Weaving A Tale Of Tweed

Written by Jason Disley
  • font size decrease font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email

In recent years, Harris Tweed has achieved cult status having been rediscovered by the fashion industry.

Tweed is a wool patterned fabric that had become synonymous with Scottish and Irish style. The rough, twill fabric originated in the Scottish highlands in the nineteenth century, and it is still used today for coats, jackets, suits, and many more items, including, accessories such as, hats, wallets, purses and luggage.

Tweed is an extremely warm, hard-wearing fabric that is thick and stiff. Wool tweed is often woven using different coloured threads to achieve dynamic patterns and colours, most frequently with small squares or vertical lines. Tweed is particularly popular for tailoring and especially hard-wearing jackets, which were originally made using such material for hunting activities.

Weaving A Tale Of Tweed 1

Tweed was originally called “tweel,” which is the Scots word for twill, the most popular weaving technique for making tweed. The name, according to history, came about when a London merchant misinterpreted the name “tweel” for “tweed,” thinking the fabric was named after the River Tweed in Scotland. The name soon stuck and the fabric has been called tweed ever since.

The material that originated in Scotland and Ireland, was worn commonly by farmers. Tweed soon became popular with the upper classes across the British Isles after 1848, when Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in Scotland and designed the unique Balmoral tweed. Each highland estate began to make their own “estate tweeds” to differentiate themselves during hunting expeditions and other such outdoor activities.

Tweed is, as stated, most popular for suiting and robust outerwear because a of its ability to keep in warmth and the rough and distinctive texture that makes it hard-wearing. Tweed sports coats for hunting were one of the first uses of this fabric, and as with many successful enduring items, they have become traditional, and, because of quality, its popularity continues today.

Full tweed suits are quite popular also, especially in the last few years as popular television programmes and movies that are set in the early part of the twentieth century have helped reinvigorate the fashion industry, and have had influence on the buying public. A full tweed suit can look extremely distinctive when accessorised well. It is without doubt a very classic look, and such history of the textile provides a great vintage appeal.

Tweed hats and bags are also a common use for the fabric. Tweed caps are characteristic of highland farmers and weavers, and have become something of a fashion statement during the twenty-first century, as hats have also seen a resurgence in popularity after disappearing for a while. There are said to be eight different types of Tweed, but this is open to debate.

There are many different ways to make tweed fabric, and the different types of tweed are named after the sheep they’re made from, where the tweed is made, or after the type of weaving technique or pattern. Here are some of the most popular types of tweed:

Perhaps the most famous of these - is Harris Tweed: Harris tweed is a legally-protected type of tweed made in the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. According to the Harris Tweed Act of 1993, Harris tweed is strictly defined as: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Donegal tweed: Donegal tweed is named for the Irish county of Donegal, where it originated. This is one of the most popular types of tweed in the world, and it is distinguished by its rainbow-colored specks of yarn throughout the knobby surface. Saxony tweed: Saxony tweed from merino sheep, originally made in Saxony, Germany. The tweed is very soft and smooth, due to the nature of merino wool.

Herringbone tweed: Herringbone is a form of tweed that is more about its distinctive pattern. It is a broken twill weave that produces a pattern of V’s on the surface of the fabric. Some say the herringbone pattern looks like fish bones, hence the name.


Shetland tweed: Shetland tweed is named after the breed of sheep that originated in the Shetland Islands, a group of islands far off the north-eastern coast of Scotland. The wool is lighter and more delicate, creating a lighter weight, and more casual tweed.

Barleycorn tweed: The weave of a barleycorn tweed gives the effect and look of barleycorn kernels on the surface of the fabric. It’s a very dynamic pattern and has a slightly bumpy feel.

Cheviot tweed: Cheviot tweed is named for the type of sheep used to make the wool, from the Cheviot Hills in the Scottish borders region. It is generally rougher and heavier than other types of tweed. Overcheck twill: Overcheck twill is a plain twill fabric with a large checked design in a contrasting colour completing the tweed pattern.

Weaving A Tale Of Tweed 5

It has to be noted twill is the weaving style used with tweed fabrics, and twill is not the actual fabric. Twill weaving can be applied to other fabrics. Tweed was traditionally hand-woven on a loom. Today the entire process has been mechanised, but the process is largely the same.

First, raw wool is dyed and then dried in an industrial drier. These coloured wools are mixed together to make the exact shade of thread needed for a tweed. Each colour is weighed, roughly mixed by hand, and then blended in a giant industrial mixer to create the hue required for the pattern.

The mixed wool then goes through a process called teasing and carding, where it is drawn through a series of rollers covered in tiny spikes. This stretches the wool and makes sure the fibres are all pointing in the same direction so it can be made into thread.

Next, the wool is spun into thread and wound around yarns ready to be woven into tweed. Tweed has been central to British style for centuries.

It comes in a variety of weights, weaves, and colours. This means there is no 'typical' tweed: the material ranges from plain and lightweight to colourful and heavy, covering everything in-between.

So - When was tweed invented? As stated it became popular in 19th century. But, tweed was invented in the 18th century initially by Scottish farmers to help them endure harsh winters.

During this time, tweed — which was known as Clò-Mór in Gaelic ('the big cloth') — was woven to be as weather-resistant as possible. It was extremely thick and didn't feature the colourful and intricate designs it is now renowned for.

The various Tweeds as we now know them were developed in the 1830s, when the British aristocracy took to the material. Its weather-resistant properties made it the fabric of choice for the staff uniform at their country estates, and the upper classes would commission unique estate tweeds that would blend in with the surroundings of their grounds.

In the 1840s, improved production methods made tweed more affordable. It became the fabric of choice for hunting and fishing clothing due to its weather-resistance, and the fact it helped the wearer camouflage into their environment.

Over the decades, as tweed production became more automated, it became affordable enough for those outside of the aristocracy. Today, it's a quintessentially British fabric that you can use to add sophisticated style to almost any outfit, and no man's wardrobe is complete without some sort of tweed. It’s no wonder that it’s strength and style has endured for such a long time, and it’s use is still evident even in urban surroundings.


Read 513 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 October 2020 10:20
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Jason Disley

Jason Disley

About Us

ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


What We Do

ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.