Tweed: It’s a Yarn, a Fabric, AND a River!

It’s said that things often happen in threes, and that’s certainly true for things called “tweed.” First came the river, Tweed Water, flowing across the borderlands region of Scotland and England. By the eighteenth century, cottage weavers in the Outer Hebrides and Ireland began using handspun tweed yarns to produce a rugged yet lightweight wool cloth. In the nineteenth century, that wool cloth became known around the world as tweed. How are these things linked to the same word? Happy accidents!

• Tweed Water: A river whose name became associated with yarn and fabric; etymology unknown.

• Tweed yarn: A yarn with multiple plies and flecks of accent colors added during the spinning process. There are “true” tweed yarns in which the maker dyes wool in separate color batches, then mixes in flecks of the accent colors during carding or spinning. Tweed-like yarns get their color effects from different fibers, which take up colors differently in the dyeing process. The yarn probably derived its name from tweed cloth.

• Tweed cloth: A woven twill fabric in herringbone, check, or houndstooth patterns, usually made with tweed yarn. According to tradition, the fabric gets its name from a happy accident: In the Scots language, twill was known as tweel. Around 1830, a cloth manufacturer in Scotland wrote to a cloth merchant in London about some “tweel” fabric. The Londoner misread the word as “tweed” and began advertising such fabrics under this name.

In other words, the yarn and fabric have nothing to do with the river historically—it’s a linguistic coincidence!

tweed water vest

Another group of threes led to development of our luxurious Tweed Water Vest in Love of Knitting Fall 2017:

• The design: Irina Anikeeva submitted a gorgeous design proposal. Vests make ideal layering pieces in autumn’s changeable weather. Her idea included side vents, ribbing at the sides, and bold center panels of sinuous cables. I love Irina’s designs and grab them for Love of Knitting whenever I can. (You may remember her Shoreline Shawl from Love of Knitting Spring 2017.)

• The yarn: I chose a scrumptious tweed-like yarn—Acadia by The Fibre Co (distributed in the United States by Kelbourne Woolens). This yarn combines merino, alpaca, and silk into a soft, sproingy DK-weight confection, with the silk adding variations in color and texture. (For a sweater in “true” tweed yarn, check out the Ashwood Hoodie in this issue.)

• The name: I decided that projects in this issue would be named after places in the British Isles. Since the cables on this vest remind me of swiftly flowing water, to which the yarn added even more depth of color, it didn’t take much imagination to name it the Tweed Water Vest.

Get more history tidbits in Love of Knitting Fall 2017, and join us at Stitchery School!

Keep those needles moving,


tweed water vest

Pattern Details

Finished Size 33 (38.25, 41, 44, 47, 49.75)” bust circumference. Vest shown measures 38.25″; modeled with 3.25″ of positive ease.

Yarn The Fibre Co. Acadia (60% wool, 20% alpaca, 20% silk; 145 yd (133 m)/1.75 oz (50 g)): sea lavender, 6 (7, 7, 8, 9, 10) skeins. Yarn distributed by Kelbourne Woolens.

Needles Size 5 (3.75 mm) and 6 (4 mm): 24″ circular (cir). Adjust needle size to obtain the correct gauge.

Notions Markers (m); cable needle (cn); stitch holders; tapestry needle.

Gauge 24 sts and 28 rows = 4″ in Cable patt on larger needle; 22 sts and 28 rows = 4″ in k2, p2 rib on larger needle.

See more great knitting projects in Love of Knitting!

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