How a Desolate Island Invented one of the most Valuable Materials in Fashion

Recently, the archival country of Scotland has taken over headlines since announcing there debate upon whether or not to turn independent from the United Kingdom. Almost by coincidence, I experienced a family holiday during part of this period in the Outer Hebrides, a set of relatively desolate islands along the blustery west-coast of Scotland, specifically the meagre isle of Barra. Notwithstanding the island’s tremendously exclusive yet somewhat apparent life-style, there was a specific part of this Island that was a greater distinction than the other archipelago features – Harris Tweed. A tensely coarse but still pleasantly complacent material generated from pure virgin oil dyed by the authentic human inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides. Protected by Law as part of the Harris Tweed Act of Parliament 1993, the instructions on how this cloth is made are thoroughly explicit contributing to the brands considerably unique and exceedingly cultural reputation.


As the Industrial revolution arrived in the UK bringing impacts that were slightly more beneficial than others, manufactures working on the mainland converted from the amenity of mechanism however upon the Hebridiean Isles, Islanders continued to advance whilst still using the favourable traditional method of creating deeply satisfying and immensely quality garments. Not until the intermediate of the 19th century was Lewis’ and Harris’ (two Hebridiean Islands) prodigious cloth popularised upon the mainland after years of being fabricated just for the result of home use or the local market. Tweed was a vastly pertinent material to attire by people in residence of the isles because being of a boisterous and bitter atmosphere, the Outer Hebrides is a location for covering up with the broadest of coats and the most protracted of scarves. To be completely the honest, the Isles seem to be in the midst of a perpetual winter. Obscurely, it was not a surprise towards Islanders for rent to be paid with heavy blankets and patterned segments of drapery, this textile is a definite delicacy concerning the Outer Hebrides. 

The predominance of the industry became greatly extensive by the end of the 18th century when local crofters exported there handmade cloth to the main-land for an extended audience to emerge. Originally, Tweed was recalled to as ‘tweel’ being the Scot’s name for twill however a London merchant was sent a letter from a Hawick firm regarding some tweels, although the letter precisely stated the word ‘tweels’, this London Merchant misinterpreted the lettering causing a belief that the material was called ‘tweed’ after the highly rough River Tweed, principally located across the English and Scottish boarder. Due to this fortuitous circumstance, the merchant continued to sell the garments as tweed thus supplying the brand ‘Harris Tweed’ to this day. Amongst the extended previous year of 1836, Alexandra the 6th Earl of Dunmore rooted the North of the Isle of Harris after his formerly passed father in a time where all production of tweed was completed manually. Part of this routine was being impressively hand-woven by the Islanders themselves in their own personal cottages. In particular, I find this point the fundamental essence of the fabric, it was created by the people with neither the professionalism of a substantial factory or the appliances of legitimate tools yet the islanders had the competency to initiate garments without the aid of education. Regarding colour, the vibrant ticks of intensity were developed through the use of vegetable dyes, one being a lichen dye stated under the name of ‘crottle’. This substance leaves a monumental scent upon the earlier attire of tweed which the islanders have no problem in acknowledging this aroma to be that of the material. 

Woman in Pleated Tweed Skirt

Unfortunately, The Earl of Dunmore came to an adverse death in 1843 passing on the North of the Isle of Harris to his wife, Lady Catherine. Lady Catherine was the first to take tweed into an ample amount of consideration believing that it had a potential of genuinely profitable marketing. This impacting discovery was caused by two sisters called the Paisley sisters whom of which produced the textile at a notably superior condition when compared to that of untrained crofters. Immediately, Lady Catherine requested the Paisley sisters to produce the fabric in the genuine Scottish pattern of tartan, at a mammoth rate of demand. Once completed, Lady Catherine would deliver the robust garments to be developed into assiduously reliable and meticulously thorough forms of jackets, categorically for the gamekeepers and ghillies on her estate. By virtue of the jackets conspicuous attributes of being extremely hard-wearing as well as appropriately water-resistant, it was not a lengthy amount of time until Lady Catherine came to the realisation that the attire would be comprehensively susceptible amongst alternative conditions of harshly brisk weather and climates (including country sports which was of an utterly relative activity to her closest friends).

From then on, the fabric was exceptionally promoted becoming a material that was popularly worn by Queen Elizabeth in addition to other aristocracy of this period in time. Harris Tweed became immeasurably fashionable rather than its preceding reputation of being worn for the single involvement of feeling conveniently pleasant. Furthermore, the establishment of the brand ‘Harris Tweed’ grew of greater size as Lady Catherine consigned more hefty numbers of girls to the active mainland to improve their weaving ability therefore generate more workers for ‘Harris Tweed’ and increase the demand of the fabricated goods. Unsurprisingly, numerous fashion brands have used the material of ‘Harris Tweed’ in their products: Topman, Nordstrom and Hugo Boss to name a few. Not only clothing but shoe brands such as: Nike and Doc Martens. 


Predominantly, I adore that of Vivienne Westwood’s markedly valuable undergoing focusing on tweed, generating plentiful apparel from the fabric that all individually present Westwood’s obscure yet inventive contribution towards the industry. In my opinion, the Vivienne Westwood Faded Tartan Gaia Cape is a gives me a unequivocal desire to own in behalf of its entirely dimensional print of Tartan in addition to the visualisation of the product’s totally sufficient capability of covering up thus preserving warmth which is often a substantial dilemma in reference to myself. Despite being evidently unlikely to be in the possession of myself, if this bothersome indication was of the opposition, the cape would definitely be paired with bottoms of imperative black skinny jeans along with some presently prominent matching black Chelsea boots.

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Although tartan was already a print famously belonging to that of the Scots, I believe that this prevalent pattern would have never reached the handling of Burburry nor Vivienne Westwood without the altogether expertise of the tweed textile. It is a precious gem of the Outer Hebrides and individually, I have an utter thought that something so significant could never be reinvented. Unlike a Chanel coat that is in affinity to the members of Chanel’s team, i.e. professionally taught people. This fabric is in possession of the Hebrides people and I have a strong faith that this proprietor will never leave.


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