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The painstaking beauty of Scotland's Harris Tweed
You'll be looking at that blanket in a whole new light
 

As Scotland inches closer to a referendum which will determine whether it strikes out as an independent country, one cottage industry remains as classic to the region as ever.

Those who journey to the Outer Hebrides will find Harris Tweed, a fabric woven into the culture and very geography of the Isle of Lewis. Required by an Act of Parliament to weave the iconic tweed sans automated machinery, only Outer Hebrides islanders are allowed to create the cloth — and they must do the actual weaving in their homes. A cottage industry, indeed.

Below, the tweed's journey — from its first wild moments on the highlands to landing on department shelves — in photos.

A sheep and a lamb stand near the Callanish Stones. The tweed journey begins with huge bales of 100 percent pure new wool arriving at the Harris Tweed mills. | (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



First, the bales are dyed at one of three Harris Tweed mills on the Isle of Lewis. | (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)



Then, the bales can be blended to create an almost infinite number of potential shades. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



After the bales of wool are straightened and sorted into individual fibers to get the right consistency, the fiber is spun into yarn on spinning frames. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



The threads are then arranged in groups on a warping frame in lengths that vary from just a few yards for a single garment to up to 80 yards. After they have been laid out, the warping threads are wound up into "hanks" and sent to the weavers' homes. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



To this day, every inch of Harris Tweed is produced by human power alone. Here, Malcolm John Macleod works on a Hattersley loom, which produces single-width cloth. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



Setting up the loom can be one of the most painstaking and time-consuming tasks, which includes hand-tying the new yarns to the tail-ends of the previous weave, as John Murdo Macdonald does here on a double-width loom. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



Islanders weave the actual "Big Cloth" in their homes. Here, Derek Macleod weaves in his shed, in Lewis. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



When the weavers are done, the cloth returns to the mills for inspection. First the cloth is scrutinized for slight errors that are mended. Then, it's washed to remove all the remaining impurities and oils. After the cloth is cleaned it gets a good beating, or "waulking," which makes the cloth thicker and softer. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)



After a few more inspections and the all-clear, the patterned cloth will receive the Harris Tweed trademark label. Then, finally, it's off to the masses to be worn, wrapped, and cuddled. | (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

 
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