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  • Karen Terhune Duncan

The Curiously Compelling Nature of Tweed

Included in all the good reasons for visiting Ireland is shopping. Particularly if you’ve seen the superb handwoven tweed from the scenic county of Donegal. During a trip in the 1970s my mother-in-law was set on bringing home a few yards. She had plans to make Doug’s father a coat.

Donegal tweed is a rugged fabric, resistant to wind and water with excellent insulating properties. Perfect for the Irish climate. It wears well, is a quietly elegant cloth, expertly loomed in subtle shades inspired by the Irish landscape. The selection process can prove irresistible, as undoubtedly is was for my mother-in-law who was a lover a good fabric and a expert sewer. She chose a pattern rich in earthy tones, laced with reds and yellows like wildflowers. She was smitten.

An outstanding seamstress, she designed a traditional Ulster, named for the Irish province whose people popularized the tweed overcoat, which was traditionally meant to be worn often, and to last long. It was loose-fitting, roomy, raglan sleeved, so it hung well over suits. With generous pockets, so nothing would fall out accidentally, it remained a reliable companion for the many years during his long and often cold commutes from Wilton, Connecticut to midtown Manhattan.

After his retirement, and their move south, he stopped wearing the coat, except for his infrequent visits north in the wintertime. When he died it was with great ceremony she gifted it to Doug. But it did not really fit him and in many ways it was just too difficult to wear something so much a part of his beloved father. It hung in our closet for years.

With our move south we donated much of our wintery clothing, especially coats, to an annual Coat Drive in our home state of New Jersey. This particular coat, still in remarkably fine condition, included. We were told it was rare to find a coat for a man in the donation stock, and so vitally needed for so many.

In that lovely fabric store in Ireland in the 1970s, after the sale, the clerk suggested they “go next door to the pub and have a nice cool jar,” referring to a glass fo Guinness. My mother-in-law did not drink but she joined my father-in-law in a pint; to toast what would become his stellar winter coat.

Now it is someone else’s stellar winter coat. And to that we toast. Sláinte!

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