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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fabric of Art: Harris Tweed

Many years ago I was in a thrift store waiting on Himself.  I walked past the rack men’s blazers, running my hand long the shoulders of the jackets.  The feel of one jacket stopped me in my tracks.  I took it from the rack and opened it to look at the label.  And I smiled…  

“Hand Woven Harris Tweed”  

That jacket came home with me even tho it was not in the best shape and was a very small size.  

You might ask, “What is Harris Tweed?”  

Well, the official definition is:  “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.”  

But what it really is… is art.  

There are only about 100 weavers of Harris Tweed left…only 6 left on Harris itself.  The average weaver is a man in his 60s.  There is not a long line of people waiting to learn the painstaking methods needed to produce quality.  One day, there may be no more true Harris Tweed.  

In planning the trip, there were only a few “MUST do” items on my list.  Visiting the workshop of a Harris Tweed weaver was one of those items.  And Dave and Maureen arranged for us to visit the weaver who has been called one of the very best.

Donald John MacKay.

He loves this thing he does and he loves the traditions behind it. 

Could you call this anything but art?

The loom is powered only by these foot treadles.  Mr. MacKay’s average weekly production is about 100 meters (about 110 yards).  I wonder how many miles he has ‘gone’ each week, each year of the 40 odd years he’s been doing this. 



Years of making these…




I found this quote in an interview he did regarding why he wishes to reflect the colors of the Harris landscape in his work:   "... The Guy that created them had a very good eye, far better than me."

See that lovely heather purple tweed he’s cutting?

It’s MINE!!!  And I have so many plans for the yardage (or should I say meters) I bought.

Perhaps some pillows...

Or a purse...

Maybe a shawl...

Something for the house would be nice.

I could do a patchwork scarf.

Even tiny scraps could make a darling pin.

Nothing will be wasted...not even threads!

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