Search on for rare Orkney Tweed

Weavers produce Orkney Tweed which was marketed as a legacy of the islands' rich Viking heritage. PIC: Courtesy of Orkney Library and Archive.
Weavers produce Orkney Tweed which was marketed as a legacy of the islands' rich Viking heritage. PIC: Courtesy of Orkney Library and Archive.
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It is perhaps sometimes overlooked given the global success of its counterpart on the Isle of Harris.

But fresh attention is being given to Orkney Tweed, with new attempts to place it on the world stage.

A skirt length of tweed produced under the name Norsaga. The tweed tended to be sold in lengths suitable for making up suits or skirts  which was one of the problems tweed producers faced when the ready-to-wear revolution of the 60s and 70s came along. PIC: Contributed.

A skirt length of tweed produced under the name Norsaga. The tweed tended to be sold in lengths suitable for making up suits or skirts which was one of the problems tweed producers faced when the ready-to-wear revolution of the 60s and 70s came along. PIC: Contributed.

An exhibition will be held in Orkney next week looking at the heritage of the fabric which was marketed as a relic of the islands' Viking past.

Now, Orcadians are being urged to look out any tweed garments held by their families to help tell the story of the cloth as part of an exhibition in Kirkwall that is being organised by Professor Sarah Pedersen, from Robert Gordon University’s School of Creative and Cultural Business in Aberdeen and Professor Andrea Peach of Konstfack University in Stockholm.

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Professor Pedersen said: “During the 20th century, Orkney tweed was acclaimed globally for its lightness and softness and marketed as a legacy of the Vikings.

"While the production of tweed had almost completely died out in Orkney by the end of the First World War, two enterprising businesses had revived the industry by the middle of the century.

Samples from the Orkney Tweed archives, including several vibrantly coloured swatches which were produced in an attempt to come up with modern trends.

Samples from the Orkney Tweed archives, including several vibrantly coloured swatches which were produced in an attempt to come up with modern trends.

"In 1932 R. Garden’s, a department store in Kirkwall, opened a weaving mill called Argarden’s. This was followed after the Second World War by the establishment of the Sclater’s mill, owned by a successful drapery store in the town.

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“By the mid-1970s both Sclaters and Argarden mills had closed on Orkney. The advent of ready-to-wear garments made of cheap synthetic fabrics and the decline of traditional tailoring meant that sales were insufficient to sustain the Orkney tweed industry."

She said there had been attempts to re-establish Orkney tweed as an internationally recognised brand in recent years.

Prof Pedersen added: "Huge cruise ships now arrive in Orkney throughout the summer, bringing over 130,000 tourists - six times the population of the entire Orkney archipelago – all potential purchasers of tweed souvenirs. A trademark for Orkney tweed was registered for the first time in 2015.

“As part of the exhibition about our research into Orkney Tweed’s history, we want to give local people a chance to display their own garments and share their own stories, which will be recorded. We are excited to hear from local people and discover the history behind any tweed they may have had in their families for decades and unearth the stories around who wore it and where it was made.”

The 'Get Your Tweed Out in Orkney will be held on Saturday, November 16 and Professor Pedersen.

Anyone who wants to showcase their garments in the exhibition can meet the organisers in Kirkwall Library and Archives from 2pm on Friday, November 15.

The event is part of Being Human 2019, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities.