The Champagne of Fabrics: Harris Tweed turns 100

Glasgewian Critical Mass Rally.

This completely amazing photo was taken this past summer in Glasgow at the inaugural Harris Tweed Ride, which I only learned about yesterday but which is already my new favorite summertime celebration.  A Harris Tweed Ride!  Can we all go to Glasgow next summer, please?

Yes, the Scottish do seem to take their tweeds seriously.  But why shouldn’t they?  Harris tweed is, after all, one of the great Scottish inventions, right up there with car insurance, television, beta blockers and color photography.  The self-appointed Champagne of Fabrics, it’s recently seen a resurgence in designs by everyone from Thomas Pink to Nike.

As least part of these shoes were not made in a sweatshop.

Even Vivienne Westwood has been revisiting the fabric lately, nearly a quarter-century after her career was boosted by her celebrated Harris Tweed collection of 1987.

Thatcher-era VW.

Spun and dyed in the Outer Hebrides (off the northwest coast of Scotland), Harris Tweed is made by hand, largely pre-industrial style, in the homes of the native islanders.

Harris tweed, like champagne, is one of those names that the government is active in protecting, and by Act of Parliament Harris Tweed can only mean “a 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.”  Only tweed that meets this criteria can feature the Harris Tweed logo:

Which is not the same as Vivienne Westwood’s logo, although the Harris Tweed Authority did start something of a legal kerfuffle about that:

The celebrated Harris Tweed orb was first used in 1911, meaning that this year officially marks the fabric’s 100th birthday.  Harris tweed has been my obsession for the past few weeks, probably ever since I saw that fabulous couple in Whole Foods.  And the obsession won’t stop, now that I know about Lara Platman’s new book Harris Tweed: From Land To Street.

Patrick Grant took time out from his crushingly handsome day to write the book's foreword.

Platman spent seven months in the Outer Hebrides, photographing everyone involved in the process of making the fabric, from the sheep themselves to the spinners, weavers, and even the wool inspectors.

Yes, sir, yes sir, so very many bags' full.

(More photos here.)

I came across the book on Brain Pickings’ list of the 11 Best Photography Books of 2011.  (The list also includes a Canadian book about the history of strong ladies, which I also can’t wait to pick up.)

Probably not a big fan of tweed.

Though traditionally favored by outdoorsy types and, later, indoorsy academics, Harris Tweed has had something of a revival in the past few years which, honestly, has had a lot to do with boring things like company takeovers and outside investments.  Which is frustrating, I guess, but in the grand scheme of things less upsetting than, say, the revelations that the “Designed In Scotland” label on Pringle of Scotland’s cashmere sweaters was actually a secret code for “Made In Mongolia, Possibly By North Korean Workers Who Aren’t Directly Paid For Their Work (Although Their Government Is).”

On a less terrifying level, Deryck Walker, perhaps the most celebrated Scottish designer today, has been working with the Harris Tweed Hebrides company to produce some really interesting spins on the fabric, including this bomber jacket that I want I want I want I want:

There are also the completely lovely messenger bags and laptop cases of Catherine Aitken, who makes her wares from recycled Harris tweed jackets.

Both of which should help dispel the myths that Harris tweed should only be worn by nosy old lady crime-solvers.

During the course of Google image searching Miss Marple I learned that Disney is making a youth-oriented Miss Marple movie with Jennifer Garner. I can't even...

Or Watchers.

Giles' tweed jecket doubles as Buffy's tweed pillow.

It should also dispel the rumors that the Scottish isles are only good for inspiring cautionary hippie musicals about free love:

About Matthew Lawrence

Probably I am taller than you. I am not good with children. I publish a magazine called Headmaster. I could go on. www.gloomypharmacy.com is my website.

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