The World Famous Scottish Tartan

Scottish tartan is arguably the most famous cloth in the world.

It is the cornerstone of all authentic Scottish kilts, which go to make the world's most famous National Dress.

So what exactly is this cloth called Scottish tartan?

Well its a pattern of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical pre- dyed threads, which are woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other.

The weft is woven in a simple twill, two over - two under the warp, advancing one thread each pass.

This forms visible diagonal lines where different colours cross, which give the appearance of new colours blended from the original ones.

The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.

Tartan is nowadays firmly associated with the different Scottish clans, but of course that was not always the case.

Up until the eighteenth century, clans had little or no association with particular tartans.

And tartans that were worn back then, were more likely to be associated with a district rather than a clan.

In fact most of the different tartans we know and love today were developed and designed in the nineteenth century.

It was on April 8, 1815 that the naming and registering of clan tartans began.

The Highland Society of London, which was founded in 1778 requested all clan Chiefs to furnish them with a sample of tartan cloth, to which they wished their clan to be associated, and registered with the clan's name.

At this time many clan Chiefs had no idea as to which tartan might be appropriate.

In fact one clan Chief Alexander Macdonald, 2nd Baron Macdonald of Slate wrote to the society, "Being really ignorant of what is exactly The Macdonald Tartan, I request you will have the goodness to exert every Means in your power to Obtain a perfectly genuine Pattern, Such as Will Warrant me in Authenticating it with my Arms."

So you can see that the English (having first banned the wearing of all tartan and kilts in 1746) were now actively encouraging official registration of clan tartans.

So how do you know which Scottish tartan, if any you are allowed to wear?

Well the traditionalists will tell you that you have to have a family connection in order to wear a clan tartan.

Is this true?


While it is true that there are tartans which are considered generic, the most common being The Black Watch, you can in fact wear any tartan you wish.

It is worth noting that traditionally Scottish bloodlines run on both sides of the family, mother's as well as father's.

Clan Chiefs can just as easily be women as men, and you can "correctly" choose to wear your grandmothers tartan, this is seen as perfectly appropriate.

Given that there are no regulations, and certainly no laws governing which tartan you can wear, my advice is wear what you want, and wear it with pride.

I trust this page has given you an insight into Scottish tartans.

However if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line using the "Contact Us" page, and I will be happy to answer them for you.

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