I've been reading Lara Platman's book Harris Tweed: From Land to Street, a photographic record of a year spent on Lewis and Harris recording every step in the process of the making of the tweed from the rearing of the sheep to the stamping of the finished cloth with the famous orb symbol, and beyond to the tailors of Savile Row and the catwalks of London Fashion Week.
The book's Foreword is by Patrick Grant, proprietor of Norton & Sons (and of course judge on The Great British Sewing Bee). He is a champion of the cloth having worn it first at school here in Edinburgh, and he recalls his pale green tweed jacket: "we wore it in winter, and when it rained the top deck of the number 23 bus would smell like wet dog. We wore it in the full heat of the Scottish summer, when it became goal post and impromptu blanket. And it never faltered."
Son-of-Cornflower went to the same school as Patrick Grant and wore that green Harris Tweed jacket, and I can attest to its hardiness, even when the rough and tumble of the school yards meant an occasional darn was needed. It was a sad day when that distinguished-looking garment was 'retired' in favour of a bland blue blazer.
Back to the book, and to the Hebridean island where the tweed is made, and I am fortunate to have visited several of the locations pictured in it on my visits to Lewis/Harris. I've been twice to the weaving shed of Mr. MacLean at Garynahine Harris Tweed - see posts here and here. Patrick Grant buys tweed from Garynahine, and so (on a rather smaller scale) have we, having a great jacket made in it. I've also been to Carloway Mill for a tour and a look at the complex process the fleece goes through to turn it into yarn ready for weaving; I referred in that post on the mill to the finished tweed being brushed with a switch of some plant material, well I now know from the book that the brush in question is handmade from straw, like a little broom, and is used chiefly "when a quantity of dark, plain-patterned weaves is being produced, to remove any light flecks of wool".
What the book shows is not just the making of the tweed but the people who create it - as Patrick Grant says, "this cloth, painstakingly woven, from yarn locally spun, from wool of the local clip, is imbued with something personal and humane that no other textile comes close to possessing." He goes on, "and the wearer, in his or her turn, adds something more to it by the wearing. He softens it and scuffs it and shapes it, cherishes and repairs it [see above], and all in good time he passes it on so that a new owner may enjoy it. All of this makes Harris Tweed the greatest cloth of all."
By the way, if you're interested in smaller Harris Tweed items, do have a look at Pauline Lothian's lovely products.