The Harris Tweed® Journal

Catherine Aitken

15th December

Edinburgh-based Catherine Aitken was working in Film and Television when a ‘strange little manoeuvre’ resulted in a change of career. As part of a documentary promotion, she created some Harris Tweed® bags. From this small move, she found herself no longer producing films but instead producing bespoke Harris Tweed® bags.

It wasn’t always like this. Catherine admits she hated tweed for a long time. Why, you ask? Well, she grew up in what she describes as a ‘tweedy family’ with a grandmother who was a maker and an uncle who was a kiltmaker. She remembers family photos where everyone was decked out in tweed. Perhaps it was too normal, unlike the promise of glamour that drew her into working on films.

It was later in life that she fell back in love with Harris Tweed®. On a tour to the Outer Hebrides, she made the fatal mistake of visiting weaver Donald John Mackay in Luskentyre. She returned home armed with handfuls of Harris Tweed® cloth.

Now, some of her designs draw inspiration from classic Hollywood stars. The Hepburn Backpack (like Katharine) is, in her words, decidedly ‘not delineated’ – finding a modern line between masculine and feminine cuts. The Hayworth Handbag, on the other hand, is resolutely womanly (inspired by the cinched waist of Rita) with an extra leather strap that pulls it into elegant shape.

Other designs suggest adventures abroad – with names like Wanderlust, Shackleton, Hobo and Voyager. Catherine likes the idea of travelling with ‘knapsack on your back,’ moved by the hardiness of Harris Tweed® cloth and its ‘emotional connection to the earth.’

Whilst her designs conjure up romantic notions of adventure and glamour, her colour choices are the earthy tones that reflect landscape and enduring classics like the grey herringbone (plus the occasional splash of orange to mix things up).

Alongside her new designs, she also offers a Renaissance service, part-Punk, part-Restoration, creating bespoke pieces from old Harris Tweed® items. For example, a bag might be made from the treasured jacket of a long lost loved one. Perhaps the particular physical and emotional connection imbued in these pieces in some way stirs to life those warm memories of a ‘tweedy family’ in faded pictures.

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