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All about tweed

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Harris Tweed woven in a herringbone twill pattern, mid-20th century

Tweed is a rough, unfinished woollen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture, resembling cheviot or homespun, but more closely woven. It is made in either plain or twill weave and may have a check or herringbone pattern. Subdued, interesting colour effects (heather mixtures) are obtained by twisting together differently coloured woollen strands into a two- or three-ply yarn.

Tweeds are an icon of traditional British Country Clothing being desirable for informal outerwear, due to the material being moisture-resistant and durable. Tweeds are made to withstand harsh climate and are commonly worn for outdoor activities such as shooting and hunting, in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. "Lovat" is the name given to the green used in traditional Scottish tweed. In Ireland, tweed manufacturing is most associated with County Donegal.


The original name of the cloth was tweel, Scots for twill, it being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern. A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. About 1830, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm, Wm. Watson & Sons, Dangerfield Mills about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the river Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, and the name has remained ever since.


Tweed making at a mill in Wales, 1940

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 practise 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.

Bike in Tweed, Stockholm 2013

Musical instruments
Some vintage Danemann upright pianos have a tweed cloth backing to protect the internal mechanism. Occasionally, Scottish bagpipes were covered in tweed as an alternative to tartan wool.

Tweed is also sometimes found covering vintage or retro guitar amplifiers, such as the Fender tweed and Fender Tweed Deluxe. This was widely used by country music and rock and roll artists of the 1950s and 60s, including Hank Thompson, Dick Dale, Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, and Eric Clapton.

In fiction
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.


  • Harris Tweed: A cloth handwoven by the islanders on the Isles of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, using local wool. Formerly, Harris Tweed was also handspun and hand dyed with local natural dyes, especially lichens of the genus Parmelia.
  • Donegal tweed: A handwoven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Like the Outer Hebrides, 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, fuchsia, gorse (whins), and moss provide dyes.
  • Silk tweed: A fabric made of raw silk with flecks of colour typical of woollen tweeds.


Logo of the Harris Tweed authority

Prince of Wales check, frequently used to make overcoats and sportcoats in the 1950s

Example of the herringbone pattern, a popular choice for suits and outerwear

Houndstooth, the basis of the keeper's tweed popular among the upper classes from the 1860s until the 1930s

Grey Donegal Tweed sportcoat

A deerstalker hat made of district or gamekeeper's tweed (contrasting mustard, green and brown checks)

Windowpane tweed popular in the late 19th century and again in the 1970s

Frederick III with his young son Wilhelm wearing highland dress including tweed kilt jacket

Tweed Fender guitar amplifier

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