Scotland is famously home to not one but two renowned fabrics, tartan and tweed. Oddly they're not as distinct as you'd think. You can have tartan tweeds, or tweed tartans. Confused? Don't be. Read on and you'll soon understand tweeds better than anyone you know!
So let's start by defining tweed technically, so you're clear exactly what tweed is and what it's not. Even so-called experts muddle this up.
Tweed today has an iconic style indelibly linked to upper class pursuits. It has a far claim to be British national dress, the obligatory wardrobe staple of any gentleman or socialite. But it wasn't always thus.
In this article we'll guide you through a brief history of tweed. We'll start with its humble beginnings as a practical peasant fabric. Then we'll describe its adoption as a symbol of wealthy by landowners and royalty. Next we'll cover its twentieth century discovery and popularisation by fashion designers. And finally we'll bring this right up to date, with today's adoption by hipsters and millennials, which still harks back to tweed's heritage as a signifier of both wealth and vintage authenticity.
This article explains the third main way in which these fabrics are distinguished: a tweed's source or origin. Tweeds are classified by source or kind in three distinct ways. Some names refer to their geographical origin, like Harris Tweed or Donegal Tweed. Others are named after their function, such as Gamekeeper's Tweed, or Thornproof Tweed. And a third group takes its name from the breed of sheep from which their wool was shorn, including Shetland Tweed or Cheviot Tweed. Each tweed has its own unique character, and which you choose depends on your own needs and tastes.
In this piece we're covering the main patterns and designs in which tweed is traditionally produced. Some like checks and plaids are well recognised. Others like herringbones and windowpanes are much beloved by those who know fabrics, but may not be as instantly named by everyone. And others again such as the Prince of Wales or Gun Club will probably be identifiable only by those who are tweed lovers already. You'll find them all here.
Tweed is not a pattern, and nor is a material. It's ultimately best seen as a type of yarn, produced by dying raw wool (or other fibres) after washing, but before it is spun. So tweed fabric is termed fibre-dyed.
This richness down to the level of individual hairs is what gives tweed its unique character, and extraordinary depth.
Tweed comes from a long British sartorial tradition, which has now achieved democratic popularity worldwide. The fabric conveys a low-key sophistication. If you doubt this, consider how costume designers use it in the movies. Before a word of dialogue is spoken, tweed introduces a character as cultured, elegant, upper class, intellectual, or perhaps a little unworldly. These signals are subtle, but universally shared.
Now it's time to look at how tweed is worn, by women and men, and indeed children. Tweed is suitable for almost any type of garment (except underwear!) And there's no lack of all-time classic designs that remain in vogue season after season. But we'll also suggest some more unusual or imaginative ways to include tweed in an outfit to striking effect.
A kilt is one of a man's great purchases, likely lasting him a lifetime. You need to know you're investing wisely. So you want to be confident about where your tartan comes from, who is handling your order with care, and that your kilt is made to proper traditional standards.
Scotweb CLAN is the world's only company that displays almost every rare tartan in every palette, and which even lets you design your own online. These can all be custom woven as single garment lengths for expert tailoring into kilts (and dozens more bespoke items. So who better to show you in detail how it's done?
When you order your tartan from us, our first task is to select yarn shades for your fabric, usually made with reference to our archive of historic samples that we believe to be the largest tartan library in existence. This is how we choose shades for our tartans, and ready them for production.
The next stage in weaving the tartan fabric for your kilt is called stake-warping. The lengthwise threads on a loom are called the 'warp" (the weft being the threads that cross from side to side, which we'll come on to later. Every single-width tartan we produce at DC Dalgliesh is still warped entirely by hand!
When the warp length is ready, our next task is to get it onto the loom. This is perhaps the most impressive skill of all. To make the fabric regular, each yarn thread must pass through a gate of thin vertical wires, called a heddle. Rather than thread each weave through this fine mesh over a thousand times, we keep a remnant of the last weave in place on the loom. Then we can knot the new yarns onto its tail-ends to guide the new warp through the heddle.