I bet you are not surprised to see that I have a bit more to say about Harris Tweed. These two ads are from 1951, while Britain was still operating under the utility scheme and clothing rationing. During that time most of the Harris Tweed, (and other British clothing items such as cashmere) was being produced mainly for export, as the trade was badly needed.
As you can see on the fabric scrap in the second ad, there is an actual stamp put on each piece of Harris Tweed, a guarantee that it is the real deal, produced entirely on the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The orb and cross trademark has been in use since 1911, making this the 100 year anniversary of the usage of the trademark.
Today, each length of finished cloth is still stamped by hand at regular intervals. The Harris Tweed Authority registers every piece produced, and the label always has a number stamped on it for identification purposes. The Harris Tweed Authority has books containing every number, and so they can tell when the piece was made, who the weaver was, and to whom the piece was sold. It’s an amazing historical record, and unless they have put it on computer in the last few years, the books are still referred to whenever a question arises.
Three years ago, the BBC4 did a three part series on the troubled Harris Tweed industry, and though things have changed since then, it is still a very good look at the industry, and the crisis it was facing at that time. For a while in 2008, all the spinning and finishing mills had closed, but today there are three in operation. There have been several high profile collaborations – including one with Nike – this year, and awareness of the historic fabric is increasing.
Do yourself a favor and watch this series, if for no other reason than to see all the fabulous examples of the tweed. There are over 8000 tweed patterns, and the variety is truly amazing. There is also some great historical footage, and for those who like a little drama, there is even a villain!
Amazingly, there is a scene in the documentary where a visitor to the island goes in search of Harris Tweed garments. The only place he found that sells them is the charity shop! I’m always looking for the tweed in my own thrift stores, and I’ve found some really remarkable pieces. Most of what you will find is in the form of men’s jackets and coats for men and women. I look for garments with holes, and then I take the garment apart to use the tweed in projects.
You can also buy lengths of the tweed online, and there are several sites that sell finished products of Harris Tweed. All are beautiful!