Now that I’ve been able to get through to the Way Back Machine, I’ve done the requisite poking around.
The harris-tweed.co.uk domain name is currently listed as being registered in the name of Donald Macleod Ltd. Now, if you recall your Alice, the spinner that she found to produce a suitably soft knitting yarn in the grand manner of Harris production was a gentleman by the name of Donald Macleod.
Back in 2001, the website read:
Donald MacLeod Ltd is a Harris Tweed producer based on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, located off the West Coast of Scotland. Our Company is the most innovative producer of Harris Tweed and our size gives us the flexibility to move with the changing demands of the fashion and textile worlds. Not only do we produce traditional Harris Tweed, but we have developed a new, ultra lightweight BabysoftTM Harris Tweed to compliment our existing range.
The contact information at the footer of the website pages read:
Donald Macleod Ltd. Carloway Mills, Isle of Lewis, Scotland HS2 9AG
In 2002, a minor change was made to the copy on the website played up the inspiration of the island landscape:
Donald MacLeod Ltd is a wholesale Harris Tweed producer based in Carloway, Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Located off the North West Coast of Scotland these rugged islands offer our designers an endless source of inspiration for colour matching and blending our seasonal collections. Not only do we produce traditional Harris Tweed Qualities, but we have recently developed the ultimate in “Pure Luxury From Nature”, ultra light BabysoftTM Harris Tweed, the lightest, softest Harris Tweed ever to meet the stringent Harris Tweed Regulations.
And the news on the site at this time, October 2002, bears out a relationship with some knitwear designer:
Two neighbours in the village of Grosebay, Isle of Harris, recently formed a knitwear company producing high quality handmade knitwear using soft spun yarns from our BabysoftTM Quality fabric yarns.
This doesn’t sound like Starmore, because she lives in Gress, which is on Lewis. (Harris and Lewis aren’t actually physically separate islands, but they are given their own names. Lewis is the northern portion of the land mass of this island.) But it indicates the production of a “Babysoft” yarn for knitwear, which is what was referred to in the Virtual Yarns yarn story.
Then, in October 2003, it appeared that changes were brewing online. The Donald Macleod website indicated that the site was down for a “major upgrade.” But instead of providing contact information for Donald Macleod Ltd in the footer of the website page, as it used to, it now provided updated contact information:
Harris Tweed Textiles. Carloway Mills, Isle of Lewis, Scotland HS2 9AG
A new company name? Indeed. A search of the Companies House records indicates that something was going on. Donald Macleod Ltd, company number SC169126, is listed as being in liquidation; it had ceased filing its accounts with the government in 2003. The records indicate a winding-up date in November, 2003. This company matches the description of the Donald Macleod Ltd, the mill advertised by the harris-tweed.co.uk website: its business was preparation and spinning of textiles, and it was incorporated in 1996, as the earliest versions of the website indicated.
In the meantime, a new corporation had been registered: Harris Tweed Textiles Limited, company number SC169126, incorporated May 29, 2003, with a head office (or at least contact address) in Stornoway.
In May 2004, there was a major change to the website:
Welcome to Harris Tweed Textiles.
Harris Tweed Textiles are an independent wholesale Harris Tweed, Knitting and Weaving yarn producer based in Carloway, Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Located off the North West Coast of Scotland these rugged islands offer our designers an endless source of inspiration for colour matching and blending the yarns for our seasonal collections…
Thank you for visiting our site. Browsing the pages will give you an insight into the history of Harris Tweed, the philosophy of our Company, and information about our fabric and knitting / weaving yarn ranges.
And on this same version of the website, yes, they advertised a new “Hebridean” line of knitting yarns:
“Hebridean Inspiration”TM & “Hebridean Castaway”TM Knitting Yarns – Pure Luxury from Nature
The Hebrides are famous for their stunning natural beauty and the warm friendly welcome given to visitors.
Our ever-changing landscape is a constant source of new ideas for colour blending our latest collection
of yarns, a skill passed down through generations of Hebridean textile workers.
We want you to share in this “Inspiration” with our new 04/05 ranges of knitting yarns available in a wide range of weights equivalent to Double Knit, Arran [sic] & Chunky.
Our knitting yarns are based on the same BabysoftTM yarns used in our exclusive supersoft Harris Tweed Quality. We are the only genuine supplier of this BabysoftTM yarn which is dyed, blended, carded and spun here in our own mill in the Hebrides.
The site also describes an alliance with Di Gilpin for pattern support.
So, here we have a reference to the “Hebridean” yarn of which Starmore later publicly complained, mention of inspiration from nature (another subject of complaint?), and a reference to being the only genuine supplier of “Babysoft” yarn for Harris Tweed, which had apparently been developed by Donald Macleod.
By October 2004, the site announcement had been changed to remove the references to “Hebridean,” replacing the yarn description with “Harris” and mentioning the relationship with Rowan. Throughout all these changes, the general text describing Harris Tweed seemed to be pretty constant; I’m still not certain what content was copied from the Virtual Yarns website, but now we can see the basis for Starmore’s “Hebridean” complaint.
This corporate history suggests that the original Donald Macleod Ltd either went bankrupt, and the newer Harris Tweed Textiles Limited acquired its assets (including common law (unregistered) trademarks?), or the business was acquired outright by HTTL, then wound up.
The next question for this chain of inquiry is probably, “who’s supplying Alice Starmore’s yarn now?”
Consider: The Celtic Collection was published in 1994 — just before Rowan was acquired by Coats PLC. The Celtic Collection contained designs that are probably now the most frustrating to knit in today’s yarns — not because of the level of difficulty, but because so many of the Rowan yarns that were used in the book, such as Silkstones, were discontinued not long after the Coats acquisition. It was around the same time, or a year or two before, that Starmore developed her own yarn lines and colours with Jamieson & Smith. The Tomato Factory published two booklets for her fledgling yarn line in the early 90s, then at least one design from The Celtic Collection (Donegal) was reworked with Alice Starmore-branded yarns for republication. Then, whatever conflicts gave rise to the severance of the relationship with Jamieson & Smith happened, and then of course there was the rise of the relationship between Starmore and her new supplier, Jamieson — and then the decline of that relationship — in 1998, which led to Starmore’s redevelopment of her eponymous yarn line with the spinner Donald Macleod… who, if he is still in the business, must not be carrying on his business in the Carloway Mills anymore.