Preserving the Rich Heritage of Scotland’s Weaving Industry
Our mission to encourage Americans to connect with things that make Scotland unique extends beyond the physical sites and landscapes we work to protect. Not only do we want to preserve historic places from castles to coastlines, we want to preserve the stories behind these places and the people who have left their mark on Scottish history and heritage.
Weaver’s Cottage, a National Trust for Scotland property just 12 miles south-west of Glasgow, tells the story of a traditional Kilbarchan cottage where hand-woven textiles were made on handlooms during a period where such materials were at the heart of the Scottish weaving industry. This quaint cottage illustrates just what life was like before the Industrial Revolution and allows visitors to experience first-hand the living and working conditions for a handloom weaver during this time. Property staff will show you how to use the last working handloom in the village and allow you to have a go yourself.
Traditional Scottish heritage skills such as handloom weaving are now more valuable than ever as their scarcity increases. Textiles made using traditional Scottish methods include tartan, tweed and cashmere. Harris Tweed which, not too long ago, seemed to be on a steep decline has become hugely sought after by major fashion houses including the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood who value the material for its authenticity and unique craftmanship.
Kitty Mackenzie is helping preserve the skills of some of Scotland’s most talented artisans by designing her own scarves using tweed sourced and handmade on the Isles of Harris and Lewis. Much like us, Kitty wants to support and celebrate the people who have kept these heritage skills alive for future generations to appreciate. She frequently visits the Outer Hebridean Islands of Harris and Lewis to source Harris Tweeds or Clo Mhor, as it is known locally, for her luxurious scarves, meeting with weavers skilled in the use of the original Hattersley foot operated looms.
The Hattersley domestic loom was designed and built by George Hattersley and sons in the early 1900’s specifically to be used in the home and was quite successful in expanding the trade.
Harris Tweed has been woven, finished, dyed and spun on Harris and Lewis since the craft began well over a century ago. The beautiful cloth is made entirely by hand and is protected by an act of parliament to ensure it cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 ensures all cloth certified by the authority is handmade from start to finish by the islanders in the Outer Hebrides and is authentic Harris Tweed – the only commercially produced handmade tweed in the world. Once each cloth is completed, it is marked with the Orb symbol by the Harris Tweed Authority for authenticity.
The islanders of the Outer Hebrides have created various distinct patterns over their many years of weaving this rare cloth. Each pattern is unique yet undoubtedly recognizable Harris Tweed featuring subtly intricate patterns in elegant natural shades. The unusual technique used to achieve this is to dye the wool before being spun allowing a beautiful blend of colors to be produced. This creates a cloth with great depth of color and complexity adding to its charm. The talented makers often explore design possibilities with their clients each new season, including modern and unconventional patterns.
The local makers of Harris Tweed are also inspired by the land, sea and elements around them as they change with the passing seasons. As such, the tale of the land and its people are told through the colors and patterns of the cloth itself. For a weaver on Harris and Lewis, a winter walk on Seilebost beach, pictured below, might offer inspiration for dozens of patterns and color pallets.
Join Kitty on one of her bespoke Scottish Textile Trails where she will personally take you on a day trip or overnight to the Isles of Harris and Lewis where you will tour some of the local mills. This unique experience will allow you to meet the talented textile makers and soak in the historic craftsmanship they are so proud of. Learn the intricate processes involved in making traditional Harris Tweed and you can even have a go yourself!
This week will see the opening of Kitty’s first shop The Scottish Textile Showcase located inside the famous Tron Kirk on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The showcase will feature and sell textile accessories and gifts made by talented artisans and rural wool mills from around Scotland.
“With a large map of Scotland on the wall we can illustrate where our products have been made and by whom – from the highly talented Harris Tweed weavers in the Outer Isles to the historic cashmere mills in the Scottish Borders. We encourage our customers to discover the story of Scottish textiles for themselves by visiting the mills and makers on their travels through Scotland.”
– Kitty MacKenzie
If you are interested in taking part in such a unique experience, delving into the wonderful world of Scottish Textiles and meeting the people behind such beautiful designs as Kitty’s scarves, visit the website below or contact Kitty directly today.
Telephone: +44 (0)7717473964
All images, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Kitty MacKenzie.