Those of you who follow our story closely will know about our Harris Tweed Project, an exploration of the craft and creativity behind this iconic island cloth.
This time last year, we set out to discover more about the art of weaving and the skills of the people and mills who help bring this historic textile into being.
With the help of Harris Tweed Hebrides, the Harris Tweed Authority and our islands’ education services we’ve worked closely with schools and pupils across the islands to design a new Isle of Harris Distillery Harris Tweed pattern.
The first phase of the project culminated at the start of this summer with the announcement that the work of young Scott Murray from Sir E Scott School in Tarbert had been chosen from over 150 entries to be the basis for this exciting creation.
Scott’s ideas have now been interpreted into a real pattern design and work has been underway to bring his concept to life at the Shawbost mill, home of Harris Tweed Hebrides the leading producer of this beautiful material.
Our tweed’s journey now begins with pure new wool, shorn from Cheviot sheep, a breed well-recognised on crofts across the Outer Hebrides. Bales of this natural, soft, white fleece form the basis of every inch of Harris Tweed.
Harris Tweed is dyed in the wool, as a myriad of colours is imparted to this raw material in large steaming vats. From traditional moorland browns and greens to bright rust oranges, heather purples and sky blues, there is a rainbow of natural hues to draw from.
These individual bagged batches can then be combined according to the yarn-maker's recipe to create a complex blend of tones and shades. The wool is then tossed and tumbled in warm air to mix them together.
This wonderful melange is then transported to the sharp-toothed rollers of the carding machine, where the wool is gradually teased into a finer, embryonic yarn, the disparate colours now effortlessly intertwined into a cohesive whole.
The emerging strands of wool at this point still remain incredibly fragile and can be pulled apart with ease. But, when placed in skilled hands and the speeding whirr of the spinning frame, strength is suddenly imparted.
The simple act of twisting transforms the wool into a useable thread which can be wound onto tall bobbins in a long wall of activity kept under a watchful eye. Each bobbin holds hundreds of meters of spun wool ready to meet the challenges of the weaver's loom.
Finally, there is the business of warping, as a web of different yarn threads is arranged in exact order and carefully wound onto a long metal beam following the demands by our specific pattern.
This heavy beam and several bags of bobbins comprise the key ingredients for the next stage of our Harris Tweed journey. Accompanied by a coded design card, these components have now been delivered to our chosen hand-weaver here in Harris.
Every part of this age-old process has taken place in the Outer Hebrides where the Harris Tweed Act of 1993legally binds the making of the cloth. This unique set of laws has ensured not only deep provenance but also protected skilled jobs for hundreds of hard-working men and women within our island community.
Join us next week as we meet the man who is weaving our distillery’s new tweed, and we share more on the making of this very special length of clò mor.
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