Man wearing Donegal Tweed Cap & Jacket

Tweed: Weaving Heritage and Practicality into Irish Gifts

Ireland and Scotland are sheep country. Tweed is one of the most distinctively Celtic uses for wool, and Donegal tweed is particularly beloved as the fabric of a wide range of Irish gifts including caps and jackets. It has a timeless look that goes effortlessly from countryside to city. So what exactly is tweed, and when it did it become a staple of the Irish wardrobe? This versatile textile has a long history, with roots in both Ireland and Scotland – where its warmth and durability really matter.

How We Get Tweed

Tweed got its name from some confusion between the word ‘tweel’ – Scottish for twill – and the River Tweed on the part of a London shipping clerk in 1826.

Twill is one type of weaving pattern used for tweed and other materials. The fabric had been around a lot longer than that, though. It’s really an umbrella term covering a variety of woven wool fabrics with different patterns such as herringbone, plaid, salt and pepper, flecks, etc.

Traditionally, tweed is made from wool. The wool is first spun into yarn, then dyed and then woven into tweed. Tweed can be heavy or lightweight, and there is no limit to what colors it can include. Often it reflects the soft greys and browns of the Irish and Scottish landscape, but it be brighter shades too. Some Irish gifts use green tweed.

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Timeless Donegal Tweeds

Donegal has produced tweeds for centuries. In the 1700s, production increased due to the arrival of more modern weaving equipment. That meant that local weavers could produce more of the distinctive material. Donegal tweed is a style of weaving that features flecks of color scattered throughout the fabric for a heathered effect. It can come in any color.

Donegal tweed was traditionally used to make jackets and caps as well as skirts. As fashions evolved, tweed remained a solid part of the Irish look. Irish designer Sybil Connolly (1921 – 1998) worked with tweed and encouraged a serious revival of interest in the fabric. She might not be a household name today, but in her heyday, her clientele included first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and movies stars Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews. She also worked with Tiffany & Co. A real pioneer, Connolly employed about 100 women who wove fabric for her in their homes.

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Today, Donegal tweed is as popular as ever. Tweed caps remain favorite Irish gifts. And the fabric’s rugged sturdiness has also made it popular for backpacks and satchels. Because tweed can be any color, it can fit into any wardrobe. A tweed accessory such as a cap or a clutch purse can be a fantastic signature piece, a way of embracing and showing off your roots every day. You can expect tweed to endure. Its look is timeless and classic, and the fabric itself is designed to withstand the extreme damp and cold of the Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland. Tough enough for the farm and stylish enough for the most sophisticated city – who can resist the Irish treasure of Donegal tweed?