Tweed is not a fabric weave, per se. It’s a distinctive look created by twisting two or more fibers of different colors together into a single yarn. Those multicolored yarns are then combined into a plain or twill weave and the resulting fabric is called tweed. The color variations are usually quite subtle, but discernable..
When we think of tweed, we think of wool. A tweed fabric may be made from wool, wool-blends, polyester and even nylon. It’s the look of the yarn that makes a tweed a tweed, not the fiber in that yarn. Because of that, tweed can cover a huge range of fabric weights, qualities and uses. The hand can range from quite fine to very coarse. The majority of tweeds have a rough, but not unpleasant, hand.
Tweeds can come in a lot of patterns. From a plain generic tweed, to plaids, stripes and checks. Scroll down to see my notes about regional tweeds. It’s often woven in a herringbone pattern, the better to show off the yarn, but that’s not a defining aspect of what defines a tweed.
Wool tweed is wonderful for heavy jackets. Lighter-weight tweed fabrics are good for country suits, pants and jackets. Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? All tweed, all the time and he swore it was better than armor. Any sort of huntin’-shootin’-out-in-the-country persona is going to wear clothes made of tweed. It’s warm and it’s tough, which makes it ideal.
Wool tweed isn’t cheap. If you shop smart, you might find pure wool tweed for as low as $30 a yard. A high-quality suitable-for-bespoke tweed could run you as much as $200 a yard. And that’s where the blends come in.
The lower price alternatives can cost as little as $10 yard, but they’ll contain very little wool – or none whatsoever. Personal experience has taught me that cheap tweeds tend to be weaker, they fray a LOT and they feel very unpleasant next to the skin. That said, they can certainly be made to work for your cosplay project as it’s not like you’re going to be wearing the garment every day. Just swatch carefully when you’re out shopping, and line the garment if possible.
Tweed is a popular fabric, so you have a lot of options available – shop around to find one that offers a reasonable mix of fibers without driving you into bankruptcy.
Pre-washing depends on the composition of your tweed. If it’s more than 50% wool, take it to a dry cleaner. If it’s a blend, I’d hand-wash it or, at most, put it through a cold wash on the delicate cycle and lay flat to dry. Don’t hang it on a washing line, it’ll stretch. If you have to press it, use a medium-low iron and use a press cloth, and press from the wrong side as much as possible, to avoid putting a shine on it.
Woolens can stretch a bit – even tweed – so if you’re making a cape or a long skirt or even a long pair of pants, let the garment hang for at least 24 hours before marking your bottom hems. Otherwise you might end up with a hem dragging on the ground!
As ever, you don’t want to put anything woolen in the dryer. You’ll have to choose your needle according to the weight of the tweed you’re using. All purpose thread is okay. For heavier tweeds, use a rolling foot and be ready to clip corners and grade your seams to reduce bulk.
There are a couple of tweeds with regional origins, which have to meet certain requirements to carry the name – just like how the French wine industry keeps telling us that real champagne must be made in the Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine.
Donegal tweed – is a hand-woven wool fabric made with materials local to County Donegal, Ireland and made in County Donegal, not elsewhere. If you’re shopping for real Donegal tweed, be aware of a little trick the marketing boys use. If the description feature a lower-case “d”, then it’s a knockoff. The upper case “D” indicates that it’s from County Donegal, not donegal-style. The market has a lot of little-d tweed out there.
Harris tweed is a similar beast. It’s a hand-woven tweed made in the Outer Hebrides islands, made from virgin wool taken from sheep within the UK. It used to be limited to wool from sheep in the Hebrides, but supply couldn’t keep up with demand. Harris tweed has a distinctive mark stamped on the selvedge edges of the fabric, and the selvedge should also include a note as to which island it was woven on. As per Donegal tweed, shady sellers will try passing off material with a lower-case H as the real thing, or offer “Harris-like” tweed.
As both Donegal and Harris tweeds are hand-made, they cost a lot of money. I haven’t seen one for under 80 Euros a meter (call it $100/yd) so, as usual, if you find a seller offering it at a price that’s too good to be true, it’s not the real thing.
Some tweeds will be named for the breed of sheep from which the yarns were woven, such as the Cheviot and Shetland tweeds.
Saxony tweed is made from the wool of the Merino sheep. I’ve never handled it, but I imagine it’s luscious.