It is no secret that ‘Harris Tweed’ is loved by creative hands and craftspeople the world over. From the couturiers of international fashion houses to the small studios of independent artisans, the story of the fabric’s hand-made beginnings is continuous as further skilled fingers form new creations from our ancient cloth.
It’s also a source of pride that the success of ‘Harris Tweed’ in the wider world can help islanders here in the Outer Hebrides in their own creative endeavours, allowing small businesses to flourish right here in our remote corner of the world.
One such creative is Sallie Jayne Avis, a bridalwear and ‘Harris Tweed’ clothing designer based in the small village of Lionel in the far northwest of the Isle of Lewis. From her newly opened studio and shop, Sallie takes made-to-measure orders for that Very Special Day from as far away as Japan and works on a small, but beautifully curated range, of ‘Harris Tweed’ clothing and accessories.
“I love the wide variety of colours in Harris Tweed, the weight too lends itself to the tailoring I do, it maintains its shape beautifully when I cut it on the bias. I do like the greens and blues especially!”
Originally from Nottingham, Sallie moved to the Outer Hebrides 11 years ago and established a strong and respected name and business for herself here in the islands. Once an award-winning lace-maker by trade, her attention to detail and intricate design can be seen running through all her past projects and current creations.
Nottingham in England was at one time the heart of the lace-making industry, a truly international hub of this age-old, highly skilled craft, during the years of the British Empire. In much the same way as Harris became synonymous with its cloth, so too did Nottingham with its wonderfully intricate lace. Lace was manufactured on a frame adapted from that of William Lee, was further improved by John Heathcote and John Levers in the early 19 century and by the 1840s lace making had changed from a domestic industry into a truly international export bringing jobs, pride and money to the town.
However as markets dwindled and fashions changed, mills and factories were closed and the production machinery sold off to foreign countries. And with the machines went the good name of Nottingham Lace, their new and distant owners able to capitalise on the respected name and provenance far from the hands of the workers of Nottingham.
The parallels with ‘Harris Tweed’ are obvious, a beautiful product made with skill and care in a unique part of the country and with an enviable international reputation for craft and quality. But Nottingham Lace was not fortunate enough to have the security of a legal trademark or Act of Parliament to protect it, and the workers who produced it, from the winds of change, profit-driven commerce and global capitalism.
While today the lace mills and warehouses of Nottingham thrive as fashionable, luxury flats, shops and nightclubs, locally made lace is now mainly to be found in their museums. In stark contrast, through the work done by the Harris Tweed Authority and the powers afforded to us in law, the mills and weavers of our islands still continue to bring their cloth to the world, maintaining their traditions in the island homes as they have done for centuries.
Sallie’s skilled fingers have been working hard here in her adopted home, keeping her lace-making craft alive and turning her hands to ‘Harris Tweed’ also. Smartly structured women’s jackets in bright herringbones are complimented by contemporary A-line skirts with a vintage twist of traditionally coloured hunting twill.
The studio shop holds displays of other ‘Harris Tweed’ delights, clever pin-cushions are cradled in tea-cups and Autumnal leaf brooches and extravagant ‘fanciers’ are testament to her delicate needlework and sense of fragile beauty. Interior touches are also on view, most notably hand painted sea-scenes on ‘Harris Tweed’ pillow cushions, reflecting the Atlantic views from the studio’s stunning position high above the old fishing harbour at Port of Ness.
“Everything is made by myself and I try to pay particular attention to the details, the linings and finishing touches. On all my wedding dresses there’s a little hidden heart on a ribbon for example. And I try to do something different, things that other makers aren’t doing…”
As we say our goodbyes, we reflect on thoughts of so many lost skills and trades, fallen by the wayside as time and tides of fad and fashions take their toll. We’re grateful that the dyeing, spinning and weaving of a cloth as precious as ‘Harris Tweed’ has been saved and can continue today, tomorrow and for generations to come.
As the appointed guardians of the Orb and the cloth it protects, we are proud to be fighting to preserve a way of life for our islanders and the millions of ‘Harris Tweed’ lovers around the world.
TO FIND OUT MORE PLEASE VISIT SALLIE’S FACEBOOK PAGE