By Iain A MacSween
They say that if you want to find something truly special, then you have to be willing to spend some time looking.
It’s certainly the case for a special Harris Tweed exhibition in thew village of Drinishader, in Harris, run by Catherine Campbell.
For tucked away in what was once the village school is a display of huge sentimental value, detailing the life and tweeds of the legendary Marion Campbell.
Born in 1909, Marion is remembered as an icon of Harris Tweed weaving. She first sat at a loom at the tender age of 14. Before turning 21, she had won a Harris Tweed Association design competition, beating off older more experienced weavers to pick up first prize and a handsome reward of 20 guineas. Her gift for design and colour ensured this was only the start of Marion’s success and rise to prominence as an exemplar of the craft of Harris Tweed weaving.
What made Marion’s tweeds so special was the fact that she oversaw and conducted the entire process herself, from raising the sheep that provided the wool, spinning and dyeing the yarn for her loom right through to the finished tweed length.
The one thing that was outwith her personal control was the stamping of her tweeds with the world-famous Orb Mark. This was the sole preserve of the Harris Tweed Association inspector.
Sixty years after she first started weaving Marion was still making tweeds in the manner of her youth. During the summer months especially, there was a constant stream of visitors to her loom shed in Plocrapool. They came from all over the world having seen Marion featured in magazine and newspaper articles or on TV programmes. In 1987, for example, more than 800 tourists pitched up at her door hoping to see Marion at her loom and buy some Harris Tweed for a tweed jacket or tweed skirt.
In effect, Marion was a one-woman marketing campaign for the Islands, a fact that was recognised not only locally but nationally too. Her decades as an ambassador for Harris Tweed and the Western Isles earned her a British Empire Medal in the 1985 Queen’s New Year Honours List. The honour was to mark her lifelong service to the Harris Tweed industry.
Typically, Marion insisted the honour was not for her, but for the whole of Harris and turned down the trip to Buckingham Palace. Instead, the medal was presented to her in Harris.
Marion continued working in the traditional manner of the Harris Tweed weaver until into her eighties. She died on January 6, 1996 at the age of 86.
Marion’s nephew Alistair (Mor) Campbell was also a weaver. Alistair, like his aunt Marion, had an eye for design and together with his wife Katie also provided weaving demonstrations to visitors and bus parties in Ploclapool. Visitors then had the opportunity to purchase tweed, wool and woollen items on the premises.
Alistair was weaving until the age of 71 but sadly died in November 1995.
Alistair’s wife Katie and daughter Catherine continued the family tradition but sadly Katie passed away in January 2010. Catherine says “Sometimes it’s very hard to continue the work without the ones who brought you up to learn, love and live for it. However if you give up then you give up all that inspired them and yourself.”