I started this whole project because of the tweeds. In my corporate life days I kept myself happy sneaking a few minutes (even hours on a bad day) surfing the net. I got interested in organic lifestyle (beyond food) when I read a series of special supplements from The Guardian in around 2003. I started looking into textiles. There was little you could buy but I do remember often finding myself looking at The Isle of Mull Weaver's website. It captured my imagination, I wanted to go up there, I wanted something it represented or made me feel. It's hard to explain why things draw you in. When I was studying pattern cutting at Morely College and decided to make myself a coat as a personal project. I then remembered those fabrics and decided that this was what I wanted to do: start a business making coats from these tweeds.
So, what is it about tweed? I think everyone has an experience of it that informs their feeling for it; however conscious or buried. It's the same with all the materials and textures around us. Some are more sensitive to the quality of them, some actively seek to surround themselves with the 'right' ones. I can speak for myself in that I think it does represent something of Scotland for me. My mother's family is from Aberdeenshire, near Fraserburgh. We spent many summers in Scotland and later I used to escape there when I was at Edinburgh University. I remember my grandmother's tweedy skirts (with lining that had a crumply sound when she sat down). I don't remember a day when my grandfather didn't wear a tweed jacket. It wasn't a formal garment at all. He'd spend his day semi-outside kinda sorting things, chopping wood, inspecting, in that mysterious existence introverted old men inhabit. It was decidedly scruffy and lived-in. He'd probably not bought it new himself. It would have been given to him by someone or he'd picked it up in a charity shop or something but it certainly had lived for decades. Clothes were functional, but then there must have been a reason why he chose a tweed jacket over something else?
People have different reactions when I talk about tweed. My uncle recently started telling me about what you did with your new tweed jacket or hat. It was absolutely shameful to walk about in a new tweed jacket. I guess it gave away a townie lack of heritage or 'knowing'. There were obvious class overtones to this, but I also think it was about seeing the garment as having been lived in, experienced, close to the earth. It's curiously emotional. So, the uncle recommended either leaving your new jacket or hat on the washing line in the rain or even burying it in the garden for a few weeks. I like the idea of both of these, though I fear my 'care instructions' will not include these recommendations. I'm sure your jacket will look lived-in after the outdoors treatmement.
It reminds me of Hussein Chalayan who reputedly buried his degree collection in the garden for a few weeks to see it decompose. I doubt he worked with tweed. In fact I doubt he would have found the desired levels of decomposition if it had. This burying, soaking, leaving in a pile behaviour also reminds me of what we do to jeans. We like to make them look worn. They seem to need to show human wear. This gives them character and they become ours like a second skin. Tweed jackets are similar to a pair of jeans because they do mould to the shape of the wearer and improve with age. My coats are so new, they have a lovely sheen and texture, but I'm also really fascinated to see how they age and take on a life of their own, rather like my grand-father's jackets.
Another person, someone I knew as a child, bespoke footwear maker Jim Shoesmith, asked me about thorn-proof tweed. I didn't really know much about it except that it resonated with me as the practical, even technological aspect of tweed. A good thorn-proof tweed is one that's very tightly woven and quite heavy. It means you can trudge all over the place, thorns, thistles and all and be impervious to them all. When I started researching the 1930's I came across tweed as featuring very heavily in 'sportswear'. Tweed protected you from the elements, the lanolin in the wool gives it an oiliness which repels water as well as dirt. Unlike cotton, dirt and water don't absorb into wool very well.
It exists today in sportswear, especially on the hunting shooting fishing end of the market. It's obviously associated with the elite but if you venture out of the home counties it's not as simple as that. It's more about the practicality of the fabric. However, I do love looking at these traditional 'sports' clothes. They have fantastic details such as vents in the armhole and across the back to enable you to move when you are shooting. Riding jackets are interesting as they are all cut with the sleeve sitting much more forward than you'd find in a normal jacket. It's because that's how you need to sit when you're on a horse.
Here is a hacking jacket of my great aunt's. It's had many lives, I'm sure before it came my way. I used to wear it in the early '90s when long jackets were in. It doesn't quite work at the moment, funnily. I don't ride so it doesn't get much wear these days.
This is what I love about tweed:
-- the colours, especially the natural dyes. I heard that there are tweed merchants who make bespoke tweeds. What they do to go up to the landowner's estate in Scotland and evaluate the colours of the land and then make a tweed that is harmonious with the landscape. It's a wonderful idea. However, I favour this from an aesthetic perspective more than the advantage it gives you over the birds and animals you are trying to hide from (and go on to shoot).
-- the longevity of tweed. It lasts and lasts, as long as the moths don't get to it.
-- it's ability to withstand dirt and rain
-- the character it acquires over the years
-- the connection with Scotland, but also Ireland, Wales and Northern England.
-- I like to think that tweed can be subversive too. Rather like Gilbert and George you can subvert the norm by wearing a tweed suit.