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
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