Thursday, 19 August 2010

Harris Tweed Production



When I knew I was going to the Isle of Lewis I was desperate to get to this place..the Tweed shed at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris which adjoins Lewis. It contains rolls and rolls of beautiful Harris Tweed, piled up to the ceiling. 















It was a long drive but well worth it and I was in a state of high excitement collecting samples but restraining myself, being mindful or the bursting cupboards I still have at home.













After Tarbert  we followed 'The Tweed Route' and turned down 'The Golden Road' 












until we came to a sign for Plocropool, a tiny place by a little rocky inlet, home of the weaver who sent me my Harris Tweed. 




I think it was the delightful Catherine, not Katie Campbell who I spoke to. 
She remembered my work and asked to see some, and is interested in stocking it in her shop. I remain a little confused by the Katie/Catherine puzzle. I think they work together and are mother and daughter.
(But I may be wrong)
Anyway here she is in her shop. This lady is the one who wove the lovely bright stripey Tweeds I used at Christmas. She says she doesn't have a lot of time to weave now .The shop was full of tourists buying Tweed.

This is her father's loom which she uses...

I have now learned quite a lot about Harris Tweed production so I would like to record it here both for myself and for anyone else who is interested. Its long but I hope some may find it informative.

We had a tour of Carloway Mill on Lewis who 'produce' Harris Tweed. The main requirement of Harris Tweed is that it must be Handwoven in weavers' homes, so the mill doesn't actually weave the Tweed, and not all weavers work for the mill. The mill has its own designers who prepare the yarns and send them out to be woven into 'their' fabric. 
With that in mind here are the processes involved in the production of Harris Tweed.

First the washed wool arrives in the mill. (In the old days it was wool from sheep on the Islands but nowadays it comes from Yorkshire)
Next the wool is dyed in these big vats. Nowadays chemical dyes are used.


Here's some jet dyed.

Next several colours are weighed carefully and mixed to produce the desired shades.

Then its sucked into a big blending and carding machine and mixed together. (this is a different colour to the above)

The carding begins, that is, combing it all into the same direction, separating it into sections and a slight twist put in it prior to spinning.

It comes out blended ready for spinning.

Next its spun into yarn.(I don't have a picture of that bit)
The yarn is threaded onto a roller via a very complicated machine, in sections of colours according to the patterns required. This is the warp . 

    The warp threads are wound in order onto a huge beam.

    For the single width looms there is a complicated frame system for a narrower beam.
    (I saw one of these when we visited a weaver's shed.)


    The warps are packaged ready with some extra spools of threads to mend any breaks.

    At this stage the beams are sent out to the weavers who sit at their handlooms in sheds and cottages all over the Islands. 

    Some weavers make their own designs, and their own warping, and some weavers work for this and other mills producing the mills own designs. 
    We spoke to a couple of weavers who said that nowadays they often have a 'day job' and weave as an extra. One had lived in 'The City' and had returned to his family home and weaving shed.
    The handwoven cloth returns to the mill for finishing. The first stage is the checking and darning any ends in, repairing, examining over a light box.


    The two ends of the long cloth are stitched together

    and then its put into a machine with soap, and washed to felt it. 
    The machines are old and mostly wooden and wonderfully 'Heath Robinson, resembling old boats. ( In the old days it was done by women who sang as they did it like this)












    After washing it has to be put into another machine to be rinsed.


    \
    That big old worn roller goes round and round 


    and then its spin-dried. (noisily!)

    The drying is quite an art..it has to be stretched and tensioned so that it comes out exactly the right length and width to conform to the standard size of either double or
     single width.
    This is a view of the complicated machine with a side view of the washer . I think it looks like Noahs Ark.




    Finally the cloth is inspected and stamped with the Orb mark of the Harris Tweed Authority.








    Well I hope you managed to stick with it. I found the tour fascinating...but then I'm obsessed
    As you know.






    For the official version click to go HERE

    44 comments:

    Magpie's Mumblings said...

    Completely and utterly fascinating! Thank you for describing the process so well. It's amazing to think all that goes into making a fabric, but knowing about it makes the end product that much more valuable. I can see why you love it so much!

    soggibottom said...

    No MOHAIR THEN :-)

    Vicki W said...

    That is fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

    Leisurely Lesley said...

    Thanks so much for that. Quite fascinating, especially from a weaver's perspective.

    Dolores said...

    I love learning new things. Thank you.

    Thimble Fingers said...

    Thanks for sharing ... I found it fascinating and interesting, and can completely understand your obsession with it.

    Mary said...

    I'm glad you shared that - I found it very interesting.

    Steph said...

    great post. i can only imagine how giddy you were! ;)

    marigold jam said...

    Fascinating and interesting tosee how the fabric is produced. Even though actually hand woven it is quite a mechanical procedure before and after the weaving isn't it? I'd love to see it done.

    Jane

    Pat said...

    Fascinating stuff, thanks Jackie.

    Menopausal musing said...

    That was wonderful! Absolutely wonderful. Thanks Jackie. I was fascinated by the fact that the tweed was woven by weavers in/at their own properties and not in a factory.....

    Magic Cochin said...

    That was wonderful and so informative. In fact it's filled in all the bits I didn't see when we went to the Western Isles - I just saw the hand loom being used.

    Still haven't decided what to do with the tweed I bought! I occasionally look at it and stroke it.

    Did you come home with your car stuffed full of tweed/

    Celia

    Sharne's Bit 'n' Bobs said...

    Thank you, it's fascinating. I wuld love to get up there one day to see it for myself.

    julia said...

    That made very interesting reading. I had no idea there were so many processes involved! Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

    Sue said...

    Thanks Jackie that was truly fascinating!! So glad you managed to make it there and I now want to go to see all the tweeds!! Please pass on our house info then if other people want to go next year they know where they can stay! xx

    Twiglet said...

    Thanks for all that info - I had no idea- even tho I did a bit of weaving at college - many moons ago! Hope we get to see what tweeds you bought to work with

    little sort of lady thing called Granny said...

    Fascinating Jackie! Love the big carding machine..thanks for the info.

    little sort of lady thing called Granny said...

    Fascinating Jackie! Great to see a mechanised way of preparing fibre for weaving. Are you tempted to go into weaving? It is very addictive! It is Elli posting this comment: my identity comes from my grandson's description of me!!

    Rachel said...

    I'm always thrilled to see photos of this familiar process online. Definitely, a trip to Harris Tweed Country is in order!

    Carol Q said...

    That was really interesting Jackie. I can imagine you must have been very excited to visit here.

    Lyn said...

    Wow, what a great place and thanks for the tour, the little quay is so cute too.
    love
    Lyn
    xxx

    Dan said...

    What an involved process! It was interesting to see how it was made Jackie. Sounds like you really enjoyed your visit too!
    Dan
    -x-

    Jill Eudaly said...

    I loved your tour. great reporting job. I will lokk at tweed in a new light...so much hard work goes into it.
    jill

    Elizabeth Armstrong said...

    Sensational! Thankyou so much for sharing your experinece! I really enjoyed the link to the ladies doing the hand fulling - very groovy.
    Glad you are home again - hope new ideas and inspiration are crowding in upon you!
    Elizabeth

    Heather said...

    Fascinating post Jackie - thanks for sharing the process with us. I love the pic of all those lovely bolts of tweed - you must have thought you were in paradise! The island looks very remote and starkly beautiful.

    Ms M said...

    Looks amazing! What a find! xxx

    Max the Lobster said...

    saw a tv documentary recently on BBC Alba about Harris Tweed and they interviewed a mother and daughter who were weavers, perhaps the lady you spoke to. In Edinburgh at the moment hoping to look at the West End Craft Fair to see what Tweeds there are there!

    vintagerockchick said...

    That must have been a real treat of a day out for you. How brilliant to see exactly how it's made and where it comes from.

    Tami @ Lemon Tree Tales said...

    What a fantastic post ... thanks so much for sharing all the info and pics about Harris Tweed. I didn't realize that it must be handwoven in people's homes to be considered official. Wow!

    Dot said...

    I found this fascinating. Thanks Jackie!

    verobirdie said...

    I just had breakfast, reading the last magazine iI brought, a Knitting burda magazine. And they had an article about Harris Tweed. Which I read. Then I come to my PC, and what do I see? Your article :-)
    Is it a sign I need to buy some :-)
    Anyway, I love your reportage, and I wish I were with you, very intersting and tweed is beautiful.

    silverpebble said...

    I can only guess at how excited you must have been to see this happening. Harris Tweet peeped over my shoulder.

    Rosie said...

    WOW that was fascinating, and I loved that song. Such an amazing glimpse of the old ways, thank you!

    Jan said...

    very interesting and I have forwarded your blog link to a weaver friend of mine. I hope she finds time to look, she will enjoy it even more than I did. I think.

    A Time to Dance said...

    I will definitly try and go on the next visit..i would love it there Jackie, thanks for sharing...I wonder how much you took home??

    Mary said...

    Wow, what a tour. It is easy to see why something beautiful comes from this labor intense process. So often the case, isn't it? Thanks for sharing it Jackie!

    purplesusie said...

    How wonderful, thank you xx

    sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

    A really enjoyable post and tour Jackie, thanks.

    I enjoyed the story of weaving on Harris as part of the Scottish season on TV last year - BBC2 I think - and what a treat for you to actually visit and see the process for yourself. Lesley x

    Julie said...

    A very interesting post Jackie. I enjoyed the information about the tweed production.

    Chris said...

    How interesting. I never would have guessed about the process. Congratulations on your good fortune with the hotel mix-up.

    Patricia G said...

    I discovered your beautiful work and your blog today via your Flickr images. Very interesting and makes me want to go up there myself.

    jennyflower said...

    Everyone else has written fascinating...but it is! I like the Harris Tweed emblem thingy....how about a brooch using that shape?

    Chriss said...

    Brilliant, just briliant! Thank you so much for that. I would never know otherwise. And I can't bear to not know...

    jeanette, mistress of longears said...

    Fascinating tour! I learned so much - had no idea that the tweed must be woven in a home, but I hight approve of that regulation as it retains the notion of home industry. Not so sure I like the mills doing design work, but then I have no vote.
    That machine to spin the wool dry reminds me very much of the "extractor" we had in our garage when I was growing up: my father was a laundryman and we had a giant machine like the one in your photo for wringing the shirts after washing. There were all sorts of rules about not touching anything, and it's been years since I thought about all the fascinating (to a toddler) machines!



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