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Scottish wool firm launches its first ready-to-wear line

CROMBIE of Scotland, a longtime producer of top-quality wool and cashmere, is launching its first collection of ready-to-wear clothes for men and women this fall. The line will highlight coats, skirts, pants, knitwear -- even tailcoats -- trimmed in brocade. This marks new vistas for a firm that had its beginnings in the early 19th century.

In 1805 a young Scotsman named John Crombie set up a mill near Aberdeen to weave woolen cloth. It was important for Crombie to expand his business beyond Aberdeen, so he journeyed annually to London on horseback to sell his cloth to Queen Victoria's tailor.

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That's when a mistake was made that gave birth to the term ``tweed.'' The tailor's clerks misread a description of tweel (the Scottish variation of twill) and wrote it as tweed. So twill, tweel, to tweed.

Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish poet and novelist of Ivanhoe fame, took to Crombie cloth. So did the Confederate Army in America. During the Civil War, the Confederacy gave the Crombie mill its biggest order, and much rebel gray made its way across the Atlantic to soldiers of the South.

Crombie wool did war duty again when it was used for overcoats worn by British officers in World War I. The term `British warm' became the phrase describing these essential items in the army wardrobe.

In time, ``a Crombie'' became another name for a high quality wool coat. Last year, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made his first visit to Britain, he was described as wearing a ``British Crombie coat.'' He may well have been wearing Crombie cloth (the mill started selling wool to Russia in 1880), but he couldn't have been wearing a Crombie coat -- because at that point Crombie hadn't made any.

This fall the mill, now a part of the Illingworth Morris textile group, turns out its first ready-to-wear line.

Twill: The strongest of weaves, with distinct diagonal lines or ribs. Cotton twills include denim, coutil, ticking. Wool twills include serge and gabardine. Tweel: Scottish term for twill. Tweed: Originally, a wool fabric woven in Scotland. Now, it includes rough woolen fabric with homespun effect. Two or more dyed yarns are blended or woven in patterns of check, plaid, or herringbone.

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