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Originally made in Scotland, the cloth was hand-woven and the colours achieved by use of natural dyes.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.