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Highland romance or Viking saga?

Pedersen, Sarah; Peach, Andrea


Sarah Pedersen

Andrea Peach


Few have heard of Orkney tweed today, but in the mid-twentieth century it was as well known as Harris Tweed, and praised for its soft and light characteristics. This article investigates the rise and fall of Orkney tweed and suggests that its decline in the 1960s can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the advent of synthetic, ready-to-wear clothing, but also problems inherent in the mixed marketing messages around the textile. While the main producers of Orkney tweed emphasised the Viking connections of the Orkney islands and their product, the fashion media and overseas customers were more comfortable with positioning Orkney tweed within a stereotypic context of Scottish romanticism, in which Orkney tweed became interchangeable – and replaceable - with all Scottish tweeds. Contemporary attempts to re-establish tweed production on the Orkney Islands have rejected both approaches, focusing instead on the ‘natural’ properties of the fabric and the production of easily portable souvenirs.

Journal Article Type Article
Journal Journal of design history
Print ISSN 0952-4649
Electronic ISSN 1741-7279
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Institution Citation PEDERSEN, S. and PEACH, A. 2018. Highland romance or Viking saga? The contradictory branding of Orkney Tweed in the twentieth century. Journal of design history [online], Advance articles. Available from:
Keywords Textile design and manufacture; Branding; Scotland; Twentieth century; Cultural nationalism; National identity


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