It is commonly thought that tweed emerged in Scotland and Ireland as a way for the farmers there to battle the chilly, damp climate that characterizes those parts. Tweed began as a hand-woven fabric. The cloth was rough, thick, and felted and the colors were muted and earthy. It was truly a working man’s cloth. As far as the name goes, there are a couple of theories.
- There is a River Tweed in Scotland, and the cloth was made in the Tweed Valley, and some believe that is the origin of the word.
- A more popular legend has it that the name tweed is a twist on the Scottish word for “tweel” or twill in our parlance, which is the signature weave of the fabric. It is said that in 1826, a London clerk accidentally transcribed an order to “tweel” and wrote “tweed” instead, and from there the name came into use.
Whatever the origin, tweed is a rugged fabric, resistant to wind and water with excellent insulating properties.
The wearing of tweed entered a new phase when in the first half of the nineteenth century many estates in Scotland were acquired by English noblemen wishing to expand their life of leisure. In 1848, Prince Albert ignited a rush on Scottish estates when he purchased Balmoral. Although the foundation of the castle wasn’t laid until September 28, 1853, he designed The Balmoral Tweed earlier. Blue with white sprinkles and crimson in color, it was no coincidence that it looks gray from afar resembling the granite mountains of Aberdeenshire around Balmoral because it was designed for deer stalking in the area. As such, one of the first Estate Tweeds was born, and subsequently it became all the rage among estate owners to commission their special tweeds.
This distinction between the leisure-based, earthy colored tweed and business focused grey, dark blue, and black suits perhaps gave rise to the so-called “no brown in town” rule, which has mostly gone by the wayside with the possible exception of London.
It’s easy to get confused about types of tweed. Some are named for the sheep that originally produced the wool, others are named for the region from which they came, still others are gathered up as part of a brand name, and yet more are named for the function they were called upon to perform. The following discussion will help to make some sense of all this.
Types of tweed:
- Plain Twill Tweed.
- Checked Tweed
- Plain Herringbone Tweed
- Overcheck Herringbone
- Houndstooth Tweed
- Tartans and Plaids