The most versatile, hard wearing and divers fabric used in jackets and coats is Wool, which is incredibly hard wearing, gorgeously warm and acts a bit like plasticine with a bit of steam; it also moulds beautifully to the wearer over time – which is why when you try on a well-worn vintage jacket it feels weird until you have worn it in for yourself. I used to have a huge WWII Naval Trench Coat in my early 20s which I wore with a tiny, tiny skirt, thigh length suede boots along with my bright red, corkscrew permed hair – thinking I was the bees knees. The most fantastic wool fabric one can get is Tweed.
Tweed can be grouped together in to four main styles;
Plain Tweed, on the left is shot Black & White and on the right is a printed plain tweed.
Plain Tweed can be bold or subtle, some are made with fibres that have been dyed before spinning and create the soft heather tones you see sometimes. Some use two colours of thread such as the shot version in the photo above, and then others are embellished with printed patterns after weaving such as the one in the picture.
Twill woven Tweeds
Twill woven Tweeds are generally in one single colour and come in a wide range of weights from very soft fine fabric to rather chunky and blanket like cloth. If any of you see me out and about on really cold days you will see me in my orange coat made out of the orange tweed on the right of the picture.
Herringbone Tweed is varied in pattern dependant on the design of the cloth to be made
The Herringbone Tweed in the centre is very traditional and would be what most folk would imagine when they think of Herringbone Tweeds. Either side are less traditional patterns that incorporate a variety of colours.
Check Tweeds are even more varied in their pattern and use of colours
Check Tweeds are probably the most widely worn, and the tweed with the strongest associations with tailoring and culture. In Scotland each one of the Clans has their own design of Tartan patterned Tweed which were greatly popularised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 19th Century after their first visit to Balmoral early in their marriage. Nowadays there are a massive range of checked Tweeds to choose from, I particularly like a lot of the upholstery designs such as the second from the left in the above pic; it seems that weavers are letting loose their creativity and I for one love it.
The most famous Tweed cloth is probably Harris Tweed which has a long history and protected status nowadays. The weavers all live on and around the Isles of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Northern Scotland and some produce their work as part of their life as Crofters, using local wool fleece, which is dyed locally and blended to produce the myriad of tones and colours that is unique to Harris Tweed as part of a cooperative group. This is such a beautiful cloth and is a joy to design and work with. Given the quality and special nature of this fabric it is in my humble opinion the pinnacle of wool fabrics and it is very good value for money. One is only limited by your imagination when putting it to use – during my final degree collection I made a lined Bra with sky blue basket weave Harris Tweed, it was most pretty.
Every so often I go window shopping online to drawl over all the delicious colours and patterns that are available at Dashing Tweeds. I was lead to them by another tailor a couple of years ago who is also excited by all the pretty things they produce.
While on holiday in Yorkshire some time back I came across an outlet at the Courtyard Centre where there was an shop stocking really inspiring jackets. I got rather excited by the piano facings and creative use of patterned linings and bindings inside these jackets which were produced using Moon Tweeds which are made locally in one of the last remaining mills where raw wool is processed from fleece to finished cloth in the UK. This year I discovered a smaller outlet that stocks offcuts of Moon cloth for craft uses at Quilting Antics just outside Settle where you can obtain it by the metre or by weight, if you take a look at the Moon website you can contact Quilting Antics and see if they have small pieces of the fabric you like – they have a vast variety in the shop to riffle through – it is cloth heaven for me!!!
Mixing it up
This waistcoat was a recent project made using two different Tweeds, Herringbone for the main body that I bought from Bernie the Bolt who has lots of fab things for very small prices; and the check Moon Tweed from Quilting Antics which was a small piece just big enough to cut the collar, pocket welts and send away the last few scraps to DM Buttons for them to make the covered buttons for me, which are truly lovely against the Herringbone. Normally I tend to use far bolder colours but some people are more comfortable in softer tones, admittedly, having made this waistcoat I am rather enamoured with wearing Tweed like this now too.
Pocket and button details
As I was saying earlier, I take ages to choose buttons for each project, they can make or break the look of a garment, this is particularly true on fabrics like Tweed because of the tonal quality of the cloth. Covered buttons are a brilliant solution to make them match the rest of the garment or as a contrasting detail, however, Wooden buttons are also lovely used with tweed because it too is a natural product and will blend beautifully such as the ones in the following photo, you may also consider Leather buttons which I have used in the past and which you will often find on Country Sports jackets in charity shops (vintage leather buttons are amazing on tweed).
How about embroidery too
When using Tweed one can utilise its strength to carry a wide range of embellishments, with my embroidery machine I regularly use text and picture designs to produce bold details on clothes and bags that make each piece unique to the ultimate wearer.
This is not an exhaustive look at the uses of Tweed, take a look at Tweeds and unleash your creativity. Tweed is hard wearing and incredibly versatile for clothes, soft furnishings and accessories as it is so durable and can be surface cleaned if the need arises – less dry cleaning needed than many other fabrics, the patterns also hide a multitude of sins.
Over the next few months I will be exploring lots of fabrics and their uses, addressing some of the more challenging ones and how to handle them. If you are just starting out with sewing and want to make a big impact I would recommend Wool, and particularly patterned Tweed as it is so forgiving – just remember, steam is your friend. The next piece will be about Wool in general and will explain how to make use of Wool fabric to achieve the best results for a project.
Enjoy, my sewing friends.