Marion Campbell, BEM
It is fitting and very apt that the best known member of this Harris Tweed weaving family – Marion Campbell, BEM – was born in 1909, the same year that gave birth to the Harris Tweed Association.
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.
In her biography of Marion, A Harris Way of Life, Gisela Vogler says, “Her [Marion’s] tweeds were unique in many ways. The quality, the pleasant appearance, the design, and the well-balanced mixture of colours in the yarn together with the comfortable feel of the texture of the cloth made it feel very special. Marion Campbell obtained this by outstanding craftsmanship working in the old traditional way so keeping the tradition of Harris Tweed-making alive. But this process was always rather slow compared with the modern method, and as time went on she found it hard to cope with the ever growing demand for her tweeds.”
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 Plocropool. 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.