If you care an iota about fashion you will know what tweed is and would also want a tweed jacket in pride of place in your wardrobe. The tweed fabric is almost synonymous with the clothes that you make with it. We always mention ‘a tweed coat’ ‘a tweed sheath dress’ etc.
What is Tweed?
Tweed is a medium-heavy weight, textured fabric made from rough yarn. Wool tweed is spun from virgin wool, especially sheep wool and is usually made as a cottage industry. It has great insulating properties and is somewhat weather resistant.
The fabric is usually woven from multicolored stubby wool yarns with a loose plain, herringbone, or twill weave. This creates a distinct texture that is rather coarse and rough, but still the fabric is soft and supple. Other than wool yarns, it can also be made of silk and synthetic and blended yarns. It is highly valued as a fabric for making garments and accessories, especially outerwear like overcoats, blazers.
The color palette of tweed is everything in between plain earthy tones to more vibrant colors. Because of the multicolored yarns that it is made of it has varied patterns and color effects – checked, stripes, speckles etc. Though tweeds are generally woven with colored/dyed yarns, sometimes they are piece-dyed.
Different types of tweed
Differences in weaving patterns produce a variety of tweeds. Tweed is also classified according to the place it is made from, the yarns used etc.
Tweed classified according to the place
This is a handwoven coarse thick fabric in twill weave. It is made only on Harris and other islands on the western coast of Scotland
According to Harris Tweed Act, “cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders of Lewis and Harris in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides” is called a Harris Tweed. This act ensures the genuineness of the Harris Tweed Orb symbol on a fabric. Every one of these particular weavers signs the agreement and they always wove the yarn by hand.
One disadvantage of this homewoven fabric is that it is usually only available in a fabric width of 27″ to 29″.But that does not dim its popularity.
Donegal tweed is made in Donegal county, Ireland. It is either hand-woven or power-loomed. It is a soft supple fabric, often colorful with its rainbow-colored specks of yarn.
This tweed is made of white warp and colored weft yarns.
Tweed made of white warp and weft filling of dark shade of blue, brown, black or grey.
Saxony tweed is originally made in Saxony, Germany. It is made of wool from the merino sheep. Like wool, it is very soft and smooth.
Bannockburn is a city in Scotland where this particular tweed is made.
This is a very soft tweed made of soft yarns like Australian Merino wool.
Tweed classified according to the animal
Cheviot is a breed of sheep reared in the hills of the Scottish border. Cheviot Tweed is made of wool from this particular breed of sheep. It is heavier and rougher than other kinds of tweeds.
As the name suggests, Shetland tweed owes its name to the sheep from the Shetland Islands. Like their wool, Shetland tweed is light and delicate.
Tweed classified according to the patterns
The most common type of tweed, a plaid tweed closely resembles a tartan. These tweeds have bold stripes in varying widths and colors.
Herringbone tweed has a distinctive V-shaped weaving pattern on its surface like herringbone twill.
A more unassuming tweed pattern, it gets its name from the resemblance of the back teeth of a dog. It often comes in monochrome and small patterns. However, some Houndstooth tweed has large contrasting checks.
Usually, Estate tweed is a herringbone weave overlaid with a check pattern. But there are exceptions. They are made with the purpose that the wearer can remain camouflaged on the terrain where they work.
Barleycorn tweed has the look of Barleycorn kernels at close up due to that particular weave
Salt and Pepper tweed
This refers to a tweed fabric with black and white patterns.
Overcheck twill tweed
A plain twill fabric but with large checks in contrasting colors creating an eye-catching effect giving the tweed the name Overcheck twill.
Striped tweed is a plain twill with vertical stripes in contrasting colors.
Tweed that is tightly woven with highly twisted yarns producing a hard fabric.
This is a stretchy thick knit fabric with a tweed-like surface texture.
This tweed fabric is made of yarns as well as other textured materials like ribbons, metallic threads, and laces.
The origin of tweed fabric
The origin of tweed fabric can be traced back to the 19th century when Scottish farmers used to wear it to protect themselves from harsh highland winds. They called it not tweed, but Clò-Mór in Gaelic, meaning the big cloth. The fabric’s insulation, weather resistance, and durable properties helped the rural folk resist the harsh climate. Over time, they developed “twill” the characteristic diagonal line that goes through the fabric to make it denser and heavier. They used to call it ‘tweel’.
The advancement from rural wear to the wardrobe of the gentry took place when it got the attention of Scotsmen Sir Walter Scott and Lord Brougham, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain during the 1830s.
The story behind the transformation of the name tweel to tweed is very interesting. History says, a London clerk mistakenly read the handwritten word tweel in a letter from a tweel manufacturing mill as tweed. He thought it must have been a brand name and placed an order for tweed in his invoice. The name had been stuck since.
In the 1800s, British nobles used to buy or rent Scottish estates for their outdoor activities like hunting, shooting, and fishing. They used the fabric at first as the staff uniform at their country estates. But soon it was favored as sporting and leisurewear for the gentry because garments made of tweed offered them protection against harsh highland weather during their sporting activities.
Though the ownership of land was transferred with the transfer of Estate, it still prohibited the British gentry from wearing Scottish tartans as the clanship was not transferred. So the British started weaving their own patterns marking the beginnings of Estate Tweeds. When Prince Albert, the Queen Victoria’s consort, purchased the Scottish Balmoral Estate, he designed his own Tweed as the Royal family couldn’t wear the pattern of any other existing clan.
The industrial revolution paved the way for tweed to reach masses as wool became cheaper and easier to produce. They were used as over-coatings, trousers, and suits by both gentry and middle-class.
How is tweed fabric made?
Today most of the Tweed available in shops are made in factories using powerful powerlooms but there are still places where the fabric is handwoven. Many people consider Handwoven tweed fabric superior to those made on powerlooms. Harris tweed, Handwoven Irish tweed are much in demand handwoven tweeds.
The first step towards the production of tweed is the harvesting of wool from the sheep. The sheared wool is passed through an initial cleansing process and is sent to the production floor. Here, the wool is cleaned thoroughly and carefully before being carded into long strings. These strings are spun into wool yarn. Yarns are dyed into desired colors and dried. A selection of these yarns is spun again to make thick threads. These threads are used to weave on looms to create tweed fabric. Sometimes raw wool itself is dyed and dried. These are then carded and spun into yarns which are then used to weave tweed.
Story of tweed in the fashion industry
The journey of Tweed fabric from estate wear to sportswear to modern casual wear is fascinating. During the early 19th century, tweed was popular outdoor wear for men. They found its weather resistance and camouflage nature apt for activities like hunting.
Tweed was used to making shooting jackets, trousers, coats, and cloaks. Later shooting jackets were transformed into lounge jackets. And lounge jackets paved the way to tweed suits when it was matched with a waistcoat and trousers.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a new trend brought a transformation in tweed fashion. It was the introduction of cycle wear. The women of that era bid adieu to the binding trimmings and laces of her voluminous gowns as they became more active. The presence of women in sports like shooting and cycling led to the development of ‘tailor mades’ and they traded their voluminous gowns for tailor-made clothes, especially tweed.
In the first decade of the 20th century, designer Coco Chanel adapted tweed into her designs. Since then tweed jackets, skirts, and dresses have been part of her haute couture. Towards the end of the 20th century, tweed fell out of fashion. It was often associated with traditions and old-fashioned values. It became the face of academicians.
Tweed has made a re-entry into the fashion scene of the 21st century. Characters of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Miss Maples on mini screen wore tweed and made it popular. Wool being environmentally friendly, tweed’s popularity also rose with ‘Green awareness’. Many businessmen wore tweed suits like the mohair or houndstooth as office wear.
The modern-day durable, comfortable and lightweight tweed is always a favorite fabric with fashion designers around the world. Leading fashion houses displayed tweed on their catwalks as a part of their autumn/winter collections. Tweed found place in the collections of John Galliano of Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren included the versatile tweed. Versace, Dolce, and Gabbana, Paul Smith, Prada
Apparels and Accessories made of tweed
Tweed is suitable for making all kinds of clothes but there are some types that it is famous for – tweed jackets, skirts, capes and ponchos, suits, dresses, trousers, hats and caps, bags and shoes.
The most popular style of tweed jackets for today’s men are sports jackets or blazers. A well-tailored tweed jacket in plain weave, houndstooth, or herringbone in natural shades can be worn for all kinds of occasions – from fairly formal to casual. Tweed Blazers pairs very well with jeans because of its rough and tough casual looks.
Think of a tweed jacket for women and it is the classic Chanel jacket that comes to mind. But today countless alternative styles and tweeds are available. The only thing you have to take care of is that the pattern complements your body shape.
You can have a tweed skirt of any length. From mini to midi to long hostess skirt, tweed works well with all. Choose a design like straight, A-line or pencil cut in plain or pleated style. A tweed is best worn with a contrast top in light-weight material like silk or cashmere.
For capes, the best tweed to have is Harris tweed. The durability of the fabric makes it a good investment as it is sure to adorn your wardrobe for a long time. The lightweight plain tweeds suit ponchos better, making it a popular alternative to capes.
A tweed suit oozes confidence and sophistication in women, especially in the workplace. The suit made with a lighter-weight garment cut and tailored to perfection is elegance in itself. The coat and matching trousers can be worn as such and mixed with other garments to give endless choices in styles.
Tweed dresses are a style statement by themselves – they are very classy looking and elegant.
A tweed trouser in the conventional cut is a statement by itself. Common tweeds used for making trousers are plain or herringbone. A tweed trouser is not good for daily wear because the constant wear is likely to make it vulnerable to abrasion.
The famous tweed hat that one can never forget is the Deerstalker tweed hat of Sherlock Holmes. From the times of Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes has always appeared wearing a brown tweed cap and a brown Prince of Wales tweed cape. The most popular tweed hat is the Scottish ‘bunnet’, a tweed flat cap that look stunning as a women’s wear. Another popular style is the newspaper boy’s cap.
Tweed handbags, wallets, and purses are hugely popular as sophisticated women’s accessories. Tweed is also used for larger bags like Kensington bags, duffel bags, briefcases, overnight bags and laptop bags.
Tweed combined with leather is used to make boots and shoes with a rough country vibe. Shoemakers Nike and Doc Martens have shoes made of leather and Harris tweed.
Sewing with Tweed
Tweed fabric surprisingly is a very easy fabric to sew – the best thing for me is that the surface patterns and texture hides a lot of sewing flaws. You just have to take care of some simple things.
Tweed is used to make tailored clothes like suit jackets/blazers, skirts, pants, sheath dresses. Lining is prefered for clothes made with tweed, because of its loose weave and also because you do not want it touching skin directly.You will also have to stabilise areas which are prone to stretching.
If you are sewing with tweed fabric, ensure that the pattern is not complicated; the seams can turn bulky and difficult to navigate. Care must be taken while choosing the fabric, as lightweight smooth tweed fabric suits certain designs more than rough and heavy ones.
A weft interfacing, a wovenlfusible interfacing is recommended to be used with tweed (Ref. Professional sewing techniques for designers).
Caring for tweed
Tweed is made of wool and it has all the disadvantages connected with wool. A tweed garment should always be dry cleaned because washing with water causes shrinkage. The characteristic surface texture may also be damaged.
Hang your Tweed jackets on wooden hangers to retain the shape of the shoulders. If you are pressing tweed, use a pressing cloth – a wool pressing cloth is recommended.
Mothballs must be used to prevent moths from feasting on your tweed garment. But you have to ensure that the moth balls are not touching the cloth.
Read more about Tweed here : https://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AEmblem/Tweed.html ; You can read more about the process of making tweed here : https://donegalyarns.com/process/
If you want authentic tweed fabric, a website to checkout is https://www.magee1866.com/ – experts in tweed fabrics for many many years.
Updated on October 11, 2022 by Sarina Tariq