Beart is the Scottish Gaelic word for a weaving loom. [Dwelly]
The beart bheag was a small wooden loom predominantly used prior to 1900 and was the original machine on which Harris Tweed was woven. Made locally, it was traditionally used by women for domestic purposes. The heald/heddle shafts (na buird) were activated by four treadles connected with cords to the healds/heddles.
The shuttles, which were boat-shaped, carried a metal pin, round which revolved a sheep’s shin bone onto which the weft yarn had been wound. The loom had no shuttle boxes and the shuttle was thrown by hand from side to side through the open shed.
This small loom was only suitable for domestic use and was very labour intensive, taking a lot of time to produce a small amount of tweed. As such it was eventually superseded by a larger construction which was known in Gaelic as the beart mhòr or big loom.
The beart mhòr handloom was used to produce tweeds from around the turn of the 20th Century. It was of larger construction and the healds worked on the same principle as in the bheart bheag.
It had, however, a sleyboard with a box at either end and the shuttle was thrown by pickers, to which movement was imparted by cords controlled by the weaver. The shuttle was bigger and had wheels on the underside and back, and it was propelled across the warp by a sharp pull on a handle. This was known as the ‘flying shuttle’.
The loom had a greater output per hour than its predecessor but was much heavier and so was often more used by men. The Big Loom first appeared on the islands in 1890s and by 1911 there were over 250 in operation.
The woman you see in these images is Marion Campbell who was born in 1909, the same year that gave birth to the Harris Tweed Association. Marion is remembered as an icon of Harris Tweed weaving. She first sat at a loom at the tender age of 14. Before turning 21, she had won a Harris Tweed Association design competition, beating off older more experienced weavers to pick up first prize and a handsome reward of 20 guineas. Her gift for design and colour ensured this was only the start of Marion’s success and rise to prominence as an exemplar of the craft of Harris Tweed weaving.
Marion oversaw and conducted the entire process herself, from raising the sheep that provided the wool, spinning and dyeing the yarn for her loom right through to the finished tweed length and her decades as an ambassador for Harris Tweed and the Western Isles earned her a British Empire Medal in the 1985 Queen’s New Year Honours List. The honour was to mark her lifelong service to the Harris Tweed industry. Typically, Marion insisted the honour was not for her, but for the whole of Harris and turned down the trip to Buckingham Palace. Instead, the medal was presented to her in Harris.
Marion continued working in the traditional manner of the Harris Tweed weaver until into her eighties. She died on January 6, 1996 at the age of 86