
How are materials important to making Harris Tweed?
Raw wool is the main ingredient of Harris Tweed and it is essential to use only that of the highest quality. For instance, the traditional Scottish Blackface wool is a speciality wool in a class of its own and only the finest Scottish Blackface wool is used for Harris Tweed. In addition, the softer, finer fibres from Cheviot and related Crossbreeds wools are added to the blend for a more luxurious feel.
In the very early days the dyeing method was done using a variety of plants and dyestuffs sourced from the local grocer or the croft in order to get those natural hues. Nowadays these colours are achieved using synthetic dyes but the effect is still the same. Using these dyes is an essential step in the process of making Harris Tweed because the cloth is known for its reflection of the Hebridean landscape. The richness of colour associated with many Harris Tweed yarns and fabrics is due to the fact that they are dyed in the wool, that is to say they are dyed prior to being spun. Thus a single yarn of Harris Tweed can contain between 2 and 8 different coloured wools.
Tweed is also a material in and of itself that other craftspeople use to create. How is Harris Tweed special as a material? What distinguishes it from other tweeds?
One of the main things that distinguishes Harris Tweed from other tweeds is the fact that it is protected by an Act of Parliament – The Harris Tweed Act (1993). No other fabric in the world is protected in the same way as Harris Tweed.
This means that the name ‘Harris Tweed’ is not generic, in that it cannot be applied to just any type of tweed or fabric.
As previously mentioned, the wool is dyed before it is spun which allows a rich multitude of colour to be blended into the yarn, creating a very complex cloth. Finally, it is the only fabric produced in commercial quantities by traditional method – this is what makes it so special.
What special qualities does it lend to the final products people create with it?
Top designers and talented artisans often remark up on how great the cloth is to work with because of its durability and high quality. However, it is the provenance and the history of the cloth that makes each item that is created out of it that more intriguing. Customers are drawn to the heritage and luxury aspect of it, which has a very strong appeal nowadays and it certainly adds that unique touch to any garment or accessory.
Does the quality and care taken to create Harris Tweed lead to heirloom products? Products that have the permanence to be handed down for generations?
Definitely. We are constantly receiving inquiries from people who have recently acquired their grandparent’s Harris Tweed jacket. Some are either looking for information on the history of the jacket itself while others are hoping to give the jacket an update with a new lining and are looking for advice. Often many people find that the Harris Tweed outlives the lining!