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Adventures in Design: The Scottish Highlands Part 3

On our very first day at  Amhuinnsuidhe Castle in the Scottish Highlands, I spotted this handsome bolt of wool in the Tackle Room. I learned that this is the castle's own tartan, made by the talented weavers of Harris Tweed right there on the Isle of Harris. As our ghilllies (guides) told us, the fabric is woven so densely it's waterproof. And given that the Castle is all about fishing and field sports, the colors and pattern are designed to camouflage the wearer. I can tell you it really does!

Harris Tweed has a proud and storied heritage. For hundres of years the islanders (Harris, Lewis and others)  known as "crofters" wove the fabric by hand in their homes, primarily for their own use. They sold or bartered any extra and eventually created a sort of currency with the wool.

In 1846 when Lady Catherine became the head of household at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, she commissioned the estate's tweed to use in garments for their ghillies and gamekeepers. She quickly realized the fabric would be great for her guests' - "the landed gentry" - outerwear as well.

Lady Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore. Source: HarrisTweed.org

This was during the time of the great famine (failure of the potato crop) and soon she began promoting the fabric as a way to help the local economy. She promoted it among her friends and other aristorcratic connections. She sent weavers to the mainland to learn new techniques that resulted in more consistent fabrics that could be used by bespoke tailors in Edinburough and London. It worked! Even members of Queen Victoria's entourage began wearing it!

Today the Harris Tweed jacket is truly the standard mark of an English country gentleman. Well done Lady Catherine! A woman after my own heart.

As demand grew and the industrial revolution began, the island's home-based crofters were being replaced by machines and less qualified mainland weavers. To protect the quality and reputation of the indistry, the government created the Harris Tweed Authority. Their logo, the Harris Tweed Orb, is the United Kingdom's oldest registered trademark and the Authority is called The Gurdian of the Orb.

The orb is topped by a Maltese Cross, which is a symbol that dates back to the crusades. Each of the eight points represents a goal for the knights and to me symbolizes the character of the Scottish people I met:

  • - to live in truth
  • - to have faith
  • - to repent one’s sins
  • - to give proof of humility
  • - to love justice
  • - to be merciful
  • - to be sincere and whole­hearted
  • - to endure persecution
  • (Source: wikipedia)

In the Harris Tweed Act of 1993, Parliament defined the purpose of the Authority “to promote and maintain the authenticity, standard and reputation of Harris Tweed; for preventing the sale as Harris Tweed of material which does not fall within the definition...”.

Further they defined:

“Harris Tweed means 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.”

Now you have the history, it's time to go shopping!

We drove from Amhuinnsuidhe Castle to the Harris Tweed Shop and Warehouse in the town of Tarbert. Tarbert is the Gaelic word for a crossing between two bodies of water where ships pass or ferries land. There are lots of towns named Tarbert in Scotland and Ireland so always check to make sure you have the right one!

The Harris Tweed shop is a quaint, unassuming old building nesteld up against a barren hill. Picturesque!

The "warehouse" was an old garage, filled to the ceiling with beautiful tweed fabrics.

They had a wonderful exhibit that showed the history and process for making the wool.

The raw, untreated 100% pure wool from mostly Blackface sheep is sheared and taken to the mill to be washed and dyed. It is then "carded" to break up the fibers that are then spun into yarn. These are spools of carded fibers.

This is a spinning wheel used to transform the carded fiber into yarn.

These are the resulting skeins of wool yarn.

The wool is then sent to the weaver to set up in the pattern as required. The looms are powered exclusively by the weaver's leg power! The weaving is done in the "crofter's" homes and most of the weavers are men as this is very heavy work.

This is a traditional Hattersly loom.

The weaver sends the fabric back to the mill in what's called a "greasy" state. During the process the wool picks up oil from the spinning wheel and loom, among other impurities. The mill cleans and dries the fabric, then it's ready for use in garments, home accessories and more.

These are the muted tones I encountered when first entering the shop. They use natural dyes to create colors that really do blend in to the local landscape. These are the traditional colors I picture when I think of Scottish tweed.

Then I turned the corner and saw this!


I had to pull out every bolt, unroll a yard or so, touch it, look at the detail of every pattern and decide it was my favorite. At least until I went to the next bolt, which became my new favorite. And so on. And on.

In my happy place for sure.

The shop of course sells the bulk yardage, but they also have great ready to wear garments and gifts.

So tough to choose!

Double the warmth with a fur lining!

I bought this double breasted jacket to take home - but I ended up wearing it on the trip. It's so warm!

I love the colors in this one. It came home with me, too.

Each piece they make has a unique serial number to prove authenticity and even help you find it if it's lost.

They use the end pieces of tweed to create gift items - so clever! These eye glass cases would work for men or women.

These cases can slip onto your belt.

The zippered cases are so handsome. It's going to be difficult to give them away!

And the grandmother in me couldn't resist these sheep slippers (though H. is 16 months old and way too big for these!).

I've always been a big fan of tartans so I love that when I got on the plane home with a stack of fashion magazines I found them on every runway!

Source: The Tattler

Source: CS Magazine

Even the guys are getting in on it! These updated looks highlight the timeless nature of these ancient designs.

Source: How to Spend It Magazine.

This isn't a dated look, is it?

Needless to say it was a wonderful day at the mill, as was every day of this trip. Even the ride down to the shop was spectacular. I love seeing how people live and adapt to their environment and they've done a specactular job of it here.

I'll tell you all about that next time! In the meantime, check out some fun holiday tartans at Maze Home.



In case you missed them, here are the first two entries about my Scottish Highlands trip:
Part 1 - Amhuinnsuidhe Castle
Part 2 - Salmon Fishing


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Cindy's Blog

I'm Cindy Galvin, owner of MAZE Home Store and Bardes Interiors. In my blog I hope to inform, inspire and entertain you with lessons I’ve learned, insights on the beautiful things all around us, and stories from my adventures in design. I hope you'll join me on my journey through the world of design!

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