Tweed is a rough, woolen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture, resembling cheviot or homespun, but more closely woven. It is usually woven with a plain weave, twill or herringbone structure. Colour effects in the yarn may be obtained by mixing dyed wool before it is spun.
Tweeds are an icon of traditional Scottish and Irish clothing, being desirable for informal outerwear, due to the material being moisture-resistant and durable. Tweeds are made to withstand harsh climates and are commonly worn for outdoor activities such as shooting and hunting, in both Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, tweed manufacturing is most associated with County Donegal.
The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, the material being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. Around 1831, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm, Wm. Watson & Sons, Dangerfield Mills about some "tweels". The merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area. The goods were subsequently advertised as Tweed and the name has remained since.
Traditionally used for upper-class country clothing like shooting jackets, tweed became popular among the Edwardian middle classes who associated it with the leisurely pursuits of the elite. Due to their durability tweed Norfolk jackets and plus-fours were a popular choice for hunters, cyclists, golfers and early motorists, hence Kenneth Grahame's depiction of Mr. Toad in a Harris tweed suit. Popular patterns include houndstooth, associated with 1960s fashion, Windowpane, gamekeeper's tweed worn by academics, Prince of Wales check, originally commissioned by Edward VII, and herringbone.
During the 2000s and 2010s, it was not uncommon for members of long-established British and American land-owning families to wear high quality heirloom tweed inherited from their grandparents, some of which pre-dated the Second World War.
In modern times, cyclists may wear tweed when they ride vintage bicycles on a Tweed Run. This practice has its roots in the British young fogey and hipster subcultures of the late 2000s and early 2010s, whose adherents appreciate both vintage tweed, and bicycles.
The term "tweed" is used to describe coverings on instrument cables and vintage or retro guitar amplifiers, such as the Fender tweed and Fender Tweed Deluxe. Despite the common terminology, these coverings were cotton twill, and not actually tweed.
Tweed was worn by many fictional characters from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, including the detective Sherlock Holmes. Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett both wore keeper's tweed deerstalkers and Inverness capes, but more recent portrayals of Sherlock have abandoned the hat. Although Robert Downey Jr.'s character wore a fedora, both he and Doctor Watson wore tweed overcoats, as was then fashionable in Victorian England. Due to the popularity of Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock, the tweed overcoat entered high fashion in the 2010s.
Television actors playing intellectuals or older men often wear Harris tweed, including Anthony Head in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter. Notable movie characters who have worn tweed include Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Harrison Ford himself in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
Additionally, windowpane tweed suits are frequently worn by actors portraying members of the English upper classes, such as Hugh Fraser in Agatha Christie's Poirot, Peter Davison as Campion, or the male cast of Downton Abbey.
Tweed sportcoats were also worn by several incarnations of The Doctor from Doctor Who, including the Second Doctor, Seventh Doctor and Eleventh Doctor. For Matt Smith's Doctor, the BBC used cloth sourced from China rather than genuine Harris Tweed.
Types of tweed
- Harris Tweed: A handwoven tweed, defined in the Harris Tweed Act of 1993 as cloth that is "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: A handwoven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Donegal has for centuries been producing tweed from local materials. Sheep thrive in the hills and bogs of Donegal, and indigenous plants such as blackberries, gorse (whins), and moss provide dyes.
- Silk tweed: A fabric made of raw silk with flecks of colour typical of woollen tweeds.
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Media related to Tweed at Wikimedia Commons