The story of my tweed cap

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How many life memories are enclosed in our clothes? In how many places, encounters and special moments our garments accompanied us? And how other stories are waiting to be discovered, and can connect us with our garments' past, the people who created, designed, and brought them into the market?

In this story, I started to weave the invisible yarn that connects my tweed cap with other places, people, and times. A journey that led me from an island to another island, discovering unexpected connections between the present and the past.

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This is the story of my Harris Tweed cap, and the unexpected connections I discovered on the way...

This is the story of my Harris Tweed cap, and the unexpected connections I discovered by weaving its memories...

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I bought this flat cap in a wool shop in Cambridge. It was early December and the city was dazzling with Christmas lights: I remember a Salvation Army Brass Band playing Christmas carols. It was a very special moment to me, although these songs were not part of my childhood, their atmosphere enchanted me.

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Edinburgh Woollen Mill On the corner of Sidney Street and Green Street. Wikimedia Commons

Walking in Sidney Street with my husband, I noticed a little shop, ‘The Edinburgh Woollen Mill’. I have been researching history of textile mills all over the year and I was hoping to find some woollen garment that I could keep as a tangible memory of my research experience. This soft flat hat of tweed, with a small peaked brim at the front, immediately captured my attention. Its shape and texture reminded me of the sicilian ‘coppola’, a type of hat which has become an iconic symbol of Sicily, my mother birth place. I love hats, and despite I always wanted to have a coppola, I have never found the right one. I tried it, and just loved it. And I brought it with me in my journey to Sicily to visit my parents, a couple of days later.

Stefania Zardini Lacedelli — 1 year ago

Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) was founded in 1946 by Drew Stevenson as the Langholm Dyeing and Finishing Company Limited, dyeing wool yarn to order. The first retail store was opened in Edinburgh, in 1970, followed by the first English store in Carlisle in 1972.

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The seaside of my childhood: Alcamo Marina.

Every year since I was born, I have always visited my mother’s town, Alcamo, in the province of Trapani. This year has been quite lifechanging for my husband and I: a new job, a new English home in Hitchin, the completion of my PhD. So, we couldn’t go to Sicily over the summer, as we have done in the past years. This is an important detail in this story, as I would not have brought a tweed hat with me in July or August. But this is exactly how the hat accompanied me to discover something I have never seen before: the Sicilian sea in winter.

Such fascinating experience. Each day of the year the sea shows a different personality, you just feel it. It’s like wearing a different hat. On that day, the sea was windy and roguish. With our best intentions, my parents and I wore waterproof boots, but when the sea wants to play, there is nothing you can do. And we ended up by walking without shoes in the sand, just like in summer.

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The 'arancine' are typical Sicilian rice balls that stuffed, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. It is tradition to eat them especially on the day of Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia). It is known that on the 13th December 1646 Santa Lucia saved Sicily from a period of famine where it was said a ship arrived loaded with wheat to the ports of Palermo & Siracusa. To commemorate this event, on this day flour products are usually not eaten and everyone buy or make 'Arancine' at home.

The last day before coming back, I went to a bakery to buy the famous ‘arancine’. The saleswomen were very friendly and welcoming, with this warm, familiar attitude that often sicilians have. My clothing, and especially my hat, intrigued them, and they ended up saying ‘You don’t live in Italy anymore, do you? Your clothes say you came from another place!’ I explained them my Italian origins, and the fact that I was now living in UK. Going home, I reflected on the fact that every place we live, and love, became part of us, and our garments just reflect this. When we experience a different culture for enough time, we absorb the elements we feel close to our attitude and spirit. It is our life experience that connects these elements together, and make us who we are. Like my new Scottish cap…. I was so excited to have brought a piece of my new life in UK in Sicily…And yet, I could not have imagined that, many years before, this journey had been already done. A journey that, like a yarn, connected these two islands.

Stefania Zardini Lacedelli — 1 year ago

This reflection brought me back to the first experiment we developed in the textile pilot, inspired by the Ricciardo Sisters. Their story also mentions cultural integration and multilayered identity: https://congruenceengine.community/stories/6

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The coppola is a traditional kind of flat cap typically worn in Sicily and Calabria and has become an iconic symbol of Sicilian or Calabrian heritage. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In collecting the material for this story on Yarn, I wanted to include an image of the Sicilian Coppola, so I went to Wikipedia. And I made a very interesting discovery… A popular theory dates back the diffusion of Coppola in Sicily to the end of 19th century, when a number of English families settled in this region bringing their costumes and clothes.

Stefania Zardini Lacedelli — 1 year ago

This is the Wikipedia page I mentioned: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppola_cap Despite the coppola has become an iconic symbol of Sicilian and Calabrian heritage, I am not aware of any museum of Coppola caps in Italy. Wouldn't be amazing to create one?

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Man's flat tweed cap, made by Dunn & Co., Great Britain, ca. 1950. From the V&A textile collections:
https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O366265/hat-dunn--co/

You can imagine my surprise when, months later of my journey to Alcamo, I discovered this fascinating connection between my Sicilian origins and the textile history I have been researching for the entire year in the Congruence Engine project. Despite this historical reconstruction is not certain, the similarity is evident. Just look at this man cap in the V&A collection.

Stefania Zardini Lacedelli — 1 year ago

After sharing this story with Simon, he sent me this link to further explore the connections between the flat caps and working culture: http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/making-a-statement.html

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The apparel tag of my hat, including the trademark of the Harris Tweed Authority.

This discovery excited me, and made me realized that, despite this cap was already collecting so many personal memories, I didn’t know much about its previous story. Where does it come from? What is the story behind its tweed? I decided I wanted to know more, and I looked at the apparel tag. And I discovered that another island was part of this story.

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Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave), performed by the London Symphony Orchestra directed by Claudio Abbado.

The apparel tag saying ‘Harris Tweed from Outer Hebrides’ intrigued me even more. I have always had a clear mental image of the Hebrides, despite having never being there. My only knowledge of Hebrides comes from a musical piece, Mendelssohn’s Ouverture inspired by the ‘Fingal’s Cave’.

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Initial sketch for the theme of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, found in a letter dated August 7, 1829 - original in the Music Division of the New York Public Library.

Just listening to this music, I can imagine the colours and shape of the landscape. I can see the sea weaves agitating, and I can feel the wind blowing through the cliffs. I have always loved this piece. It is so dramatic, but at the same time there is a dynamic peacefulness in it. A lonely beauty that awaits to be discovered. And this is another surprising fact I learnt while I was writing this story… The opening phrase of the piece was composed during Mendelssohn’s travel to Scotland, and first appeared in a letter to his sister Fanny.

“In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.”

A sonic postcard, to describe the landscape not using words, but notes.

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Video from the Harris Tweed Hebrides, one of the existing mill in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The mill manufactures its handwoven fabric in accordance with The Harris Tweed Act 1993, maintaining the integrity and distinctive character of the fabric recognised globally as Harris Tweed®.

The company works with over 120 home weavers based throughout the Isle of Lewis and Harris, providing sustainable rural employment to home weavers who live in the most remote communities on the islands.

The Harris Tweed fabric originates from the romance and struggle beautifully expressed by Mendelssohn. To protect themselves from the harsh and unpredictable climate of these islands, their inhabitants have hand-woven cloth from the wool of their own sheep. It is still possible to see three mills in production, and weavers at work.

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Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore (31 October 1814 – 12 February 1886), was an English peeress and promoter of Harris Tweed. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Today Harris Tweed is one the world’s most luxurious wool fabric, and it is the only fabric to be protected by an Act of Parliament and statutory body, the Harris Tweed Authority, which visits the mills before applying the trademark which appears in my cap. Behind the transformation from a local, sustenance product to a world-wide successful commercial fabric, there was the entrepreneurial eye of a woman: Lady Catherine Herbert, Countess of Dunmore. In the age of Industrial Revolution, she was able to recognize the marketing potential of this high-quality tweed, and she introduced it to her aristocracy circles and London markets, guiding the weavers’ skills to bring the production in line with the machine-made cloth.

Stefania Zardini Lacedelli — 1 year ago

See the Harris Tweed Authority Website: https://www.harristweed.org/

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Bradford Industrial Museum Photographic Archive.

There isn’t an end in this story, as my cap, and its tweed, will continue to weave new and old memories. But by following a little piece of this endless thread, I realized how the yarns that make garments are not only the ones we can touch. There is an invisible thread that connect the stories of those who wear clothes, with the stories of those who create, design, and bring them into the market. The apparel tag can give us a hint of our garments’ past, but it is us that can weave their stories. We just need to follow the thread, and be ready to discover unexpected connections…

Arran Rees — 1 year ago

I was listening in on a lunchtime lecture today at the Science Museum. The SMG Gender and Sexuality Network are running a series of seminars throughout January, and one today happened to look gender, gender nonconformity and woollen hats. Kit Heyam is one of the authors of the Gendering the Museum toolkit, and talked through the story of the gender ascribed to hats in Medieval England. The case of the gendered hat, and the scandals of the people who were assigned female-at-birth who wore hats during this period are accounted for in this report: https://kitheyam.files.wordpress.com/2022/12/final-gendering-the-museum-toolkit.pdf (pages 6-9).