Celebrating Harris Tweed’s status across the globe

A Scottish craft was celebrated on a global stage last week, when the Outer Hebrides was awarded World Craft City status for Harris Tweed.

For the first time in 15 years, an international delegation of leaders from the world of craft arrived in Scotland for the World Craft Council (Europe) General Assembly. Held on Wednesday 6 June the delegation was welcomed at a special reception at Edinburgh Castle celebrating the breadth and depth of what Scottish craft has to offer.

The reception hosted by the Scottish Government, on behalf of Craft Scotland, was also an opportunity to celebrate the award of World Crafts Council Craft City region of Outer Hebrides for Harris Tweed.

The World Crafts Council welcomed the region to the network of world craft cities – a complementary contribution to the UNESCO Creative Cities programme. As one of only two recipients in Europe, the award recognises the importance of Harris Tweed and its relationship with the region.

Harris Tweed is unique – the only commercially produced hand woven fabric in the world. Renowned globally, the famous Harris Tweed Orb mark guarantees that the cloth is: ‘made from pure virgin wool dyed, spun and hand woven by islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides.’

The production of Harris Tweed is central to the islands’ economic wellbeing, with the sector providing over 50% of manufacturing jobs, providing a mainstay of employment in EU designated fragile economic areas. It supports an active artisan sector in the Outer Hebrides, with designers creating products for international markets, generating revenue for local retailers, and supporting the wider tourism industry.

The award cements Scotland’s reputation as a destination for world class design-led contemporary craft.

To further support the sector, the Craft Scotland Annual Conference took place at the end of last week, where craft professionals and international delegates gathered for a series of talks and workshop events to share knowledge and learn best practice.

Speakers included Commonwealth 2014 textile designer Jilli Blackwood, jewellery artist Felieke van der Leest and curator Lars Sture from Norwegian Crafts.

Craft Scotland director Fiona Logue said: ‘Hosting the General Assembly of the World Craft Council (Europe) signifies our standing in an international context. It is particularly apt that we have been able to celebrate the Outer Hebrides being awarded World Craft City Region status for Harris Tweed.’

Lorna Macaulay, Chief Executive, Harris Tweed Authority said: ‘The Harris Tweed Authority, on behalf of the wider Harris Tweed sector here in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are delighted to accept this prestigious international designation as a “World Craft City”.

‘Whilst the Outer Hebrides is of course not a city, our island community punches well above its weight in terms of the reputation of Harris Tweed globally and its importance to the history, culture and economy of our island home.

‘The Harris Tweed Authority’s application to and adjudication by the World Craft Council was thorough and required that we met the highest standards of craftsmanship and skill. This award recognises that the skill and craft of the current generation of weavers, mill workers, designers and makers for whom Harris Tweed cloth and Harris tweed products are not just made by their hands, but also courses through their blood.’

Rosy Greenlees, executive director, Crafts Council said: ‘I am delighted that the region of the Outer Hebrides has been recognised for its Harris Tweed as part of the World Crafts Council Craft Cities programme.

‘Across the globe there are clusters of the most incredible artisans and makers producing stunning craft. From the horsehair work in Rari in Chile to the natural indigo dying of Sakon Nakhon in Thailand and from the crafts of Hebron in Palestine to those of the island of Bornholm in Denmark their commitment to sustaining their heritage and craft is to be applauded. The WCC’s programme aims to profile and celebrate this excellence in a growing network of over 20 designated Craft Cities.’

The official title ‘World Crafts Council Craft City region of Outer Hebrides for Harris Tweed’ is the first ever UK entry into this celebrated cities network.

Following an application by the Harris Tweed Authority supported by Craft Scotland the bid was rigorously assessed by an independent panel of craft specialists and the World Crafts Council Board. The Outer Hebrides is now the 24th and newest member of the network.