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Tweed Fashion UK Fabric History 2

Harris Tweed

Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Harris Tweed Fashion History


British Woollen Goods in Fashion

During the Industrial revolution, Yorkshire and Scotland both became big centres for woollen goods manufacture.  In the 1950s Britain was the largest exporter of wool textiles in the world and after the Second World War woollen good were used to help the UK export economy recover even though UK residents were deprived of the very same goods, until clothes rationing was removed.

Even though the UK textiles manufacturing sector has contracted over the years, in 2004 what remains is an important part of the UK industry.  Cloth produced by mills in Yorkshire and Scotland is sought after globally by discriminating designers and purchasers. However,  the market is smaller as third world companies compete.  Because traditional methods are used to produce many of the tweeds and tartans from the UK the technique produces a fabric that is unrivalled in quality in terms of texture and handle. 

The last couple of decades has also seen the introduction of lighter weight woollen materials more suited to the modern world.  When I think of quality British tweeds I think of Harris Tweed, Linton Tweeds and Bernat Klein Tweeds.  The 3 names offer different textural qualities in tweeds that captures the word exactly.


Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed is perfect for the new equestrian fashions for autumn/ winter 2004/5.  No other material looks as good made up as a traditional tailored riding or hacking jacket.

There are many producers of cloth in the, UK but the most world famous woollen cloth of all is probably the Harris Tweed.  Harris tweed is made in Britain and British tweed is the finest in the world.  To be precise Harris tweed can only be woven in the outer Islands off Western Scotland in the Hebrides. 

In the early Victorian era in the 1840s the wife of the Laird of Harris, Lady Dunmore encouraged the local weaving economy to promote the sales and production of Harris tweed. 

Usually the wool comes from mainland Scotland and is transported to the islands where it is cleaned and dyed.  After it is carded and blended it is warped onto wooden frames which are sent out to individual crofters with enough yarn to fill in for the weft (woof).  They weave the material according to precise Harris pattern requirements on their time-honoured Hattersley looms.

Every weaver involved has to sign the British Harris Tweed Authority agreement that they wove the yarn by hand.  The isle of Lewis deals with finishing the cloth which includes cleaning it of the oils that kept it from splitting during weaving and then milling and cropping it, until it has the desired handle for tailoring use. The finished tweed is stamped with a certification mark to  ensure it is recognised as true Harris Tweed.

The famous Harris Tweed logo and typical Harris Tweed  fabrics. Note the lovely soft earthy colours and muted blues.

Click logo only

1993 Harris Tweed Act of Parliament

Under the legal definition by a 1993 Act of Parliament the goods must be ' hand-woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, Benbecula, Uist and Barra and their several purtenances and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides '.

The Harris tweed industry has taken action against competing markets and moved into the 21st century producing a new lighter weight fabric at 9oz a square metre compared to traditional weights of just over 16oz per square metre.

This is the guarantee of a genuine Harris tweed product that will have years of wear in it.

Harris Tweed & The Russian Market

I recently received this press report about Harris Tweed and which may interest some of our readers.


Harris Tweed Hebrides, based at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis, has been included in a high-powered campaign to attract Russia’s big spenders to top-end British consumer products.

The award-winning company, which accounted for 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production last year, will participate in next week’s ground-breaking event in Moscow, promoted by UKTI, the government’s trade and investment organisation. UK Showcase will feature 20 of of Britain’s leading producers of luxury goods.

HTH chairman and former UK Trade Minister, Brian Wilson, will take part in a press conference at the British Embassy in Moscow next Tuesday to launch the event.

Mr Wilson said: “It is great for Harris Tweed Hebrides to be acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading luxury brands. We are in superb company in Moscow and it is a golden opportunity to carve out a niche in the Russian market.
Russia ticks all the boxes for Harris Tweed. The climate is right for it as a fashion fabric. There is a respect for quality and heritage. And there are a lot of people who now have money to spend”.

Other famous Scottish names invited to participate are Holland and Sherry, Johnston of Elgin, and coat-makers, Mackintosh. Companies from elsewhere in the UK include Linley, the furniture design house, Dovecot Tapestries, royal glove-makers Cornelia James, and Colefax and Fowler, the wallpaper brand.

The editor of Moscow’s leading luxury goods magazine, Robb’s Report, has already visited the Shawbost mill and was hugely impressed by what he saw. Mark Hogarth, creative director of HTH, said: “The article will appear after the Moscow event and will be an ideal follow-on to the interest we expect to stimulate. There is a huge potential market for both the tweed itself and also for the products made from it.

“The exposure that we have had over the past few weeks in London, New York and Paris, with several leading designers using Harris Tweed from Shawbost, will also help to set the scene”.

Ron Archibald, head of UKTI Tradeshows, said: “From London to the Isle of Lewis, the UK is renowned for companies producing world class consumer goods. Many Russian consumers are now looking beyond the obvious labels and we are sure that the companies will find a ready audience in this discerning luxury market”.

Meanwhile, Ian Angus Mackenzie, chief executive of the company, said that orders this year are “well ahead of the same time last year” with increased demand from the United States, where Harris Tweed Hebrides have been making a marketing push, as well as big orders from Germany and Japan. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON HARRIS TWEED PLEASE PHONE BRIAN WILSON 0N 01851-672274 or IAN ANGUS MACKENZIE ON 01851-702862.

Tweed and Heritage Fashion Update 2013

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