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Why don’t we all wear tweed, asks Les­lie Ged­des-brown

IF you de­scribe some­one as ‘tweedy’, it evokes ei­ther a red-faced yokel or a poshvoiced man wear­ing a flat cap on a grouse moor. Which is grossly un­fair on tweed. I hadn’t thought about it un­til now, but the ma­te­rial is the mar­vel­lous in­ven­tion of the Scots and Ir­ish (I don’t think there’s an English tweed, but cor­rect me if I’m wrong).

I have no fewer than five tweed jackets all of hand­made fabric by Ian Suther­land on the He­bridean Isle of Lewis. All are Bre­an­ish tweed with win­dow­pane check pat­terns. Blue on blue, blue on white, blue on grey, blue on brown and, for a change, a pure cash­mere jacket of green on black.

All were made about 20 years ago by my own dress­maker. All have fancy but­tons such as pearl sewn on back-to-front and, for the brown ver­sion, a se­ries of flat­tened sil­ver coins dat­ing from 1704 from the reign of Fred­er­ick IIII of Den­mark. They were an heir­loom and are held on by a sort of safety pin.

I can’t re­mem­ber if I bought these lengths of cloth di­rectly from Mr Suther­land, but I cer­tainly vis­ited both Har­ris and Lewis to see tweed be­ing made. It was in­vari­ably done in a ram­shackle shed, gen­er­ally with­out win­dows, set in the wild land­scape of the is­lands. There would be a gi­gan­tic iron loom, prob­a­bly Vic­to­rian and built to last—mr Suther­land was us­ing a 90-year-old Hat­ter­s­ley. The noise was ter­rific.

I re­ally value my five jackets. As I write, I’m wear­ing the blue on blue, the style copied from an In­dian de­sign with a stand-up col­lar and an in­ge­nious way with but­ton­holes that im­pressed my dress­maker (who isn’t eas­ily im­pressed). She lined it with ul­tra­ma­rine, rough wo­ven silk bought from a sari shop, as, at that time, we both lived in Hal­i­fax, where there were In­dian shops aplenty.

She was more used to cut­ting and fash­ion­ing Har­ris tweed, which she said would only crease if you jumped on it, but that was the heavy ver­sion, ideal for farm­ers and grouse moors. My Bre­an­ish is a light­weight tweed with all the same rough char­ac­ter­is­tics, but al­most as soft and giv­ing as a wool cardi­gan. It’s a de­light to wear.

It’s strange that no other Euro­pean coun­try seems to have come up with such a use­ful fabric. Of course, you need plenty of sheep —Black­face are good—and there­fore moor­land, which Har­ris and the High­lands have in miles. But surely Swe­den, Ger­many and the Baltic states have both the sheep and the cli­mate? Why have they only come up with lo­den?

Ac­tu­ally, when I think about it, Bri­tain can claim credit for some of the most pop­u­lar cloths in the world. Think of worsted, es­pe­cially with a pin­stripe. This was nor­mal fare for the vast mills that sur­rounded us in Hal­i­fax, where the looms could weave 54in widths of cloth as against Har­ris’s 36in. It made tai­lor­ing a lot eas­ier and where would bu­reau­crats, politi­cians and lawyers be with­out their su­perfine pin­stripe suits?

Couldn’t they branch out a bit into tweed suits, re­mov­ing the field­sports im­age and re­plac­ing it with Tory suavity (no, I can’t see Jeremy Cor­byn in a hound­stooth)? Pho­to­graphs of the massed MPS in the Com­mons would be much more lively with a few colour­ful checks, her­ring­bones, spotty Done­gals and, in the case of SNP mem­bers, a full-blown tar­tan. What is the Stur­geon tar­tan?

Fash­ion de­sign­ers such as Vivi­enne West­wood could have their way and use light­weight tweed and, of course, wildly ex­pen­sive cash­mere for their creations. I know they've thought of it, be­cause, in 1996, Ian Suther­land sued Parcelforce for los­ing 16m of his best tweed, which was be­ing sent to Miss West­wood.

My Bre­an­ish jackets may have lit­tle in com­mon with her punk de­signs, but I do have the ku­dos of know­ing they were made on the same 90-year-old loom in a shed on the Isle of Lewis.

‘She said Har­ris tweed would only crease if you jumped on it

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