Monday, 28 March 2011

The true tweed

A Lady writes... 

I was impressed by the waistcoat made by one of your contributors, to whom I extend my congratulations on a fine piece of work. However, I noticed that the cloth used was actually a piece of worsted suiting rather than tweed. I offer therefore, a short discourse on tweed for the edification of your readers.

'Tweed'is a trade name from the early 19th century which originated in a misreading by a London woollen merchant of the more ancient term ‘tweel’. The confusion was helped along by an association with the River Tweed in Scotland, along which many woollen manufactories were sited. The term ‘tweed’ has come to signify a particular kind of tough, nubby woollen cloth much used for outdoor clothing.
The original term ‘tweel’ or ‘twill’ is actually a kind of weave where the weft threads pass over two or more threads of the warp thus forming a distinctive pattern of ridges with a slight herringbone appearance. The other characteristic of the cloth is that it is woven from woollen yarn in which two or more colours are plied. This is sometimes called ‘heathered’ yarn and gives ‘tweed’ the subtle flecked appearance which is a great part of its charm.

Originally made in Scotland, the cloth was hand-woven and the colours achieved by use of natural dyes. It was hard-wearing, thorn-proof and rain-resistant, the cloth of choice for crofters, ghillies and anyone who needed warm practical clothing. 
Tweed became fashionable in England in the 19th century, helped along by Queen Victoria’s espousal of all things Scottish. It was worn by aristocratic sporting types who liked its hard-wearing qualities and the way the colours blended with the landscape. (Incidentally, the fairisle pullover often worn under the tweed jacket was made fashionable by the Prince of Wales in the 1930s.)
The sporting jacket evolved into the tweed jacket that we know and love. First worn in Edwardian times it was always a leisure garment, smart enough when new to go courting in, comfy enough when old to wear on the allotment, and known for its use by ramblers and geography teachers throughout the interwar years.
Tweed is virtually indestructible, any slight wear being remedied by leather patches on the elbow.

The most coveted tweed is ‘Harris tweed’ hand-woven by crofters in the Outer Hebrides and distinguished from inferior copies by its own trademark. Donegal tweed from Northern Ireland, made in the same tradition, is almost as acceptable.


  1. Worstead! A Ragged rambler wearing worstead. Have we become a bunch of weekend anarchists? Never in my many years in the learned society have I heard such a thing.

    This why I have always strongly urged the wearing of corduroy, for such a heinous mistake could never occur with corduroy and I can only hope that this travesty will force a review of current policy within the R.S.A.R.

    +Many Coats+

  2. Thadeus Basil Corduroy Wearer28 March 2011 at 20:23

    Dang nabbit. I fear I'm to be black balled, nay even have my cloth stripped from my ragged frame. I am shamed and discombobulated in the extreme. It is to be corduroy from henceforth!

  3. Major Strumpington-Bagshot28 March 2011 at 20:41

    What? I say the Society should adopt a fine cashmere smoking jacket! Harrumph

  4. My dear Thad

    I must apologise for my earlier outburst, it's just that the mere threat of anything that might bring our beloved society in to disrepute, really gets on my tits.

    Having however had time to calm down and considered the matter further, I suggest that the wearing of worsted should be permissible when visiting vaguely interesting sites and/or on every third tuesday in the month.

    That way you can carry on wearing your fine waistcoat in the knowledge that your actions will not damage the venerable society further and also that we of the R.S.A.R are a modern go getting group and a by-word for tolerance and understanding.


    +Many Coats+

  5. "Donegal tweed from Northern Ireland, made in the same tradition, is almost as acceptable."
    I feel i must protest a Donegal tweed is never acceptable
    One would never compare a Supermarket cheddar to a Stinking Bishop

  6. Tweed jackets have long been favored by college professors in the US. I can recall several of my professors who wore tweed jackets with elbow patches.

  7. I note that your Raged Ramblers google map has reached over 2000 visitors. Well done!

  8. Thad, the reformed corduroy ambassador29 March 2011 at 07:16

    Dear Mr Many Coats,
    Thank you for your tolerance. I, for one, would not wish to bring any disrepute against your fine aged, and possibly even oak smoked, said appendages. And thank you for your offer of allowing me to wear the garment on those days. Sadly, the Tuesdays are out for me as this is when I wash my cat.

  9. My dear Thad

    What of every second wednesday?

    I once knew a man who wove a waistcoat from his cat's fur. Alas it was a small fine haired cat and produced only a small amount of fur and so the resulting waistcoat was very small. He wore it on his arm like an antiquarian water wing.

    +Many Coats+