A wee bit of Scotland in my living room

I’ve never really bothered to sew homewares, despite my best intention when we bought our house (3 years ago, eek). Curtains and cushion covers are just so boring to make, I keep getting distracted by making clothes! However, when we were planning our trip to the UK last year I really wanted us to go out to the Outer Hebrides, and I knew that we couldn’t visit Lewis and Harris without buying some Harris Tweed (or some Harris gin!). Because I’m not made of money (and I had luggage restrictions), I knew that I would only be buying a small amount, so I had to suck it up and sew some cushion covers!

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We arrived in Stornoway on Saturday, and drove straight down to Tarbert in Harris to visit the Tweed shop and the Harris distillery. The drive was magnificent, suitably dramatic skies, terrifyingly winding single track roads, and lots of sheep. it was a bit like driving around some of the wilder parts of New Zealand, but everything felt much older and more worn in. I was stunned by the beaches, I knew that Harris was known for it’s white sand beaches but it was still a surprise to drive a round a bend and see them laid out before us! We visited the distillery first, and unfortunately were unable to do a tour, but we did some gin tasting (and buying), and read about the formation of the distillery. They won’t have any whisky available for several more years, so they’re making delicious gin in the meantime! Then we crossed the carpark to the Harris Tweed shop

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…which was amazing! It’s a tiny little place, absolutely packed to the ceiling with bolt after bolt of tweed. I had a good chat to the man who was looking after the shop, and he gave me a quick demonstration of Harris tweed weaving, using the type of loom which the tweed used to be woven on (a newer style of loom has been used since the 1990’s which can make a wider cloth, more suitable to the modern garment trade). I initially had the impression that there was a factory on Harris that I would be able to visit to see the tweed being woven, but he explained that to be given the official Harris Tweed stamp of authority the tweed all had to be produced by hand in the weavers home. At that point I began to think that £40p/m was pretty reasonable! That meant that any tweed which came off the loom in the shop (pictured above) couldn’t be called Harris Tweed, as it was woven on commercial premises. We could have organised to visit one of the weavers homes and see them at work, which would have been amazing, but unfortunately we were there over the weekend and there are pretty strict rules about what can be done on a Sunday out on the Islands…I’ve done a bit more reading about the rules around the Harris Tweed authority, and originally everything had to be done on Lewis and Harris, from shearing the sheep to the weavers sorting, carding, spinning and dyeing the wool themselves. Now the wool can come from the islands or the Scottish mainland, and the processing, dyeing and spinning of the yarn is done in mills on the islands before being sent to the weavers homes to be made into tweed. (I read Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young and Ann Martin for extra information on Harris Tweed)

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In the end, we settled on a mustard tweed, with a pale blue, terracotta and white tartan pattern. It had to go on our grey couches and not clash with our mustard rug, so I think we picked pretty well! I backed the cushions with a beautiful pale grey heavyweight linen from The Fabric Store, and I love the contrast in textures between the coarse, nubbly wool and the smooth linen, but I also love that the weave pattern is so visible in each fabric. I’m glad I decided to back them with a different fabric, as the tweed is pretty scratchy and I can flip them over to the linen side if I’m lounging on the couch with them under my head. They gave us three official Harris Tweed labels to sew onto the finished cushions, which I love. No knock-off tweed here!

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I’m really happy with how they’ve turned out, I used all of the 1/2m of fabric we bought so they’re good big cushions and they’re really squashy and comfortable! I love having such a visual reminder of our trip to such an awesome place, fabric really does make the best souvenirs. And sewing cushion covers turned out to be a pretty simple task, I think I probably managed to sew all three in a couple of hours. I guess that means I should start thinking about sewing some nice new curtains for all the huge windows in our living area…



21 thoughts on “A wee bit of Scotland in my living room

  1. Excellent story, I love tweed, Harris or otherwise. I’m fairly certain that there is more to the Harris Tweed story; in that a industrialist from the midlands, (I think), bought the dyeing process, or enough of it to severely interfere with the running of the process. I believe he limits the colours he dyes and the cloth he sells to the weavers and himself sells jackets only in three very boring colours, which is anathema as Harris Tweed was renowned for it’s multiplicity of available colours. I love your cushions and the colours used, long may someone continue to attain and weave these beautiful cloths.

    1. There was something about that in the Tartan and Tweed book I was reading, he bought the mill in Stornoway and stopped his weavers making cloth to order, they just made enough tweed in a restricted number of patterns to fill the orders for the men’s jacket market. That’s stopped now though, I think the mill has changed hands again. The other mills on the islands were still making tweed in all sorts of colours and patterns though, which was good for the whole industry as the smaller mills suddenly got all of the bespoke work that the bigger mill in Stornoway was turning away!

  2. They look so great! Fab choice of colours. While on the subject of “when in Rome”…I am going to Hong Kong and Shanghai later this month – do you know of any bloggers who have written on shopping for fabric there recently? Thanks!

      1. Thank you! There is also a fabric district in Kowloon so I will be RUNNING there the minute my job gives me some free time!

  3. I love these so much. I can relate to sewing homewares though. I eventually purchased some handmade shearing cushions from local artist. That tweed is fabulous, Harris has such wonderful colours. I would love to find some for a blazer.

  4. You picked the most fabulous tweed for those cushions. I loved Scotland too when we visited. We don’t get to the outer Hebrides (next time!) but there was a mill on Islay that had a similarly wonderful selection of tweeds.

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