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What Is Tweed?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Tweed is a type of fabric made from rough, woven wool. It may or may not use a twill, or diagonal, weave. Herringbone, a twill pattern in which the diagonal slant of the weave alternates, is popular in tweed. Many of these fabrics also make use of threads of different colors to create an attractive "heather" effect.

This fabric originated in Scotland, and its name may derive from association with the Tweed River that runs through the Scottish Borders, once a textile center. The name is also related to twill — or tweel in Scots — so the exact history of the term is unclear. It was traditionally hand dyed using local natural dyes and hand woven. Dyes for traditional luxury tweeds may come from such plant life as moss, lichens, and blackberries.

Tweed has a fairly loose weave, making it flexible and comfortable. It is popular for informal outerwear, as it is durable and weather-resistant. Recent decades have seen luggage and even tennis shoes made of the fabric, in addition to the more traditional jackets.

Harris Tweed, perhaps the best known variety, is still hand woven in the home, though the yarn is spun and dyed by machine. This fabric is made in the Outer Hebrides islands in Scotland. Magee of Donegal, an Irish clothing manufacturer and retailer, makes a line of hand woven Donegal Tweed garments, though many of their products are woven by machine.

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Though the great majority of tweed garments are made of wool, silk tweed also exists. It resembles the woolen variety not only in the type of weave, but also in the roughness of the yarn and the combination of varied colors. Silk tweed is more lightweight than wool and can be used for warm weather jackets and sweaters. It is more commonly used in women's fashion than in menswear. Some summer fabrics use a blend of wool and silk.

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