What is Tweed?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

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.

Tweed fabric.
Tweed fabric.

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.

Dyes for luxury tweeds are often made from lichens.
Dyes for luxury tweeds are often made from lichens.

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.

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.

Some tennis shoes are made with tweed fabric.
Some tennis shoes are made with tweed fabric.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I've just taken an interest in tweed after seeing a pair of gorgeous boots with tweed at the store. Since then, I've noticed more shoes and purses that use tweed and I think it's very nice. Tweed has a very earthy and classy feel and look to it. It's also cool that this fabric hasn't lost much popularity since it came out.


@QuirkyMango-- It's not itchy because it's usually not directly in touch with skin. Tweed is usually used for jackets so there is always a blouse or shirt worn underneath. It might be an issue only with tweed pants and dresses. I've not had any irritation even from a tweed skirt but it might just be the weave. It is true that wool has a reputation for causing itchy skin. So if you do want to get something made from tweed, choose something that you can wear a shirt or leggings underneath.


Tweed clothing is coming back into fashion and I love it. I think this is the best fabric for winter. It's warm and stylish.

I have a tweed skirt and blazer that's a bit formal. I often wear it to work when the weather is coldest. It's difficult to stay warm in other fabrics during this time of year. The great thing about tweed fabric is that it's just as suitable for formal wear as it is for casual wear.

I'm not a fan of the traditional black and white look of some tweed blazers though. I prefer different colors like brown, maroon and blue.


@ Roguerilla- I've never worn tweed. I always thought the fabric would be itchy. I do like the way it looks, though, so I'd wear a tweed jacket if it the fabric is comfortable and not irritating to my sensitive skin.

But I do agree that when you think of tweed jackets, professors do come to mind--maybe even with a pipe.


Tweed jackets are long associated with academics. You always picture a professor in a tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches, but it looks great on women, as well. However, one of my favorite jackets is a soft tweed jacket (yes, with the elbow patches). Tapered at the waist, I’ve always gotten compliments on it. Had it for years. The fabric holds up well and never looses shape. It is better with dry cleaning rather than machine washing, I’ve found. With a trendy blouse, it’s not a stuffy look in the least.

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