The story of our Harris Tweed Project continues as the warp and weft made from pure new wool left the Shawbost Mill and made its way to a hand-weaver here in Harris, to be combined on his loom into raw cloth.
A great steel beam with over a thousand individual threads of yarn, each over 60 meters long, was loaded into the lorry of Harris Tweed Hebrides along with bags of carefully wound bobbins, each spun with complex colour.
It’s a long and winding road from the mill to a loom shed in the small village of Rodel in the far south of our island. Here, one of our distillery team, Stevie Passmore, a weaver in his spare-time, was waiting.
His weaving loom is a fascinating machine, an intricate combination of cogs and wheels, fast-moving parts and flying metal. It’s here that our tweed would finally come to life with craft and care under Stevie’s keen eye.
The weaving begins with a “draft change” as hundreds of thin wire “heddles”, each holding a single thread, are rearranged into the desired order, determining whether the pattern is a plain twill, herringbone or other traditional tweed creation.
Then comes the “tie-in”, as the long beam of warp yarn is lifted into place and each of its 1,416 individual threads is knotted to the ends of the last cloth in the loom.
After the “pull-through”, it’s time to set up the weft, the yarn which is woven at right angles to the long warp as four different bobbins are arranged to feed their threads into the mix through wire-sprung guides.
A punched loop of card to control the warp selection is set up and, after a few minutes of checking and rechecking everything is in place, the weaving begins…
Harris Tweed is woven by hand with all the loom parts moved by foot. On more modern looms the mechanism is very much like a bicycle and so, with a gentle push of the leg, the big machine springs into action.
With loud clacks and whirrs, a lightning-fast “rapier” shoots back and forth, pulling and releasing lines of spun wool within the ever-changing warp. In a miracle of integrated movement, four boards, each holding 354 threads, rise and fall in fluid motion.
It’s a complicated business to describe in words but when in full flow these dozens of interconnected parts and processes become a beautifully hypnotic whole.
Almost immediately, the pattern designed by young Scott began to appear under Stevie’s watchful gaze. Suddenly, the seemingly random colours combined to become something much more.
Deep and complex blues intertwined with dark marine-greens to create a sense of land, sea, and sky. A flash of fiery copper shot through the cloth to create subtle squares of warm overcheck as the first meter of the Harris Distillery Tweed was formed.
Accompanied by the young man who provided the inspiration for its design, our tweed was now in the making.
We left Stevie to work in peace over the coming days as he brings all 58 meters of this historic piece of cloth into being. There will be mistakes to mend, broken threads to tie and much time spent pedaling.
But, soon it will be done, ready to cut from the loom, carefully fold into a well-tied bale and return to the Harris Tweed Hebrides team for washing, pressing and final inspection.
Join us next time as we return to the mill and follow more of our tweed’s journey on the road to becoming genuine Harris Tweed cloth.
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