I love tweeds.

10 June 2011

What exactly is a tweed?

That is a hard question, not even the origin of the word is clear.  Tweed, the word, could have come from the Tweed River in the Border lands of Scotland or it could be a corruption of the Scots word for twill, tweel. Yet I’m sure that the word tweed conjured up an image in your mind.  My image is woolen, multicolored, a rather rustic fabric.

Hard to define yet I could find a tweed jacket or fabric.

Harris Tweed comes to mind. Harris Tweed  is a cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders on the Isles of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  The earliest references I find start around the 1830’s when it was a cloth for local consumption made from the wool of local sheep.  The wool was dyed with local plants and handspun and handwoven by the local crofters.  The industrial revolution has caused the process to evolve.  First the cloth was popularized. Around the turn of the last century Harris Tweed Authority was introduced to protect the cloth that was hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides and in 1909 the trademark orb was introduced. Then industrial spinning was introduced, in the name of improving quality I’m sure. Then came  a mechanical loom, human powered and is still in use today. Now the Harris Authority defines their tweed cloth as being handwoven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides. This is how it is made today:

Even if you had a different idea of handwoven the cloth is still very unique for its dyeing in the fleece and blending of many colors in the cloth.

So what have we learned about these tweeds?

  1. tweeds and twills are intimately associated
  2. tweeds origins are in Scotland
  3. tweeds are woolen
  4. tweeds are made of many colors

The use of color is spectacular! At least one current tweed has 21 different colors in it to create a subtle intriguing cloth used for a man’s jacket.

My kind of color.



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