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Tweed is a substance that actually delivers the experience that advertisers promise for all consumer goods: to be in the presence of the stuff is somehow to feel closer to the romantic environment it springs from. We long to experience the lonely moor, to tramp the heathery hillside, to be at one with the wide-open space. Touch some tweed, wrap it around your torso, press its hairiness to your face and take a big sniff, and you are part of the land.
Tweed is the landscape in woven form. To wear it in an urban place is to be constantly reminded of that better, cleaner alternative.
I’ve visited Ardalanish Tweed twice before, but always to work. Last week I was there to acquire the stuff. The weaving shed looks out on four miles of coastline at the bottom left-hand corner of the Isle of Mull. It’s a landscape a teenager might describe as desolate, but the older visitor, who has seen pre-hipster East London and knows a bit about wastelands, would call it magical.
Isolation is an advantage because the Dobcross power looms within the shed are louder than a Gatling gun in an echo chamber. Ancient but lovingly greased up, they stutter out a double width of cloth that comes in any colour the heart desires, as long as it’s chocolate brown, or a softer variation of it.
The sheep, you see, are black, as nature intended, and graze on salty grasses free from pesticides. The wool is strong, not as wiry as pre-lapsarian Harris or as soft as cashmere-augmented Breanish, but with a comfortingly sturdy handle. My two metres will be trousering before the chill of Autumn makes them essential kit.
I remember first meeting the man who made this textile world-renowned in Patrick Grant’s atelier on Savile Row. The tailor stocked a few bolts of his darker weaves, and Aeneas McKay had dropped by to see the swatches in situ. He was smart in pressed slacks and Tattersall shirtsleeves, but clearly a fish out of water. 500 miles from home, he talked softly about the tweed. Mr. Grant and I were due on the island in a few weeks’ time, but looking into the farmer’s horizon blue eyes, I could see he was back there already. In fact he’d never really left at all.