Thursday, 18 September 2014

The need for tweed

My favourite tweed suit. The hair's
changed, but the suit is the same!
Autumn is upon us! There are some things I really don't like about the season – mainly the rain and having to get up in the dark; I'm solar-powered and find it very difficult to get up before the sun does – but there are lots of things I love about it. There's Halloween, cold-weather foods like stew and dumplings, and the first squashes arriving in my vegbox. There's also the sheer delight of going to my wardrobe and rediscovering all my tweedy old skirts and woolly jumpers. Isn't that a delight? I certainly don't know any knitters who don't love digging out their favourite knitteds each winter; rediscovering something you spent weeks on and enjoying it all over again is a real treat. And there's nothing like tweedy trousers or a wool skirt ot jacket to pair with a favourite knit.



The OED defines tweed as 'a rough surfaced woollen cloth, typically of mixed flecked colours, originally produced in Scotland'. Scotland still produces the most famous tweed, Harris tweed, hand-spun and woven on the Hebridean island of Harris and a few of its neighbours. Everything about it is local, right down to the sheep, and so it's a strictly regulated product. County Donegal in Ireland also makes a famous tweed. The fabric is made in many other places as well, though. Because it's so warm and hardwearing, it's traditionally been used to make 'country' clothes, though nowadays it's also worn 'in town'. Indeed, the famous cycling Tweed Run features dozens of wool-clad riders charging around London.

For me, there's something very between-the-wars about tweed – very 1930s, in particular. It's a fabric for being active in, perfectly suited to jazz age pursuits like golf and walking. And it's a democratic fabric, as suited to the gamekeeper as the Laird. While it's practical, one look at the official Harris Tweed website will show you how beautiful it can be, in all sorts of natural colours and woven patterns.

Cheap as tweedy chips
Country-style tweeds. How smart for gardening!
If you're a chap, charity shops will prove a goldmine for inexpensive tweed. You're unlikely to find Harris tweed for a bargain price (though it's always worth a look), but other tweeds are plentiful. Mr Robot's bought some splendid jackets over the years, and one of his favourites is a herringbone tweed one which cost about £5. Trousers are harder to come by, I think because men's trouser styles don't change radically year-on-year and so men tend to wear favourite pairs until they're completely worn out. How many of those jackets are really half-a-suit, I wonder... I think a tweed jacket looks great with trousers in other 'country' fabrics such as corduroy and moleskin, though I disapprove of it with denim. Unless it's on Indiana Jones. Or off Indiana Jones. Ahem.

For women, charity shops are stuffed with nice woollen skirts, including in plus sizes. You can find tartans, dogtooth check, Prince-of-Wales check... it's all there in whatever colours you prefer. I realised a few years ago that there was no point me paying new prices for winter skirts ever again. Several of my favourites cost £1.50 each! Because below-knee, heavy skirts were popular with older women in years gone by, they're now seen as old-fashioned, making them far cheaper than newer, less hardwearing styles. I avoid skirts with elasticated waists, but even so I'm spoilt for choice. I also don't worry about buying pleated ones with dry-clean-only labels as I have a cunning technique for cleaning them (How to wash a dry-clean-only pleated skirt). My greatest tweed bargain to date is my 1970s Edinburgh Woollen Mill suit, which I got for £8. I keep looking for something similar, but haven't found anything yet. Good suits are hard to find.

If you've got a tip for finding a tweed bargain, I'd love to know about it. I get all my best ones in Age UK.
£1.50 PoW check skirt. BARGAIN.

Look after them
How do you keep your tweeds nice? Most importantly, protect them against moths. All that thick wool is moth heaven. I now have a 'quarantine' system where any secondhand garment entering the house gets to spend a fortnight in a plastic bag with some Zensect balls, before moving into a wardrobe. (That too contains anti-moth hangers, but I'd rather isolate a garment and treat it on its own before mixing it in with others.) Keep them dry-cleaned. If jackets need refreshing or reshaping between dry cleanings, hang them in a steamy bathroom, then WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE COMPLETELY DRY and iron them with a DRY iron. Why dry? Because wool plus heat plus moisture plus motion equals felt, and you don't want to shrink your clothes. With a bit of care, your tweeds will last you for years.

10 comments :

  1. Oh, I like that suit of yours very much (and the shoes are lovely as well). Thanks for the care tips. With woolen season coming in it is always good to learn another way to keep the moths out.

    I recently found a Donegal tweed jacket in a thrift store, and I nearly cried I was so happy. I promised it to my son when he's a bit taller, but he may have a difficult time getting it away from me. I took a fair bit of teasing from my sister when we were young, as I had quite a collection of tweed skirts, trousers, and the like. To her, they all looked the same, but of course they were each distinctive.

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    1. You need to find more tweed jackets so you have lots for both of you.

      Moths are my mortal enemy. I wage constant war on them.

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  2. I am sitting here in Australian spring getting what is probably my last wear of tartan this season. I have picked up an absolute gold mine of kilts and pleated skirts at opshops this winter. Most are an Australian brand, Fletcher Jones, and the quality is great for vintage pure wool. I feel the goldmine is probably from older ladies cleaning out their wardrobes. I would not swap them for anything though. The basically became my winter uniform

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    1. Oh, that sounds fab. I often look enviously at the stuff Australian vintage lovers find, and I bet there's some great wool to be found.

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  3. You look good in tweed, it has to be said! I do find charity shops great for tweedy 'old lady' skirts, but am still on the hunt for the perfect one. I think it's a great fabric for Autumn, and is so timeless really. P x

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    1. Thank you! I'm quite a practical person, and tweed is a very hardworking fabric, so we go together :-) There are so many fab skirts in chazzas at this time of year, I have to restrain myself from hoovering them all up.

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  4. This week I started my charity shop tweed and plaid searching, I agree, they are the best places to come across them. No success this week but
    I will enjoy the search. I did find a fabulous maroon with cream polka dots full skirt in a charity shop this week. A Monsoon one for a fiver! Bargin!

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    1. Woah, WIN! It's always great when you find a bargain - I'm always buzzing for the rest of the day.

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  5. I saw two fabulous jackets the last time I was in town, a real rarity there, I have to say. I wish I'd known a man they'd have fitted!
    Too small for my husband. But they were amazing quality. Made in GB, one a heavy grey wool, the other a mid brown cashmere...it was so soft. Both top stitched, wonderful cut.
    I was horrified that they had them on hangers too short for them and made of wire...groan. It's been years since I've seen anything like that in a charity shop. I can't say I've ever seen skirts like yours either.
    Mostly tat. Ah well, I keep looking, one never knows.

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    1. I find Age UK is best - I think it's the place people send elderly relatives' stuff to! I don't know if they think 'This thing is for old people therefore we'll send it to the charity for older people', but a lot of nantastic things end up there.

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