Timeless Tweed | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Timeless Tweed

On the Hebrides Isle of Harris, weavers are still producing their sought-after textile

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"Boulder-strewn, peat-bogged, windswept, with coastlines like a set of snaggled witch's teeth," the islands of the Outer Hebrides, "shunned by most of the human race as too far, too forbidding," have "an awe-inspiring, elemental beauty," writes Joseph Harriss. It is both appropriate and surprising, then, that this remote chain of islands off Scotland's rugged northwest coast should be the birthplace and sole producer of "one of the world's best-known textiles, a durable and rough, simple and faithful woolen fabric" known far and wide as Harris Tweed.

 Whether woven in herringbone, houndstooth glen check or tartan, flecked, mingled or striped, the traditional rough feel and subtle coloring of Harris Tweed — and the fact that it is, by definition, handwoven in Harris and the other islands of the Outer Hebrides — have made it, to quote one designer, one of the world's most "noble fabrics."

Joseph Harriss, who admits a fondness for the cloth unrelated to the coincidence of names, travels to the Isle of Harris (and its "Siamese twin," the larger Isle of Lewis) to discover the age-old tradition of tweed-weaving there, the stark and wondrous landscapes that inspire the weavers’ palettes, and the market forces that are changing the tweed and keeping this latter-day cottage industry alive and humming.

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