One tradition that has not been affected by computers, is the manufacture of Harris Tweed fabric. For over a 100years, this fabric has been keeping us warm and dry in all weathers.
So, why do we love Harris Tweed so much?
In the 1840’s, during the Highland’s of Scotland potato famine, Countess of Dunmore loved the harris tweed fabric so much that she decided to share it with the world. By copying her husbands family tartan (Alexander Murray, viscount Fincastle at Frankfurt am Main) and employing local weavers, suits were made for the Dunmore Estate gamekeepers. Countess of Dunmore, recognised the sales potential and trained the islanders of Harris and steadily established a market in London. Countess of Dunmore’s (British peeress and promoter of Harris Tweed) initial objective was to ensure the economic and social welfare of the people of the Outer Hebrides, following on from the Highland Potato Famine of 1846-7. This fabric quickly received a reputation for being good quality and for its unique characteristics. As a result, the demand for Harris Tweed grew.
Harris Tweed is a woollen fabric which is weaved, by hand, by the islanders of the Outer Hebrides. Harris Tweed fabric originated from the Isle of Harris, north west of Scotland. As demand grew, the traditional Harris techniques were adopted by other islanders in the Outer Hebrides. Islands such as Lewis, Uist’s and Barra now use the same skilled methods to weave this famous tweed.
As the market grew, power woven imitations soon appeared, (by the end of 19th century), from countries as far away as Japan. As a result, in 1909, the Harris Tweed Association was set up to protect the traditional techniques – and introduced the Royal Orb! In 1993, the Harris Tweed Association was replaced by Harris Tweed Authority.
Harris Tweed Authority’s Role
The main purpose of the Harris Tweed Authority is to ‘guard the orb’.
The Harris Tweed Authority protects and maintains the authenticity, standards and reputation of the Harris Tweed cloth and of course the authenticity of the Royal Orb!
Every length of cloth is inspected and stamped with the Royal Orb to prove its authenticity. Every garment whether it be a harris tweed cap or a jacket, will receive its individual Royal Orb stamp. So to make sure you have a genuine Harris tweed item, look out for the Royal Orb.
What is the Harris Tweed Orb?
The Harris Tweed Orb has been recognised as the longest used certification trademark in UK history. The Royal Orb was designed by the Harris Tweed Association, which received its official trade mark No 319214 from the Trade Marks Act 1905, in 1910.
Even today, this ‘stamp of authenticity’ can be seen on all official Harris Tweed garments. As described by the Harris Tweed Authority the Royal Orb stamp guarantees that the tweed has been ‘dyed, spun and finished in the Outer Hebrides from 100% pure new wool – and woven by hand by local weavers!’.
So, what are the benefits of this fabric?
There are many benefits of Harris Tweed. The fabric is:
- warm (due to is tightly woven strands)
- made in Britain
Harris Tweed Fashion
Over the years, the demand for this fabric has grown but the quality has always remained the same. Harris Tweed is generally recognised and seen in high end products, including bags, lampshades, upholstery and corsets.
Perhaps the person with the longest association with this fabric, is noted as being Dame Vivienne Westwood, who in 1987 designed the Harris Tweed collection, as inspired by the Royal Family. There are many photos of the Royal Family wearing Harris Tweed, and more recently Kate Middleton has been spotted wearing a Harris Tweed jacket. Other fashion gurus who have used this fabric in their products, include the late Alexander McQueen, Dries Van Noten, Ralph Lauren and Coco Chanel.
Of course, who can forget the famous Sherlock Holmes wearing his Harris Tweed Deerstalker? But he is not on his own! Many other celebrities seen wearing Harris Tweed include Matt Smith (Dr Who), Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Razerlight, singer Johnny Borrell and Tinie Tempah, to name a few!
Harris Tweed has now been around for more than a 100 years, and it’s comforting that it will probably continue to keep the Royals, celebrities and indeed the rest of us warm and dry for many years to come!