Since the 18th century, the Scots have been weaving the richly textured cloth that has become the favorite fabric on America's sporting scene
September 04, 1955

A Scotsman takes his shooting tweeds as seriously as he does his tartans. They are at the same time a means of camouflage and a badge of identity, protection against the cold of the moors and the damp of the castle. Recently a wealthy laird commissioned the owner of a venerable tweed mill to design a shooting tweed for his estate—a district check incorporating all of the colors of his grounds that would cause himself and his gamekeepers to blend with the scenery while on the stalk. Being a true Scot, however, the laird dressed each of his men in their new tweed jackets and plus fours, then sent them 100 yards up the moor. If he could see them, he said, he wouldn't pay. Being a truer Scot, the maker of the cloth had tipped the men first and each of them hid behind a rock. The laird happily paid for his cloth.

With less guile and equal acumen, the Scots mill-owners in Hawick and other borderland villages such as Galashiels and Peebles; the crofters in cottages on the islands of the Outer Hebrides—North Uist, Lewis and Harris—and on the windblown flatlands of the Shetland and Orkney island groups have for centuries produced tweeds of such quality and character that they have set the standard for all the world. Scottish tweeds are also as individual as the people who make them. Those made in the Shetland Islands are very soft, for the Shetland sheep is a scrawny animal which produces short and silky wool fiber. Like their Norse ancestors, the Shetlanders prefer the natural colors of wool to dyed ones. Most of their homespuns, hand-woven under primitive conditions in their cottages, are patterned with the various shades of gray and brown of their sheep. Shetland tweeds are extremely popular for American suits and sport jackets.

Harris tweed is produced by cottagers in the cold Outer Hebrides and is a much more rugged fabric, a mixture of wool of the Cheviot and Blackface sheep who thrive on those rocky islands. Colors are usually compounded from vegetation that grows around the crofters' cottages: rusty brown from lichens, green from heather. Made into topcoats and suits, sturdy Harris tweed has long been popular in the United States. Now that Harris tweeds are being woven in lighter weights, they have more uses and America buys half of the yearly output of five million yards.

The thriving mills of the Scottish borderlands create great variety in tweeds—both traditional patterns and the more colorful designs sought by the women's fashion markets. Here also are woven those "district checks" for shooting tweeds that a Scotsman values next to his kilts.


These are the minimum requirements for the wardrobe of the well-dressed man or woman

Twill Weave of this Shetland is one of oldest tweed patterns. Its 18th Century Scotch spelling, "tweel," was misread as "tweed" on invoices in London, gave the cloth its name.

Harris is the most rugged of tweeds and must be hand-woven by cottagers of the Outer Hebrides to earn the name. This rust fabric was dyed with "crottle," an island lichen.

District check tweeds like this one incorporate the special fall coloring of a laird's estate and are designed to camouflage shooters and gamekeepers during hunting season.

Hound's-Tooth is a classic pattern of broken checks, found most often in sport jackets of Shetland or Harris tweeds. This cloth was spun and woven by hand in the Shetland Islands.

Pheasant's-Eye or diamond pattern is one of most popular novelty tweed designs. This combination of black and brown was woven for the American market, will be made into jackets.

Herringbone, a variation on the twill, is another classic weave often, as here, made of two different colors of wool. Two of the four most common colors of Shetland sheep are used here.

Suit & Topper are the best choice for a spectator sportswoman. Companion tweed coat and suit can double as coat-and-skirt costume with sweaters or shirts (Glenhunt).

Tweed costume which combines tweed and silk is good for country evening wear or for traveling, since it will serve either informal or formal occasions equally well (Vera Maxwell).

Topcoat with raglan sleeves, handily reversible to water-repelling poplin, is perfect coat for bad weather, well-tailored enough for town wear.

Sport jacket, either of Shetland or of Harris, is a must. Vertical stripe pattern is popular this year.

Suit of gray Shetland has classic three-button, natural-shoulder cut. Jacket doubles for a sport jacket.

PHOTOPHILIP O. STEARNSSCOTTISH TWEEDS, tailored in America: left, a fingertip length double-breasted coat of Cheviot, Rogers Peet, $85. Center, a classic Davidow suit of heathery blue John Barr tweed, $125. Right, a country jacket of Shetland tweed with four suede buttons and trim, by Currick and Leiken, $55, Bloomingdale's. Matching cap by Mernit, $5. ELEVEN ILLUSTRATIONSMARY SUZUKI