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A Guide to Tweed

2015-03-30 12:18:08 GMT

I dare say nothing says Britain in fashion terms quite as much as Tweed. From sporting jackets and trousers, to caps and ties, tweed sums up our Isle of style like no other apparel. Firmly rooted in the Heritage camp, events such as the ‘tweed run’ are testament to the fabrics longevity and popularity.

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In this post we aim to give a brief run down of the ins and outs of the fabric, from its history and construction to some of the more popular patterns. 

History

A good place to begin is the story of how Tweed got its name. Tweed was originally known as Tweel, that being Scottish for Twill. Then, in around 1830, a London merchant received a letter from Watson & Sons, Dangerfield Mills regarding the fabric. Misreading and believing it to be a trade-name taken from the nearby River Tweed, the cloth was advertised as Tweed, and has happily stuck ever since.

The tweeds themselves are divided into two sets, an Estate Tweed which is area based and Clan Tartan which is family based.

Many of the estates created their own tweed designs,and the fabric became associated with the gentry. Gaining popularity throughout the 19th Century, by the early 20th Century Tweed had been adopted by the aspirational middle class. Seen primarily as a performance material, it became a popular fabric choice for hunting, shooting, fishing, golf and racing…as was memorably displayed by Toad of Toad Hall.

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The concept of Tweed being for outdoor sporting pursuit meant that muted tones and natural hues played very much to the fore. Resembling the grounds upon which they were created, helping to camouflage when on a hunt, the Tweed can be seen as a reflection of the natural landscape. To this end, muted greens, beiges and greys play a large role in the Tweed palate. 

Types of Tweed

At this point, just a quick note regarding the construction the Tweed, that being a Twill. Unlike Plain or Satin weaves, Twill is made up of diagonal parallel ribs. This is achieved by passing the weft thread over one or more warp threads and then under two or more warp threads and so on. Twills in general are more durable, and less likely to stain. The Tweed is characterised by a closely woven wool, with a  rough unfinished texture. Tweed comes in either a Herringbone or Plain fashion, with its dappled colour effects coming about via the twisting of two or more strands into a yarn.

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Herringbone

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Plain

Beyond the basic construct of the tweed, the fabric can be further distinguished by geography, such as Donegal:

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manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Best known for it plain coloured flecked pattern, this gives the cloth a distinctive heathered effect.

For a top notch video of how the Donegal Tweed is made watch this excellent post by our good friends Put This On HERE

Alternative types can be distinguished by type of sheep such as Shetland or Cheviot, function or Brand name - giving rise to perhaps the most famous Tweed, Harris Tweed from the Isle of Harris.

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Harris Tweed

Characterised by a rough texture, and due to the wool being dyed before being spun, unique and complex colour designs are a signature, which are often dyed using local natural dyes such as lichen. In 1993 Harris Tweed became protected by the Harris Tweed act, which outlines the conditions under which the cloth can be made. 


Traditional Patterns

Barleycorn

So named due to the texture looking like Barleycorns, this course fabric of often multi flecked colours blends to look monochrome when viewed from a distance.

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Estate Tweed (also known as Overcheck Herringbone)

A check overlaying a herringbone weave pattern. Traditionally from the Highlands Each estate would commision its own check to suit its won landscape and vegetation to blend and camouflage.

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Overcheck Tweed

As opposed to the Estate Tweed this is made from a plain tweed (not herringbone) and is made up of large checks (as opposed to the check pattern which are made from smaller checks).

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Striped Tweeds

As you may image…has vertical lines that give it a distinctive striped pattern!!

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Houndstooth (also known as Dogtooth)

Originally a Lowland pattern, this well known pattern can be called Puppytooth when done on a smaller scale.

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Checked

Comprised of small checks in two colours, this is often enhanced by an Overcheck in a third. One of the most popular is the Guncheck (pictured). Originally known as “ The Coigach ”, this Estate Check was adopted by the American Gun Club in 1876 and has been popular ever since.

Future of Tweed

The good news is that after a dip in demand, tweed is firmly on the rise. Harris tweed produced 1 million meters of tweed in 2012, compared to 450,000 meters in 2009. With heritage and quality once more at the forefront of fashion, the future of Tweed looks bright, and we say long may it continue!


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