Last year I began the process of having two new tweeds produced at the Shawbost Mill.
The design process was much more complex than I had naïvely anticipated. The way that the colours play when woven together can create new tones and sometimes mysterious, almost psychedelic patterns. These can vary wildly from what you imagined, making visualising the finished product practically impossible.
It begins by choosing your basic colour palette and favoured weave patterns. Once this is done, you have an agonising wait to see the result whilst the samples are made.
All the different variations are woven onto the same length on the loom. These trial pieces are called pattern blankets, a work of art in themselves. When I used to first visit the mill, I would spy these miraculous creations piled up in a corner and dream of having my own. When mine arrived at the shop, it was with a mixture of pure delight, and also horror, as I knew I would have to somehow choose between them all.
I limited myself to two choices. This involved carrying a large bundle of tweed samples on my person for over a month, as I gradually whittled them down to the final pair.
I wanted a snappy new orange in the collection. To create a little more texture in my favourite plain orange tweed, different weaves were sampled to add in a hint of cloudy grey. The final choice has a gentle pattern of grey flecks, which build mini creels across the fabric, giving ‘Lobster Pot’ its name.
My favourite orange and blue yarns were woven together as a herringbone. This became an enigma. Some see pink, some see rust, some cannot put a name to it. There is the last glow of a sunny day, liquid gold fleetingly captured inside the wavy blue grooves of the tide. The burn of embers and flame as the night grows long, chatting around a fire. A playful dance in perfect unison. ‘Ceilidh’ was born with a good yarn between orange and blue.
Did I remove some of the romance of Harris Tweed by getting to the nitty gritty of its design? Impossible. There is no way to do that here. By getting in closer, I only understood more of its mystery. It comes from the hearts and minds of the people who create it using tradition and skill and a knack. And maybe just an ounce of magic too.