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The Evolution Of The Harris Tweed Jacket

Harris tweed fabric

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The Harris Tweed Jacket is recognised worldwide as an icon of British style. It’s a home grown classic with a proud heritage and a distinct provenance. Since its founding in England in the nineteenth century, Harris Tweed has been synonymous with quality – as defined by the endurance, classicism and functionality that characterised its history.

Continuing, Harris Tweed adorns the shoulders of English gentry countrywide. Sitting perfectly with English Madder Ties, Prince of Wales checks and flannel trousers, It complements a recognisable style that remains true to form and function with a distinctive British sensibility. Like most quintessential home grown classics Harris Tweed stand the test of time, even today designers include it in their seasonal collections. It is emblematic of such a proud heritage.

Harris Tweed was born out of function rather than out of style, but given support by the Aristocracy soon changed the way it was viewed tweed became fashionable and demand for Harris Tweed grew.

From its humble bespoke beginnings to the catwalks of the world.

In 1846, Lady Dunmore, widow of the late Earl of Dunmore, had the Murray tartan copied by Harris weavers in tweed. This proved so successful that Lady Dunmore devoted much time and thought to marketing the tweed to her friends and then to improving the process of production. This was the beginning of the Harris Tweed industry.

As a result of the marketing efforts of Lady Dunmore, increased sales of the tweed were achieved and trade was established with cloth merchants in large towns in the UK.

At about the turn of the century the primitive small loom was replaced by the improved “fly-shuttle” loom. This was made of wood and heavier than the earlier loom tending to make weaving an occupation for men rather than women. Although originally imported from the Galashiels a local joiner started making the new type of loom in 1903.

At a meeting in Stornoway in 1906 efforts were considered for placing the industry on a more satisfactory footing. This was a most harmonious meeting and as the Trade Marks Act had been passed in 1905 making provision for a registration of Standardisation Marks, it seemed to be novel opportunity to end the increasing practice of offering mill-spun tweed as genuine Harris Tweed.

Harris Tweed means tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.

The late 90s are a difficult time for the British textile industry and Harris Tweed is no exception. However there is confidence that the hard decisions taken to reform the industry will eventually bear fruit and secure the future of this unique product.

In 2004 Nike bought ten thousand metres of Harris Tweed and produced a range of Harris Tweed trainers for women. Nothing like thishad been done and it gave the island producers the boost they needed.

May Harris Tweed survive, without it what else is there?

By: Patrick McMurray

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