How to Sew with Tweed

After completing my post about how I made my Barbour inspired bag Make It: Sew a Barbour Inspired Laptop Bag I thought it would be useful to share some of the information I gathered about tweed and how best to sew with it.

Why would I use tweed it’s so old fashioned?

A lot of people have connotations that tweed is a fabric worn by the British gentry in the form of a hunting jacket. However, the AW17 fashion shows have shown that there are many more exciting and modern uses and this is why I was excited to incorporate it into my bag. I also look forward to use it again in the future. I do fancy the challenge of making myself a woollen jacket for the winter…

How to sew with tweed- AW17 trends
1) Chanel AW17, 2) McCartney AW17, 3) Mulberry AW17

Where did tweed come from?

It is commonly thought that tweed emerged in Scotland and Ireland as a way for the farmers to battle the chilly, damp climate that dominates the winter months. It began as a hand-woven fabric where the cloth was rough, thick, and felted and the colours were muted and earthy. One story behind the name of the fabric is that what we call tweed today was originally known in the area as “tweel”, a local spelling of “twill” (the pattern it was commonly woven in), but a London buyer in the 1830’s misread an agent’s handwriting and assumed the cloth was “tweed”, named after the river which flows through Scotland. Although the original tweed look seems to originate in the UK the look of tweed fabrics is produced in many countries.

How to sew with tweed - River Tweed
River Tweed

Where did tweed get the stereotype of a gentlemen’s fabric?

In the early 19th century it became popular for English noblemen to acquire Scottish estates for the purpose of hunting, stalking and enjoying a life of leisure. This surge in popularity was especially seen when Prince Albert purchased Balmoral.  Estate tweeds were developed as the exclusive patterns of Scottish estates, which only the estate’s owners and workers are entitled to wear. The principal of the estate tweed is for the keepers, stalkers and ghillies (a man or boy who attends someone on a hunting or fishing expedition) to remain camouflaged while on the land on which they work. As a result, tweeds vary significantly, with grey colours being favoured on the rocky land to the West, to browner fabrics for the eastern Scottish grouse moors. For example Prince Albert developed the Balmoral Tweed before the foundations of the castle were even laid, it was blue with white sprinkles and crimson in colour and looks grey from afar resembling the granite mountains of Aberdeenshire.

How to sew with tweed
1) Balmoral 2)Coigach

Tweed was the ideal sporting attire of the 19th and early 20th-century gentleman and was quickly adopted by English gentry as the ideal outdoor cloth on their upcountry estates. Wearing tweed made hunting, shooting, and fishing comfortably enjoyable pastimes. Tweed also became popular among the 19th-century Victorian middle classes who associated it with the leisurely pursuits of the aristocracy.  It was worn for many sporting and adventure endeavours including golf, cycling, tennis, motoring, and mountain climbing.

What exactly is tweed?

Tweed is traditionally a woollen fabric, however, fabric blends such as wool/rayon and wool/acrylic are now available.  The tweed look is achieved by combining various coloured fibres into a yarn and then weaving these together into the fabric. The yarns used are made from carded wool, which is thick and full of un-straightened fibres. Most kinds of tweed yarn are known for their rough, scratchy texture, as well as their warmth and durability, so some varieties may be blended with softer luxury fibres in order to lessen the scratchiness.

Tweed is typically woven in a twill weave, this means that the yarns are woven in a way that results in diagonal ribs crossing the fabric; another example of this weave is denim.  Many tweed fabrics have an additional pattern in the weave, such as herringbone or houndstooth.  Herringbone is an example of where solid coloured yarns can be used and are woven into a specific pattern.

How to sew with tweed - twill weave
Twill Weave

What are the characteristics of this fabric?

Wool fabrics are durable, breathable and moisture resistant which makes them perfect for use in outdoor clothing. Many are firmly woven which makes them easy to handle and sew, and they frequently have a rough surface which can hide stitching irregularities. On the downside they can be bulky and can be damaged with improper pressing techniques. Those with slubs (irregularities in yarn) and low-twist yarns tend to pill/bobble more. Manufactured fibre blends have the look of wool tweeds but they are less durable.

Why are there so many different types?

Tweeds are given their names for a number of different reasons, for example they may be named after a brand name, the sheep that originally produced the wool, the region from which they came, or the function they were called upon to perform.

  • Cheviot Tweed is named after a breed of white-faced sheep first kept in the Cheviot hills of Northumberland and the Scottish borders.
  • Donegal Tweed is derived from the Irish county of Donegal.
  • Thornproof tweed is woven with high twist fibres to make the cloth tough and resistant to tears and punctures.
  • Harris Tweed is a famous brand of tweed.
How to sew with tweed - cheviot sheep
Cheviot sheep

What are the different patterns of tweed?

Plain Twill (Unpatterned)

 

Twill is a simple weave with a characteristic diagonal pattern running throughout it, which may be either obvious or so subtle that the fabric appears plain.

Unpatterned tweeds range from effectively single-colour to highly dappled or mottled with a strikingly textured mix of colours.

 How to sew with tweed - plain twill
Overcheck Twill

 

Traditional twill with a large checked design overlaid in a contrasting colour.  How to sew with tweed - Over Check
Plain Herringbone

 

A herringbone pattern consists of columns of slanted parallel lines. The direction of the slant alternates column by column to create ‘v’ shapes.  How to sew with tweed -Herringbone
Barleycorn

 

Barleycorn Tweeds have a prominent flecked pattern, giving it a richly coarse appearance where the complex colours merge into a single shade from a distance.  How to sew with tweed - Barleycorn
Houndstooth (or Dogtooth) A type of large broken checked pattern using pointed shapes instead of squares. Said to resemble the jagged back teeth of a dog. ‘Houndstooth’ describes the pattern in a larger size, ‘Dogtooth’ when it is smaller.  How to sew with tweed - Houndstooth
Checked

 

A pattern of horizontal and vertical lines that create small squares. The characteristic small check may also be enhanced by a larger overcheck in a third colour.  How to sew with tweed - Checked
Tartan

 

Any tartan can also be woven in tweed fabric.  How to sew with tweed - Tartan

 

Now the most important question… How do you sew with Tweed?

  • One thing to be wary of when working with this material is that it can be prone to unraveling, especially if it is made from threads of different textures, therefore it is important to take the time to finish your seams. A simple zig zag stitch should suffice, but you could use an overlocker if you have one. If you are not lining your garment it is recommended that you bind your seams with premade bias binding. You should also try to handle your fabric as little as possible to prevent unraveling.
  • Once you have laid your pattern pieces on the fabric you should leave a day before cutting to allow the fabric time to settle. Also, you should make sure your scissors and/or rotary cutter are sharp.

How to sew with tweed - Pattern Cutting

  • If you have a tweed that is quite loosely woven it is advisable to stabilise your fabric before sewing with it, this is especially important if you are using a check fabric because you don’t want droopy lines. One way to stabilise the fabric all over is by ironing a light iron on interfacing to the back of the fabric. Stabilising shoulder seams is also important as it makes sure they don’t stretch out of shape, this can be done by running twill tape along the seam as you sew. You should also use a tape to finish your hems.
  • Once you have made your garment you should leave it to hang overnight to allow the fabric to drop before hemming to prevent any unevenness.
  • You must be careful when pressing the wool fabric because it can be ruined with an iron that is too hot or used for too long. You could use a muslin to protect the fabric from too much heat and should try to reduce the time the fabric and iron are in contact.
  • Make sure that you start your project with a new needle. A sharp, universal or denim needle between 70/10-90/14 in size should do the job, but you may need to adjust depending on the weight of the fabric. You should use a stitch length of 2-3mm. All-purpose cotton, polyester or cotton/polyester blend thread is recommended and for topstitching you could use a silk thread.

How to sew with tweed - universal needle

  • As tweed can be quite bulky you should use a lighter fabric for facing or if you are making bound pockets or button holes.  You should also stabilise these with iron on interfacing.
  • Plaid and check fabrics require time and patience to make sure you have matching seams but it is worth the effort as it will result in a more professional looking finish.

Resources:

Thanks for the following guides that helped me accumulate all this information.

http://fabricgodmother.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/sewing-with-tweed.html

http://www.the-sewing-partner.com/tweed-fabric.html

https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/02/sewing-with-wool/

https://www.scotweb.co.uk/info/what-are-the-different-patterns-of-tweed

https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/tweed-guide-harris-history-styles-patterns/

http://www.emmacornes.com/blog-posts/what-is-tweed/

https://www.campbellsofbeauly.com/tailoring/estate-tweed.aspx

A brief history of tweed