Weaving together Harris Tweed history and future

An eighteen month, £100,000 project designed to reconnect the textile industries of the outer Hebrides and the Scottish Borders and support the Harris Tweed industry, has been described as a great success as the industry attracts new interest.

The Creative Futures project aimed to reflect the culture and history of the fabric as well as laying foundations for its future success. It worked to overturn a spiral of pessimism and slow decline for Harris Tweed which began in the mid-1980s, with the collapse of the North American market.

In recent years the cloth has seen a great resurgence, with both its enduring qualities and craft tradition recognised. Harris Tweed is now a fabric of choice for young designers as well as for the fishing and shooting clientele; it is popular with young and old and for interiors and accessories as well as on the catwalks.

The Creative Futures project involved Harris Tweed Hebrides, the School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University’s Scottish Borders Campus and was supported by Creative Scotland. It aimed to add another dimension to a turnaround in the Harris Tweed industry. The project team included Alison Harley, Creative Director at the School of Textiles and Design (TEX) at Heriot-Watt’s Scottish Borders Campus; Jim McVee, Business Manager at TEX, and consultant MaggieMarr who was Project Manager.

A series of residences and workshops took place in the Scottish Borders and the Outer Hebrides to explore innovative approaches to marketing, textile technology, design and manufacturing.Creative Futures also stimulated ideas around the development of the Harris Tweed Sector and explored new networks with Scottish textiles companies.

Brian Wilson, Chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides, said that the collaboration had been a timely intervention and support for the newly resurgent industry.

“It is essential to our industry’s success that it continues to be exposed to new ideas, modern technology and an awareness of what is happening elsewhere in the textiles world. It is particularly important that younger people, who increasingly make up the Harris Tweed Hebrides workforce, are aware of the wider industry they are part of and the opportunities it presents.”

Alison Harley, Creative Director at Heriot-Watt University said that the project recognised the deep family bonds and personal memories behind a cloth which has been part of the Outer Hebrides since the 19th century.

“The collaboration between Harris Tweed Hebrides and the School of Textiles and Design has enabled careful reflection on what makes a creative and sustainable future for Harris Tweed that is also mindful of its past. Today there is a remarkable optimism from those directly involved in the making and production of the cloth. This is testimony to those who continue to work in the transfer of tacit knowledge from experienced minds to the next generation.

“The project would not have succeeded without the willingness of the many Scottish companies and individuals who hosted industry visits and sessions.”

Helena Ward, Portfolio Manager Creative Industries and Skills at Creative Scotland, said,

 “Our vision, in partnership with colleagues on the Creative Futures project, is for the Outer Hebrides to become a nationally and internationally recognised creative cluster, maximising the economic and social contribution of its rich creative and cultural heritage, people, content, products and services.”

A book has been published outlining and celebrating the Creative Futures project and the people involved in Harris Tweed Hebrides. It describes the intangible and cultural heritage of the Harris Tweed story that unites people and place, and their deep family bonds and personal memories enrich the history and folklore of a cloth that has been part of the Outer Hebrides since the nineteenth-century.

 A book about the Creative Futures is available on request from Jim McVee at Heriot-Watt University: J.McVee@hw.ac.uk.

The video relating to the project, seen above, can also be viewed at: https://youtu.be/7olEs6wZ-M8

For further information please contact: Barbara Fraser, Barbara.fraser@pagodapr.com, 0131 556 0770


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