The making of a classic Norfolk jacket in Harris Tweed

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It seems like such a long time since I visited the Hebrides on my grand Harris Tweed expedition, though in reality it’s only been 6 months. The memories are still vivid though, as both the experience was wonderful and the photos great. I wrote about the trip previously (part one and part two), so won’t recap too much of that here, but salient pieces bear mentioning again.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my trip was visiting Rebecca Hutton, of Taobh Tuath Tweeds on the Isle of Harris. Rebecca is an independent weaver, so isn’t bound to deliver orders to the main mills, but weaves to own designs and commissions. When I visited Rebecca’s loom shed, i.e. where the threads are woven, the pedals pumped and solitary hours spent, it wasn’t only the well used loom and Rebacca’s sense of humour that caught my attention. On the bench was a bolt of quite remarkable Harris tweed. It wasn’t only that it was deep green from a distance and an explosion of primary colours up close, but also the fact that it was noticeably heavier of weight than usual.

The actual tweed used. A lucky shot really, as it's really difficult to ge the nuances of Harris Tweed on photo. The tweed is by Rebeccan Hutton at Taob Tuath Tweeds on the Isle of Harris.

The actual tweed used. A lucky shot really, as it’s really difficult to ge the nuances of Harris Tweed on photo. The tweed is by Rebeccan Hutton at Taob Tuath Tweeds on the Isle of Harris.

As I was then told, in more distant times Harris tweed was made in a heavier weight than it is today. Let’s call it “vintage weight”. Nowadays this just isn’t available, so imagine my delight when it turned out that this bolt of lustrous green tweed was of such a weight! You know me, always on the lookout for that added touch of different. This tweed came to be when Rebecca discovered a stash of thicker than normal yarn at one of the mills, made for a special project, but now surplus to requirements. So these were brought back to the loom shed and woven into a strictly limited length of tweed. Naturally, I had to have it.

Campbell's have been in business in Beauly since 1858 and now again proudly with a Royal Warrant.

Campbell’s have been in business in Beauly since 1858 and now again proudly with a Royal Warrant.

And I had a plan for what I wanted to do with it. A year earlier when touring Scotland we discovered Campbell’s of Beauly, a family run company of tremendous repute and long standing. I had already commissioned a pair of plus fours, a waistcoat and a deerstalker from Campbell’s, so I was well aware of their talents and quality when it comes to traditional sporting tailoring. Hence instead of flying home from Stornoway, I took the ferry to the mainland and made my way to Beauly, a nice, quiet village outside the touristy chaos of Inverness and Loch Ness.

Stepping into Campbell’s is like stepping back in time. In a good way, mind you. The focus is on traditional garments and gear for the great outdoors, be it hunting, fishing or hiking. They supply the working tweeds to many of the great estates of Scotland, as well as members of the royal family. Well suited, so to speak, to deal with my small request then!

I wanted to turn my length of special tweed into something a little different. Tweed jackets come in many subtle variations, but I needed a larger helping of different. So I had decided on a Norfolk jacket. Now the Norfolk is a classic design, it’s been around in various variants since sometime in the 1800’s. Who actually came up with it is not quite certain, as are the specific details of what it constitutes, but I think most can agree on the following: It hails from Norfolk and was likely invented by someone more than a little high-faluting. Styling wise it has pleats on the front, box pleats on the back to allow for good arm movement, a throat latch to allow the front to be closed and a belt to tighten up the silhouette. Every aspect of the jacket has been varied over time, but that’s the basic look and what is instantly recognisable as a Norfolk jacket.

Having a jacket made to measure is something of a luxury for most people, me included. Most of the time you have a rack of sizes available and have to decide which standard size fits the best. Unless you happen to be the standard size, which statistically some lucky guys are. For the rest of us it’s a question of tight on the chest or long in the arms? Body too short or arms too short? Can it me tailored to fit better? Being measured up for a custom fit should avoid all these issues and while I’d love to try a fully bespoke jacket at some point, for reasons of practicality and cost, this is the level I can do.

Being measured up is an odd experience. Being told to stand naturally, don’t move, try to relax, while two people you’ve just met get a little intimate with the tape measure, is not in my usual daily routine. They even have their own code to describe your natural features in such a way as to avoid insulting you. I overheard mention of a “protruding seat” and had to question this. “Indeed sire, it means your butt sticks out a bit.”. Or words to that effect. It’s a good thing I have a sense of humour and no illusions of litheness. Can I have a brief moment to pull myself together again?

Once measured and tweed delivered though, it’s a waiting game. Bespoke would have meant heading back to Beauly for fittings underway. Made to measure is a leap of faith. And finally the day came when it arrived. I’d like to say it was delivered by a tweed clad lackey on horse, but the truth of the matter was I had to cycle to the post office as usual. Full of expectations I carefully opened the box, stopping momentarily to consider whether I may have built up expectations that could not possibly be met. As we all know, expectations need to be carefully calibrated for them to be delivered upon.

I was not disappointed though. The Harris Tweed was as splendid as I remembered and the jacket is superbly made. It’s an object lesson in the difference between quality tailoring and fitting, and less meticulous work. I’ve previously been over the moon about Campbell’s quality with the plus fours, waistcoat and deerstalker they made for me, and the jacket is as good or better. And it fits! The Norfolk is by it’s very nature not a snug fit, but the shoulders have to be right and the arms the right length.

Two small adjustments that need making, and I’ll handle these myself. The throat tab is a bit tight, so the button needs moving a little. And I asked for the belt to be removable, which was a silly request, but I see now that I won’t be removed and it needs a little help to not sag at the back. Small adjustments, as I said.

All in all, a cracking collaborative effort between Taobh Tuath Tweeds and Campbell’s of Beauly!

And here we have it, one happy owner of a custom made Norfolk jacket in an extraordinary Harris tweed!

And here we have it, one happy owner of a custom made Norfolk jacket in an extraordinary Harris tweed!

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2 Comments

  • wobbly-jelly 25/11/2017 at 19:37

    That’s a nice looking jacket, interesting / different cut / style.

    You need to work on your Prince Charles stance to show it off to it’s best!

    Reply
  • Deanna 25/11/2017 at 22:50

    It’s a really lovely jacket. The tweed is a really beautiful mix of colors. You are lucky to have come across the piece.

    Reply

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