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Week 27: The Harris Tweed arrives!

The Craft Room is about to move up a gear and there is a new love in my life... It arrived this week, it's the most beautiful fabric I have had the pleasure of working with and its called... Harris Tweed. My search for suitable material for some makes and projects began years ago.

In fact, it could even be genetic. My wonderful Mum has not one but two double cupboards full of material, along with drawers full of jam jars of old buttons, bags of ribbon and lovely coloured string, anything and everything that could be used to make something. She could probably start a haberdashery shop with the amount she has stashed away. My “stash” is not quite so extensive yet, but already has a large array of materials, mainly cotton of various weights, and entire boxes of wool tucked around the house. I have to hide it in nooks and crannies when it becomes excessive though I’m sure Phil really knows why I have bulging cardboard boxes under my desk, or why the ottoman won’t quite shut as easily as it used to! With the wool, I crochet blankets, a habit I developed when I finished teaching and, freed from the nightly chore of long hours marking, couldn’t sit with idle hands in the evenings.

As my ideas around making all things sheep related developed, I tried to source lovely cotton prints with sheep on. Mum and I went to a trade show with thousands of materials and patterns. Most sheep prints are too “twee” or cartoon-like for me, and none caught my eye enough to drive my passion forward. So the search for the right materials continued.

The lightbulb moment came just over a month ago, when our ewes were shorn. Wool is the most amazing substance. It’s natural (obviously!) and has so many positive properties. It has been used for centuries in all sorts of ways. However, the market for wool has been steadily declining over the years, and this year it has reached rock bottom. Already there have been some very sad scenes of fleeces just chucked into heaps in corners of barns, or, in one case, just put into a bonfire and set alight. But who can blame the farmers when the price they are paid for the fleeces doesn’t even cover the cost of fuel to take them to a wool collection point. It has literally become worthless.

Sheep have to be shorn every year for their own health and welfare, but the fleeces are now simply a waste by-product of this annual job. I advertised mine to locals, suggesting it as a garden mulch as it’s perfect to put around young plants to retain moisture and keep slugs and weeds at bay, or an opportunity for people, bored from 3 months of Covid-induced-lockdown to try a new hobby. Other than the fabulous neighbour who uses wool to felt and made the beautiful robin that I shared recently on Facebook, not a single person wanted a fleece, not one. So my fleeces are also just sat in the corner of my barn, awaiting their fate whatever that is.

So, my thinking naturally turned to using wool. Fine woollen fabrics are so often made of merino wool, but Merino is a breed of sheep that does particularly well in some areas of the world and grows a wool particularly suited to fine clothing. Britain however is not one of those countries! One fabric that we do make spectacularly well in this country, from the wool of sheep that are native to our land, is tweed. Not only is it natural and native to here, but the colours and designs are so varied that there surely isn’t a project that couldn’t suit one tweed or another.

My craft room began to fill with samples of tweed from woollen mills local and otherwise.  As I further explored the famous tartans of Scotland, the search of course finally led me to Harris Tweed, handmade through every stage of the process in the Outer Hebrides using fleece from local sheep.  I had, of course, heard of it, few haven’t, it’s the only wool to have its own Act of Parliament.  

In accordance with the Act, Harris Tweed cloth must be: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.” You can find out more about it on the Harris Tweed website.

This week, my first bolt of Harris Tweed arrived and I’m utterly taken with it.  The feel, the texture, it really is something very special.  I’m now so excited to start making.  Of course, I shall be taking you with me on that journey, and sharing some projects with you through our YouTube channel.

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Week 27: The Harris Tweed arrives!