Brain Pickings

Harris Tweed: The Story of the Greatest Cloth of All

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What Scottish sheep have to do with timeless fashion and the humanity of craftsmanship.

Harris Tweed is a unique fabric hand-woven by the islanders on Scotland’s Isles of Harris, Lewis, Uist, and Barra, using local wool and vegetable dyes. Despite its rustic roots, this unusual cloth has risen to international fame, appearing as anything from a premium finish on limited-edition Nike shoes to the attire of choice for celebrated fictional characters like Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, the Doctor from Doctor Who, and Agatha Christie’s detective Miss Marple. Known for its distinctive flecks of color and peculiar scent, produced by the lichen dyes known as “crottle,” Harris Tweed is as much a material as it is a fascinating story about tradition, community, collaboration, and heritage.

In 2010, British photographer and Royal Society of the Arts fellow Lara Platman spent seven months on the islands of Scotland, documenting the intricate human machinery of Harris Tweed production, from the backs of the Blackface and Cheviot sheep to the artisanal looms to the high-end tailors of Savile Row. The result is Harris Tweed: From Land to Street — a stunning large-format tome that captures a group portrait of the men and women who spend their lives and make their living crafting the legendary textile.

'The box room contains all the colours of yarn required for the recipes created by the mill's designer from the colour palette of the mill.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

On a farm in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders, Will and Ruth Dickenson set up maternity wards next to the farmhouse during lambing season. The children play with the newly born lambs and give them names. Along with their extended family, they help look after the lambs.

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

Patrick Grant captures the cloth’s magical tradition and heartfelt humanity in the book’s foreword:

I love the island and I love the people who live there and make the tweed. Harris Tweed is made by enthusiasts, craftsmen and women who understand its history, have had its methods passed on by hand and mouth through generations of their families and their neighbours’ families. This cloth, painstakingly woven, from yarn locally spun, from wool of the local clip, is imbued with something personal and humane that no other textile comes close to possessing. And the wearer, in his or her turn, adds something more to it by the wearing. He softens it and scuffs it and shapes it, cherishes and repairs it, and all in good time he passes it on so that a new owner may enjoy it anew. All of this makes Harris Tweed the greatest cloth of all.”

'Bill Walton is one of the best-known faces in the British wool industry, having worked in the business for the past forty years. He has been responsible for grading wool and helped adapt the new wools going into the Harris Tweed industry, working on the production of carding machines in the new double-width looms.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

'Donald John Mackenzie, one of the younger weavers, tried a number of careers before he thought he would have a go at this one. He likes the fact that weaving is a regular commitment and you know what salary you will achieve if you work a full week. He has a small croft and has written for the local community about the weaving process.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

'Neil Mckinnol came back to Lewis to work as a weaver after working in the Merchant Navy. The work is a change from the traveling he was used to. His shed at Leurbost is large and he has a garage at the front of his property where he keeps the tweeds he has woven, ready for the mail lorries to collect.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

'Donald Murray started weaving in 1987. His shed is very spacious and has great light. There is a top bar on his loom and although his tweed will be checked when it goes back to the mill, he checks it on the bar under the light before it goes.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

'When the weavers have completed their work, the mills' lorries collect the lengths of tweed and bring them back to the mills to be finished. The tweed arrives in bales, which here Donald John Mackenzie is unloading at the Shawbost mill. First the tweed is sent off to be darned. Then it is washed: the process is similar to any domestic wash, and takes place in a big washing tub. Finally it is pressed.'

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

Harris Tweed: From Land to Street. (c) 2011 Frances Lincoln Ltd. and Lara Platman

Ultimately Harris Tweed has transcended fashion in terms of transient trends and been prompted to timeless style. As the tailors of Saville Row will tell you, no wardrobe is complete without an item in Harris Tweed, and this will always be the case.” ~ Guy Hills, Dashing Tweeds

Harris Tweed is a follow-up to Platman’s 2009 book, Art Workers Guild 125 Years: Craftspeople at Work Today, and peels the curtain to an extraordinary subculture that’s equal parts cult, craft, and tradition — a rare self-contained universe that bleeds into our own just enough to hook you with its fascination, but not so much as to lose its mystique.

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What Is Motion Design?

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From the dawn of cinema to Saul Bass to Digital Hollywood in 600 seconds.

From Motion Plus Design, a nonprofit project setting out to create the first exhibition center dedicated to motion design in Paris, comes this wonderful short film on the history of the discipline, from its start right at the dawn of cinema, to its coming of age in the 1940s in the work of experimental artists like Oskar Fishinger and Norman McLaren, to its Golden Age in the 1950s and 60s with icons like Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, to its explosion into omnipresence after the digital revolution.

So where is the boundary between animated film and Motion Design? Although this boundary remains blurred, the distinction lies where traditional animated film features a story in which characters express themselves.”

(See also this 2-minute history of film title sequences.)

For more on the subject, see Jon Krasner’s exhaustive Motion Graphic Design: Applied History and Aesthetics. And for a true treat from the greatest motion designer of all time, you won’t go wrong with the highly anticipated definitive monograph Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, designed by Bass’s daughter Jennifer and written by renowned design historian Pat Kirkham.

via Coudal

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Science Ink: Carl Zimmer Catalogs the Tattoos of Science Nerds

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An anthropology of the geek-rebel, or what astrophysics has to do with the delicacies of the dermis.

Brain Pickings is all about cross-disciplinary curiosity and the unexpected pollination of ideas across different fields. Nowhere does that cross-pollination get more unexpected than between popular science and tattoo culture. That’s exactly what celebrated curiosity monger Carl Zimmer explores in Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed — a weird and wonderful almanac of the lovable geek who immortalized passion for science on their living flesh. Zimmer divides the book into sections around each of the major sciences — math , chemistry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, astronomy, and even an entire chapter on DNA — and uses each tattoo as a meditation pillow from whence to reflect on the science in question with his unmistakeable essay style of intelligent wit.

A foreword by Mary Roach adds the ultimate cherry on top.

The concept for the project was born in 2007, when Zimmer asked his blog readers whether scientists were hiding tattoos of their science. A surprising number stepped up, and Zimmer began posting images of their ink on his blog for Discover Magazine. The rest was history.

Without intending it, I became a curator of tattoos, a scholar of science ink. I began giving people advice about how to best photograph a tattoo. Rule one: don’t take a picture right after you get the tattoo. Shiny, puffy skin does not please the eye. Tattoo enthusiast magazines called to interview me. All in all, it was a strange experience; I have no tattoos of my own and no intention of getting any. But the open question I posed brought a river of pleasures.” ~ Carl Zimmer

Images courtesy of Sterling Publishing

Tasteful, thoughtful, and tantalizing, Science Ink will make you reconcile your inner geek and rebel, then dust off your old science textbooks for mischievous inspiration.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.