History of Harris Tweed

History of Harris Tweed

For thousands of years the inhabitants of the rocky windswept islands known as the Outer Hebrides have been weaving woollen cloth to keep them warm and protect them from the elements. When Stornaway airport was built in 1941, a burial chamber estimated to be around 2,000 years old was uncovered. Among the tools discovered in it were a whorl-stone used for spinning wool and a weaving comb used to press the weft yarn firmly between the warp yarns on a loom.
The origins of weaving in the islands may be lost in the mists of time, but the designation of "Harris Tweed" for the hand-woven cloth the islanders called "Clo Mhor" (the Great Cloth) is easier to date.
In the early 1840's the islanders suffered a devastating potato blight which left communities destitute and starving. Following the death of her husband in 1845, Lady Dunmore inherited a 150,000 estate on the Isle of Harris. Seeing the miserable hardships the islanders were suffering, she gave up her position of Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria and set about helping her tenants. As well as offering financial assistance, Catherine Dunmore encouraged cottage industries such as spinning, knitting, and weaving. Around 1850, the Countess began introducing finished tweeds to her aristocratic circle of friends and establishing connections with Edinburgh and London markets. Since the Industrial Revolution, hand-woven cloths were rare and valued, and Harris Tweed soon became a renowned and sought-after fabric. In 1906, a man in London was convicted of selling a machine-made cloth and passing it off as Harris Tweed. The time had come to protect the name of Harris Tweed and safeguard the livelihood of the islanders. The Harris Tweed Association was formed in 1909, and the famous "Orb" trademark was registered in 1910. To this day, the tweed is stamped with the Orb mark to certify the authenticity of the cloth, still handwoven by islanders in their own homes from pure virgin wool.
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