Constance Karol Burks
British Tweed in the Interwar Years: An Flexible Term for an Evolving Fabric
My dissertation focuses on the production, promotion, and consumption of tweed in Britain between 1919 and 1939, with particular focus on the production centres in the Scottish Borders, Outer Hebrides and West Riding of Yorkshire. A study of primary material and contemporary sources suggests that the term (an accidental fabrication in itself), along with the cloth, evolved and adapted far beyond its initial incarnation.
The technology of production, the demands of the market and promotional techniques each influenced the nature and reception of tweed. During the interwar period, the term ‘tweed’ was applied to an expanding range of textiles that encompassed an ever-growing mix of fibres, weights, constructions, characteristics and designs in contrast with the traditional description of tweed. Although the meaning of the term shifted and modernised, it maintained its association with the past, retaining complex and sometimes contradictory notions of tradition, national identity and heritage.
By deconstructing each characteristic of the wide range of textiles that were christened ‘tweed’ in the interwar years, I argue that by the 1930s the term tweed had moved beyond a textile definition and had become above anything else a marketing term.
This study grants attention to the impressively varied techniques employed in the design and weaving of tweeds during this period, which has thus far not been explored or appreciated in existing studies of textile design. Through close examination of material evidence within mill archives, trade publications, promotional materials and fashion press, I track the adapting use of the term tweed in everyday dress and fashion, and explore how tweed remained fashionable and desirable alongside widespread dissemination and competition from new fibres and fabrics.
This study demonstrates the fluid nature of terminology and reveals that even seemingly technical terms can adapt to signify a series of ephemeral associations rather than material characteristics.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2016
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A 2016 graduate of the History of Design MA at the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum, Constance is a design historian with a focus on dress, fashion and textiles. Her essay exploring technological change in the Harris Tweed industry was awarded the Gillian Naylor Essay Prize 2015. Her dissertation focused on the design, production, promotion and dissemination of tweed in the interwar years in Britain, arguing that the term 'tweed' evolved beyond a textile definition to become above anything else a marketing term. Constance's academic research is informed by her experience as a practitioner, working on historical textile machinery in her role at the London Cloth Company, a small-scale textile mill using rescued machinery dating from 1870-1970.
Whilst on the History of Design MA course, Constance was also awarded the Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize 2015 for outstanding studentship.
Constance has several years experience working freelance as a copywriter and content designer for a range of clients including luxury fashion brands and independent creatives.
- BA Criticism, Curation & Communication, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London, 2011
- Research intern, Deborah Nadoolman Landis Visiting curator at Victorian and Albert Museum, London, 2015; Volunteer, Furniture Textiles and Fashion Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2015–2016; Freelance copywriter & content designer, London, 2013–2016
- Gillian Naylor Essay Prize, V&A/Royal College of Art History of Design, 2015; Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize, V&A / RCA History of Design, 2015
- ‘Researching Fashion and Style’, Unmaking Things Blog, 2016