Tweed is a subtly patterned fabric made from wool dyed, spun and woven.
Scottish farmers and hunters developed the first garments in the 18th century to survive the cold and humid winters. The fabric was called Clò-Mór ("big fabric") and was made as durable as possible, making it very thick and lacking the colorful and intricate weaves that Tweed is known for today.
Fabric weaving developed and became widespread in the Scottish countryside and nearby islands. Many crofts had their own weaving machines and Tweed weaving became an important industry for the islanders. The fabrics were transported all over Scotland and beyond. The appreciation of the quality of the fabrics increased so that surplus fabrics were often used as barter, eventually becoming the currency of the islanders. It was not uncommon for rents to be paid as blankets or fabrics.
The woven fabric consists of warp and weft yarns. The fibers can be woven using a plain weave or twill weaves. Twill weave is very popular in tweed weaving because it is a durable and elastic. The weight, color and binding of the yarn affect the purpose for which the fabric is used. The strengths of Tweed fabrics range from plain and light to thick and even very heavy and stiff fabrics.
Tweed was originally called tweel, which is a Scottish word for twill binding. According to the story, a London merchant had mistakenly read the word "tweel" as "tweed", thinking the fabric was named after the Scottish River Tweed. The name survived and since then the fabric has been called a tweed.
The Tweed we know was developed in the 1850s, when the British nobility and royals also adopted the fabric. Tweed’s weatherproof properties made it a great fabric for staff uniforms. In hunting, it helped the user to disguise their surroundings. The so-called "estate tweeds". Each highland estate began to make their own recognizable Tweed fabrics. It was desired that the fabrics blend into the environments and colors of the spaces. I will tell you more about this in the next blog.
In the 18th century, the weaving of tweed fabrics also spread to Ireland, where flax fabrics had been woven for centuries. Royal linen manufacturers distributed thousands of looms and spinning tools for weaving to Donegal farms. These home-woven fabrics contributed to the growth of the Tweed industry and Irish tweed came to be known as Donegal tweed and is still known by this name to this day. Donegal-Tweed fabric is known for its "fluffy" patterns and softer, lighter feel compared to Harris Tweed. Donegal Tweed weavers are not certified in the same way as Harris Tweed, but in general Donegal tweed is considered as high quality tweed and depending on the weaver it may be even higher quality than Harris Tweed.
Tweed fabrics have several brands, the best known of which are:
- Harris Tweed is the best known Tweed designation and is woven in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It is protected by Tweed. There are strict guidelines for what can be classified as Harris Tweed. It is always marked on the garment or accessory.
- The Irish Donegal Tweed is a very popular Tweed and is often seen woven in a plain weave. Donegal Tweed offers a wider range of options than Harris Tweed. The fabrics are often "heather-colored" and spotted, and are often very soft and slightly thinner tweeds. The most prominent name in Donegal Tweed is Magee, which has been making high quality tweeds for over 150 years.
- Cheviot Tweed is named after cheviot sheep. The sheep have a white face and once grazed in the hills of Chevioit in Northumberland and on the Scottish border. The fiber in Cheviot wool is slightly thicker and coarser wool and very durable. The fabrics woven from it are well suited for outerwear, rugs and blankets.
- Yorkshire Tweed is a light sheep wool with a beautiful pearlescent sheen. Although the wool is light, it has excellent thermal insulation and is traditionally used to make a variety of winter clothes.