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.