You cannot deconstruct unless you know how to construct. - Alexander McQueen

Harris Tweed’s Mark of the Orb permalink

Recalling memories of raising sheep in southern Idaho is a life far removed from the constant city-hopping I’ve done over the past several years. The sheep operation was physically and financially demanding with little free time, but what I miss is my connection with natural surroundings, being part of a greater organic whole. Catherine Campbell, a Harris Tweed cloth producer from the Isle of Harris, relates to me this connection I’ve lost over the years: “Harris Tweed is well known for the colours of the cloth representing the landscape. I think the most beautiful colours are those we see around us, wool blends that have a touch of brown from the hills, yellow and red flecks of flowers, together with hints of purple heather or the different shades of blue, green and turquoise in the sea.”

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Harris Tweed teacosy from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

While Harris Tweed and its famous Orb Mark may be a familiar sight in the UK and Europe, it is virtually unheard of here in the US among the folks of my generation. I am an exception to this because my father maintained our household as a lonely outpost of good taste in southern Idaho back in the day and swore by the quality of the cloth. A couple of years ago I bought a Harris Tweed blazer, the quality uncompromised after all these years. The reason for this is that the Harris Tweed Authority will not stamp the tweeds with the Orb Mark if they do not meet the criteria outlined in the following definition: “Harris Tweed means a tweed which has been hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides” (

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Harris Tweed’s Orb Mark

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Harris Tweed sweater from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

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Harris Tweed cardigan from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

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Harris Tweed Arran sweater from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

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Harris Tweed Arran sweater from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

Harris Tweed is an excellent example of how trademarking preserves traditional quality of craftsmanship and protects local economic interests. The community I grew up in would have done well to see the good sense in this. It is next to impossible anymore to make a living raising sheep or running a family farm in Idaho due, simply, to an inability to protect local economic interests and adapt with changes in consumption. Harris Tweed has changed to meet demands for higher volume and variety with which to make a more diversified range of goods. The introduction of the Hattersley single width loom in the 20s increased production, and more recently the double width loom makes cloth that can be used in new ways. “We are continuing to weave on the traditional Hattersley single width looms which are suitable for the medium and heavy tweeds. The new double width looms were introduced to make the softer, lighter and wider tweed. I believe these new looms opened up a whole new market for children’s wear, toys, etc. Originally Harris Tweed was dark, rough and sometimes too heavy for some people to wear or use but now it is suitable for all ages and for many home furnishings.”

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traditional herringbone tweed from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

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teddy bears from Harris Tweed and Knitwear

Tweed made many appearances in the a/w 2006-7 shows, taking the form of dependable looks from Chanel as well as interesting volumes from Lutz and Kenzo. In the future Campbell will be offering a range of women’s wear alongside the men’s and children’s lines that are available now. “[W]e are sourcing manufacturers who will produce well designed, beautiful garments in the tweed. I admire the traditional country styles but at the same time I like to see the tweed garments with a difference. It is a large commitment to provide a large variety of sizes and garments for a small business like ours but hopefully all will come together soon for us.”

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Kenzo a/w 2006-7

Campbell and her fellow producers of Harris Tweed offer a product that is reassuring in its consistently high quality – a hard thing to come by anymore. Her willingness to explore new possibilities for the cloth ensures its staying power in the marketplace. “We do hope to expand the lines of learning toys in tweed and are currently working on a variety of toys for different ages. We also have many other ideas for the cloth and are having the tweed at present tested for its suitability.”

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2 Responses to “Harris Tweed’s Mark of the Orb” 

  1. kenzo children Says:

    Love the teddy bears! Agreed about the most beautiful colours being those in nature. Shame we cant wear them all at once without looking insane, though!

  2. Dooley Le Cappellaine Says:

    Do you have cardigans?

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