From Association To Authority Pt. 4

Edinburgh High CourtFollowing the amendment defining how genuine Harris Tweed was made in 1934, the industry entered a period of unprecedented expansion and the old story of mainland firms trying to break into the industry surfaced yet again because of the post-war popularity of the cloth.

The fact that Harris Tweed was also a vital dollar-earning export during and after the war allowed the controversy over ‘unstamped Harris Tweed’ versus Orb-stamped Harris Tweed to spread to the United States where it came to a head in the mid-nineteen fifties, at much the same time as the challenge to Orb-stamped Harris Tweed from producers of ‘unstamped Harris Tweed’ reached crisis point in Britain.

It took the longest civil court case in Scottish legal history at the time and the famous judgement by Lord Hunter to resolve this controversy in 1964. The 1934 definition of Harris Tweed, which had confined all the processes of production to the islands (including the production of yarn) was being flaunted by a consortium of mainland producers, calling themselves the Independent Harris Tweed Producers (IHTP), who had been breaking into the island industry by passing off as ‘Harris Tweed’ a cloth made in contravention of the terms of the 1934 definition.

The mainland producers of ‘unstamped Harris Tweed’ had asked the court to declare that their product, made in accordance with their own made-up definition devised by the Independent Harris Tweed Producers (IHTP) on its formation in 1958, was entitled to be called ‘Harris Tweed’ and to forbid any person anywhere from saying that such a product was not entitled to be called Harris Tweed. The IHTP definition differed from the 1934 definition of Harris Tweed in maintaining that the processes of dyeing, spinning, and finishing could be carried out anywhere in Scotland.

On the other hand, the Orb producers and The Harris Tweed Association contended that it was essential for all these processes to be carried out in the Outer Hebrides, as required in the definition of ‘Harris Tweed’ laid down by the amended Regulations of 1934 governing the use of ‘The Harris Tweed Trade Mark’ otherwise known as the ‘Orb’.

After considering an arduous defence in Edinburgh High Court and following much deliberation, judge Lord Hunter decided against the IHTP and issued his judgement in favour of the Orb producers, because he had concluded that the IHTP definition of Harris Tweed was

‘a mere device designed to enable them, by attaching the name ‘Harris Tweed’ to their product, to use the reputation attaching to the genuine article and to pass off their goods as the goods of other manufacturers and producers’.

Once again the reputation and ownership of the cloth on behalf of the islanders had been upheld serving to secure their precious work for another generation in the face of unscrupulous money men looking to cash in on the skill and hard work of the crofters, weavers and millworkers of the Outer Hebrides.

An Inspiring Heritage by Davy Macdonald

Davy Macdonald is an Edinburgh-based painter specialising in portraits and figurative painting. His latest series “Harris Tweed – An Inspiring Heritage” celebrates the history of the making of the Big Cloth. Using Island girls as models, period costume & artefacts and awe-inspiring locations in the Western Isles the past life and processes are brought to life.

The series consists of eight oil paintings capturing the tasks that were required to produce Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides, some of which are gradually being forgotten.

There are Limited Edition prints available of all the paintings. All prints are strictly limited to 125 of each painting and are signed and numbered by the artist. The prints are produced on heavy weight, museum quality, archival paper using the highest quality Giclee printing process and cost £150.00 each.

website :

Harris Tweed - Artwork by Davy Macdonald

From Association To Authority Pt.3

Gaelic-waulking-songs-in-the-Hebrides-1The first challenge to the new Harris Tweed industry and the newly formed Harris Tweed Association was getting producers to adhere to the definition of Harris Tweed which stated that ‘Harris Tweed means a tweed, hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides.’

A vulnerable area in the island industry developed in the mid-1920s when the laborious hand-finishing of the tweed woven on the croft went out of fashion. Beating cloth by hand and drying in the fresh air was workable for very small-scale production but completely untenable for the amount of tweed now being ordered. Because there was no finishing plant in the islands, tweeds were commonly sent to the mainland to be finished by specialist finishing departments at the mills there.


Inevitably, with this new relationship now being formed, an increasing number of mainland mills began to send their own yarn to island weavers to be woven, then took back the greasy tweed for finishing and sold that cloth as ‘Harris Tweed’ but without the Orb authenticity stamp and, adding insult to injury, all the profit going into mainland hands.

At the same time, the people, mainly in Harris, producing genuine, stamped Harris Tweed from hand-spun yarn in accordance with the definition were finding it difficult to compete in price with the unstamped Harris Tweed made from mainland mill-spun yarn and finished on the mainland.


This opening the door to mainland producers had threatened the native industry on an alarmingly wide front. In that good quality mill-spun yarn made from pure virgin wool did in fact produce just as good a tweed as one made from hand-spun yarn, it had become clear by the early 1930s, that the industry required a more realistic definition of Harris Tweed which allowed the use of locally-produced mill-spun yarn to meet demand and with that, new machinery to finish the cloth.

Eventually in 1934 a revised legal definition of Harris Tweed trademark was achieved. It allowed the use of local mill-spun yarn and confined all processes of production to the islands. As a result new mills on the isles of Lewis and Harris were built and an important step in securing the cloth’s production for the local economy had been taken.

But more challenges were to come…

From Association To Authority Pt.2


By the 1900s legal protection of the good name of Harris Tweed by a trade mark and an established standard definition had become essential to the developing industry.

This led to groups of merchants in both Lewis and Harris applying to the Board of Trade for a registered trade mark. When this trade mark, the Orb, was eventually granted, the Board insisted that it should be granted to all the islands of the Outer Hebrides i.e. to Lewis, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, as well as to Harris, the rationale for this decision being, no doubt, that the tweed was made in exactly the same way in all those islands.


In 1909, after much negotiation and a degree of acrimony from merchants in Harris who felt that the trade mark should have been granted exclusively to Harris, the famous Orb Trade Mark was granted.

The Harris Tweed Association, a voluntary body, was formed to protect both the use of the Orb Trade Mark and to protect the use of the name ‘Harris Tweed’ from imitations, such as the so-called ‘Harris Tweed’ of Henry Lyons or from the inferior standards of production which produced ‘Stornoway Tweed’.


The original definition attached to the Orb Trade Mark stated that:

‘Harris Tweed meant a tweed, hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides.’

The industry was to become a vital part of the economy of Lewis and Harris, and to a lesser extent of the Uists and Benbecula for over a century. Families and communities prospered in the good years and, equally, they suffered during the lean years. While not quite the Biblical pattern of seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, a cyclical pattern of intensive production followed by a few slack years seems to have been the norm.


Until nearly the end of the 20th century, each period of slump was followed by new sales records when Harris Tweed reasserted its leading role in the textile world. Next week we’ll look at this long and challenging journey and the ups and downs that led to the founding of the Harris Tweed Authority…

The Edinburgh Harris Tweed Ride

Tweed ride poster artwork HI-RES copy 2

In 2011, inspired by like-minded events taking place around the world, the Harris Tweed and bike lovers of Glasgow got together for a day of cycling, Scottish food and drink and, of course, dressing up in their finest Harris Tweed wares. Although tweed rides had taken place in London, New York, Florence, Sydney and Tokyo, to name but a few, this was the first time one had taken place in Scotland. It was also the first time one had taken on the name Harris Tweed and, assured of their good intentions, we were pleased to grant the organisers the rare use of our Orb Mark as part of their logo. Such was the success of the event a second ride was held in 2012 and this year the organisers decided to spread their wings a little further, this time to the capital city of Edinburgh. So last Sunday they did just that and over sixty riders set off on a damp summer day to partake of fine food, drink and music around the city from The Mound to The Meadows. Here are some of the photos from the day…



We really like the ethos of the Harris Tweed Rides, it shows off our cloth in some of the best ways. The riders are always very stylish and make an effort to dress the part but at the same time they’re not wearing outfits or dressing up in costume, these are favourite pieces and worn with aplomb. The rides also show off the practical side of clothing made from the clo mor, perfect for physical activities, whether cycling or sipping cocktails and more than able to cope with any weather, wind rain or shine! We also love the great variety of people attending, from hipsters and bike couriers to Bromley riders and older ladies and gentlemen, all showing off how easily Harris Tweed transcends time and fashion! Well done to all and we’ll be highlighting the upcoming Glasgow 2013 ride in August so keep an eye open and an ear to the ground, meantime why not think about joining us?

All images © Radek Nowacki. All Rights Reserved