The definition of Harris Tweed is enshrined in law, with clear legal criteria laid down in the Harris Tweed Act of 1993.
To meet the legally-prescribed definition of Harris Tweed, tweed has to adhere to a strict specification. This sets out that to be considered Harris Tweed, a tweed must have been “hand-woven by the islanders at their home in the Outer Hebrides and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides”.
Tweed that does not comply with these conditions is not Harris Tweed and cannot be marketed as such. The Orb Mark, Britain’s oldest surviving Certification Mark, is managed and protected by the Harris Tweed Authority, a statutory body.
There are a number of steps involved in producing Harris Tweed from the fleece off the sheep’s back to the finished tweed ready for sale.
Briefly, the process commences at the Harris Tweed mill with 100 per cent new pure wool, mainly from Blackface, cross bred and Cheviot sheep. The untreated wool is washed and scoured in a solution of soap and washing soda. The wool is then hydro-extracted, dyed as necessary and then dried.
Before the yarn reaches the weaver, however, the wool of varying shades has first to be teased and blended. The wool undergoes carding to break the fibres down ready for spinning into yarn. The yarn is then sent to the weaver who sets it up on the loom as per the specified pattern to commence weaving.
The weaving is carried out on either a traditional Hattersley single width loom or the more modern double width rapier loom. Both are powered exclusively by the weaver’s own leg work.
When the tweed is woven, it is returned to the mill for finishing to remove impurities from the production process such as spinning oil, dirt and lubricating oil from the loom. The tweed is washed in soapy water and soda and, while still wet, ‘tenderised’ to give the finished cloth a good handle. After drying, the tweed is checked and any dead hairs removed from its surface by a process called cropping.
Only when the tweed is in pristine condition is it presented to Harris Tweed Authority inspectors for testing and certification with the Orb Mark.
This Harris Tweed trademark - registered in over 30 countries – was substantially bolstered by the 1993 Harris Tweed Act. The Act strengthened existing protection for Harris Tweed by giving the definition of Harris Tweed a firm legal basis.
The legislation also secured the establishment of the Harris Tweed Authority as the statutory body responsible for the promotion and safeguarding of the Orb Mark. The Harris Tweed Authority has powers to bring civil actions for misrepresentations and infringements of the trademark, and is the successor body to the Harris Tweed Association which was formed in 1909.
To learn more visit the Harris Tweed Authority website.