This is a personal post, an ode to the joy of tartan tweed. Three meters of Black Watch Harris Tweed from Reg Amor of Shawbost Weaver on the Isle of Lewis arrived today in the post. Technically I got this through Reg's Facebook page Harris Tweed-Tartan, his wife's page is Shawbost Weavers. Anyway, Bingo! Part of one meter will cover my footstool and the rest will become a waistcoat. The dogs and their black and white fur are already eying their new conquest. This fabric, woven on a single width loom from the 1930s, is only 30 inches wide, but that’s enough for me. To my eye and this is a truly personal observations; woven silk is like an oil painting, shimmering, luscious and the envy of all collectors; printed cotton and linen are like quick watercolor sketches, masterful tints fleeting and bold, but tartan tweed is like an engraving, an expression of straight and diagonal lines controlling the necessary color. I have a penchant for the graphic and tartans have always drawn me into their rigid lines and simplistically bold use of color—not to wax too poetically, but this is a visual journey.
Of course because Harris Tweed is a country cloth it sits in the gods with the rest of us, but in the only available box seat, and I think that’s because it has the most character, if cloth can have character, of the tweeds. When it arrived, I grasped it between my fingers and rubbed the cloth to feel its hand, or as others might put it, its tactile qualities. Harris tweed has a refined coarseness; that’s neither wholly worsted nor homespun. It’s finished, yet feels as if it were worn before it became anything. I have never been able to wear through this tweed and I have sold Harris Tweed jackets and a prized suit as my measurements shift. Buying this cloth is like planting a tree, it gives you immediate pleasure, but it’s really meant for future generations. I’m now going to pour a beer and privately drool over my tartan tweed, and contemplate purchasing 8 yards for a full kilt.
Here are a few more examples of their work:
Jeff Hopper, the author of this article is a social historian and consultant who works in museums and among other things writes about history, clothing and architecture