On the Island of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, over 170 freelance weavers weave Harris Tweed. It’s the only cloth protected by an Act of Parliament, the Harris Tweed Act 1993, which states that to earn the Harris Tweed Authority‘s Orb Trade Mark for high standards and authenticity, the tweed must be pure virgin wool dyed and spun, hand woven, and finished within the region.
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Originally this handmade fabric was woven by crofters for familial use, ideal for protection against the colder climate of the North of Scotland. Surplus cloth was often traded or used as barter, eventually becoming a form of currency amongst the islanders. For example, it was not unusual for rents to be paid in blankets or lengths of cloth. By the end of the 18th Century, the spinning of wool yarn from local raw materials was a staple industry for crofters. Finished handmade cloth was exported to the Scottish mainland and traded along with other commodities produced by the Islanders, such as dry hides, goat and deer skins.
The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, it being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. Around 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, and the name has remained ever since.