To understand the story of Harris Tweed its important to understand the process it goes through. There are several steps to this, each one as vitally important as the other. According to the Harris Tweed Authority, they are as follows:
The Harris Tweed story begins with pure virgin wools which are blended together to gain the advantages of their unique qualities and characteristics. Although most of the wool is grown principally on the Scottish mainland, in the early summer the island communities join together to round up and shear the local sheep which are dotted throughout the landscape.
Washing and Dying
Once sheared the wool is taken to the factories of the main tweed producers where it is washed and then dyed.
Blending and Carding
The coloured and white wools are weighed in predetermined proportions and then thoroughly blended to exact recipes to obtain the perfect hue. It is then carded between mechanical, toothed rollers which tease and mix the fibers thoroughly before it is separated into a fragile, embryonic yarn.
This soft yarn then has a twist imparted to it as it is spun to give it maximum strength for weaving. The spun yarn is wound onto bobbins to provide the ingredients of weft (left to right threads) and warp (vertical threads).
This vitally important process sees thousands of warp threads gathered in long hanks in very specific order and wound onto large beams ready to be delivered, together with yarn for the weft, to the weavers.
All Harris Tweed is hand woven on a treadle loom at each weaver’s home. The weaver will arrange hundreds of “heddles” to a specified pattern before the beam of warp yarn is “tied in” to the loom by hand. The weaver will then set up the weft threads, pulling bobbins of yarn through a series of guides to be woven into the warp threads by a flashing “rapier”. Once ready the weaver begins to weave, always observing, correcting, mending and amending their creation until complete.
The tweed returns to the mill in its ‘greasy state’ and here it passes through the nimble hands of experienced and sharp-eyed darners who correct even the smallest of flaws. Once ready the cloth is finished. Dirt, oil and other impurities are removed by washing and beating in soda and soapy water before it is dried, steamed, pressed and cropped to a perfect, flawless condition.
The final process is the examination by the independent Harris Tweed Authority, before application of the famous “Orb” trademark which is ironed on to the fabric as the ultimate seal of approval.