Harris Tweed: From Land to Street ... by Lara Platman
Review: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street Written by Kirk, Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 in Fashion, Lookbooks in Wellcultured.com Harris Tweed is unquestionably one of the most interesting fabrics in the fashion world. Still hand-crafted and hand-woven in the Outer Hebrides, Harris Tweed has been called the “champagne of fabrics,” and for good reason: it’s sturdy, comfortable, natural, and in most cases utterly indestructible. From Yves Saint Laurent to Nike, numerous designers and companies have used Harris Tweed, and it seems like every fabric company in the world has tried (unsuccessfully) to create fabrics that mimic the distinctively perfectly imperfect fabric. Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is a beautiful book that attempts, through photographic vignettes and small bits of text, to capture the feeling of Harris Tweed. This is no small endeavor: part of the appeal of Harris Tweed is in its texture and feel, something difficult to represent on paper. Nonetheless, Lara Platman’s book does a phenomenal job of capturing a little bit of the essence of Harris Tweed, following it from its wooly beginnings to its finely crafted result. Harris Tweed begins in the hills of the Outer Hebrides and follows the wool through all of the various production processes it encounters, along the way providing brief biographies of men and women who spend their lives making beautiful fabric. Make no mistake: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is not about providing endless pictures of tweed blazers or fabric swaths. Rather, it is an adventure through the hills of Scotland, following the relative MacGuffin of tweed as it shows those who work their lives around it. The message, in short, seems to be that Harris Tweed is not just an amazing fabric: it is a lifestyle for many who live in a quaint pocket of the world that most of us will never see. Of course, the real value in Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is in the photographs. With every photograph, you pick up a little bit of the Scottish tweed culture — the beautiful scenery, the unassuming buildings, the beautiful fabrics, the tough but skilled laborers, and the effects of the sartorial masterminds in Seville Row. One can almost smell the fabric through the pages. The book’s photos are rife with little details that really make the entire book shine — given a magnifying glass and some time, one could undoubtedly find all sorts of interesting details hidden in each photo of the book. If I had any complaint about Harris Tweed: From Land to Street, it would be that the book fails to have the kind of payoff sartorial geeks like myself enjoy. While we see, in great detail, the crafting of the fabric itself, we rarely see it “in action” quite like we would like. I found myself pondering where some of the fabric followed in the book ended up — I wanted to see the finished product, not independent pieces of the product in making. With that being said, though, that’s simply not the message of this book: Harris Tweed: From Land to Street is about the process, not the product. Images from the book Harris Tweed: From Land to Street by Lara Platman
28 October 2011 Article written by Phil Coomes Picture editor in BBC News in Pictures
The harsh beauty of the Outer Hebrides is a landscape that has lured many photographers, yet the latest of those to explore the islands was not there to photograph the views, but to document a manufacturing industry that is known around the world. Lara Platman spent seven months on the islands following the production of Harris Tweed, from the backs of the Blackface and Cheviot sheep to the suits on sale in Savile Row. Harris Tweed has a rich history that stretches back to 1864 when Lady Dunmore, the widow of the Earl of Dunmore, had the Murray tartan copied by Harris weavers in tweed. The resulting cloth proved so successful that sales spread from the local area to a number of the major towns in the UK. Improvements to the process and the development of new looms saw mills being opened in the early part of the 20th Century, and by 1911 the Harris Tweed Orb stamp, a mark of certification, could be seen on genuine products. Though there were a number of challenges to the definition, by 1993 an act of parliament declared that the Harris Tweed Authority was the owner of the Orb: "The Harris Tweed is cloth that has been hand-woven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides." Today there are some aspect that are mechanised yet it remains true to its roots, with weavers working at home, sometimes in sheds attached to their crofts in the hills and villages. Harris Tweed has known tough times, but the past couple of years has seen new weavers coming online and very healthy growth figures, due in part to its expansion into new areas. Though the tweed is still primarily associated with high-end clothing and is a regular on the fashion catwalk, it is also now used in many other products, such as upholstery, bags, lampshades and, if the mood takes, corsets. Lara's project coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the Orb mark being registered and is a fitting tribute to both the past and the present workers of tweed. She was drawn to the project by the sustainable nature of the process, one that gives each member of the chain a living. "While making my previous book, Art Workers Guild 125 Years: Craftspeople at Work Today, I met a few weavers and thought that these people have amazing patience," Lara told me. "With sculpture you can see it form in front of you, photography is instant and in architecture there are plans, but weaving is just one line at a time. It's an art form rather than an industrial process." "Yet I was aware that there was a danger of producing a tourist view rather than the real picture. So that is why I spent as much time as possible up there and experienced all the seasons, though I managed to hit the worst winter for many years, some of it while I was camping out." As the seasons changed it became clear to Lara that there was a relationship between the landscape and the fabric. Similar patterns and tones can be seen in Lara's close ups of heather and gorse as well as those of the finished rolls of tweed. Today there are some aspect that are mechanised yet it remains true to its roots, with weavers working at home, sometimes in sheds attached to their crofts in the hills and villages. Harris Tweed has known tough times, but the past couple of years has seen new weavers coming online and very healthy growth figures, due in part to its expansion into new areas. Though the tweed is still primarily associated with high-end clothing and is a regular on the fashion catwalk, it is also now used in many other products, such as upholstery, bags, lampshades and, if the mood takes, corsets. Lara's project coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the Orb mark being registered and is a fitting tribute to both the past and the present workers of tweed. She was drawn to the project by the sustainable nature of the process, one that gives each member of the chain a living. "While making my previous book, Art Workers Guild 125 Years: Craftspeople at Work Today, I met a few weavers and thought that these people have amazing patience," Lara told me. "With sculpture you can see it form in front of you, photography is instant and in architecture there are plans, but weaving is just one line at a time. It's an art form rather than an industrial process." "Yet I was aware that there was a danger of producing a tourist view rather than the real picture. So that is why I spent as much time as possible up there and experienced all the seasons, though I managed to hit the worst winter for many years, some of it while I was camping out." As the seasons changed it became clear to Lara that there was a relationship between the landscape and the fabric. Similar patterns and tones can be seen in Lara's close ups of heather and gorse as well as those of the finished rolls of tweed. The colours of the tweed can be found in the landscape Lara said: "The whole idea of the wool is to mash it up like a candy floss machine, then it is pulled and teased in the carding machine, so for example you might get an orange thread that has stayed there all the way through the cloth. Every piece of cloth is individual despite the fact that they follow recipes. It is a commercial business and this means they can match up historic patterns." The project has been published by Frances Lincoln and result is part history and part snapshot of the industry and those who continue the tradition. "I deliberately did not want a book solely of portraits, so it's a mixture. It's also important to see where they live and how the landscape is reflected in the product."
Harris Tweed fabric, mid-20th centuryHarris Tweed is a cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders on the Isles of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, using local wool. Traditional Harris Tweed was characterized by subtle flecks of colour achieved through the use of vegetable dyes, including the lichen dyes called "crottle" (Parmelia saxatilis and Parmelia omphalodes which give deep red- or purple-brown and rusty orange respectively). These lichens are the origin of the distinctive scent of older Harris Tweed. The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, it being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. About 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, and the name has remained ever since.
During the economic difficulties of the Highland potato famine of 1846-7, Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore was instrumental in the promotion and development of Harris Tweed as a sustainable and local industry. Recognising its sales potential, she had the Murray family tartan copied in tweed by the local weavers and suits were made for the Dunmore estate gamekeepers and gillies. Proving a success, Lady Dunmore sought to widen the market by removing the irregularities caused by dyeing, spinning and weaving (all done by hand) in order to bring it in line with machine-made cloth. She achieved this by organising and financing training in Alloa for the Harris weavers and by the late 1840s a London market was established which led to an increase in sales of tweed.
With the industrial revolution the Scottish mainland turned to mechanisation, but the Outer Hebrides retained their traditional processes of manufacturing cloth. Until the middle of the 19th century the cloth was only produced for personal use within the local market. It was not until between 1903 and 1906 that the tweed-making industry in Lewis significantly expanded. Production increased until the peak figure of 7.6 million yards was reached in 1966. However the Harris Tweed industry declined along with textile industries in the rest of Europe. Harris Tweed has survived because of its distinctive quality and the fact that it is protected by an act of Parliament limiting the use of the Sovereign's Orb trademark to tweeds made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
One high profile promotional success of Harris Tweed in recent years has been their use on several Nike running shoe designs including the Terminator, Blazer, and Air Force 1. Around 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production is from the mills of Harris Tweed Hebrides in Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, a company founded in 2007 and who have had success in extending the appeal of this "champagne of fabrics." They export to more than 40 countries and supply designers like Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Steven Alan. While Harris Tweed has been mainly a fashion fabric in recent years, Harris Tweed Hebrides has broken new ground by supplying most of the interiors fabrics for Glasgow's first five-star hotel, Blythswood Square, said to be the biggest interiors project since Harris Tweed was used in the fitting out of the ocean liner QE2 in the 1960s. The company has picked up two major honours: Textile Brand of the Year for 2009 at the Scottish Fashion Awards, and premier award for Outstanding Style Achievement at the Scottish Style Awards, reflecting a renaissance of interest in the fabric and its use by cutting-edge designers.
Every length of cloth is stamped with the official Orb symbol, trademarked by the Harris Tweed Association in 1909, when Harris Tweed was defined as "hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides."
Machine-spinning and vat-dyeing have since replaced hand methods, and only weaving is now done in the home under the governance of the Harris Tweed Authority established by an act of Parliament in 1993. Harris Tweed is now defined as "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."
Contemporary expansion A Nike shoe in Harris TweedIn 2004 the American company Nike used the fabric to produce limited edition runs of retro trainers originally released in the 1980s. They ordered 10,000 metres of cloth from mills on the Isle of Harris, using a design by Donald John Mackay, who lives and works in Luskentyre on the island. They have since used the fabric in other designs of shoe. Another company using Harris Tweed in their products is "The Healthy Back Bag Company" who launched a range of bags in August 2007
In December 2006 a Yorkshire businessman, Brian Haggas, bought Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd (KM Group) in Stornoway which by then accounted for about 95 per cent of Harris Tweed production. Textiles entrepreneur Brian Haggas, 75, who owns textile firm the John Haggas Group, also bought Parkend, a small tweed mill on the outskirts of Stornoway and closed it down. Haggas then reduced all the 8000 Harris Tweed designs down to four, refused to sell to any one else and started producing exclusively for his own garment production. In May 2008, Haggas announced the redundancy of 36 millworkers in Stornoway.
In December 2007, Harris Tweed Hebrides acquired the closed mill at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis. Harris Tweed Hebrides is chaired by former UK government minister Brian Wilson and the main investor is his friend Ian Taylor, president of oil trader Vitol.
The fictional character Robert Langdon, from the novels Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, wears Harris Tweed, as does the fictional detective Miss Marple, the second and eleventh portrayals of the fictional Doctor from the television series Doctor Who, and Glasgow University Rugby Football Club. Jasper Fforde also uses a fictional character named Harris Tweed in his Thursday Next series, most notably in Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots.
British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is a fan of Harris Tweed - her brand logo is very similar to Harris Tweed's logo. The Harris Tweed Authority pursued a long-running legal case to stop her using the Orb trade mark but Westwood won by being able to point to three minor differences between her logo and Harris Tweed's. While she has used Harris Tweed, the logo is often attached to products that are not made with Harris Tweed.
In 2009, British fashion designer Sara Berman designed a capsule collection of limited edition Harris Tweed coats sold exclusively through her online boutique
In 2010, fashion label Thomas Pink contracted with Harris Tweed to produce a line of sport jackets for their AW10 season.
The Hospitality industry is now also enjoying a Harris Tweed experience. The largest order of Harris Tweed since the commissioning of the QE2 has been delivered for the fit out of the new five-star Hotel Glasgow, called Blythswood Square. The hotel was the former Royal Scottish Automobile Club and has been renovated and rebuilt, in parts, to accommodate the new hotel.