Tartan

From Academic Kids

A tartan is a specific woven pattern that often signifies a particular Scottish clan in the modern era. The pattern is made with alternating bands of coloured (pre-dyed) threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a "sett". Kilts almost always have tartans. Tartan is also known as plaid in North America, but in Scotland this word means a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder or blanket.

Three examples of tartans
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Three examples of tartans
Contents

Origins

Jade figurines wearing tartan hats were found in China, dating back to 3,500 BC or earlier. Tartan patterns have been used in Scottish weaving for centuries. A possible predecessor dating from the 3rd century found near the Antonine Wall and known as the "Falkirk sett" has a checked pattern in two colours identified as the undyed brown and white of the native Soay sheep. The fabric had been used as a stopper in an earthenware pot containing a hoard of silver coins.

For many centuries, the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area, though it was common for highlanders to wear a number of different tartans at the same time. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colours. A witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes "McDonnell's men in their triple stripes". From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardised tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan and this was formalised when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739.

The most effective fighters for Jacobitism were the supporting Scottish clans, leading to an association of tartans with the Jacobite cause. Efforts to pacify the Highlands led to the 1746 Dress Act banning tartans with exemptions for the military and the gentry. Soon after the Act was repealed in 1782 Highland Societies of landowners were promoting "the general use of the ancient Highland dress". William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn became the foremost weaving manufacturer around 1770 as suppliers of tartan to the military. Wilson corresponded with his agents in the highlands to get information and samples of cloth from the clan districts to enable him to reproduce "perfectly genuine patterns" and recorded over 200 setts by 1822, many of which were tentatively named. The Cockburn Collection of named samples made by Wilsons was put together between 1810 and 1820 and is now in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. At this time many setts were simply numbered, or given fanciful names such as the "Robin Hood" tartan.

By the 19th century the Highland romantic revival inspired by James Macpherson's Ossian poems and the writings of Walter Scott led to wider interest, with clubs like the Celtic Society of Edinburgh welcoming Lowlanders. The pageantry invented for the 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland brought a sudden demand for tartan cloth and made it the national dress of the whole of Scotland, with the invention of many new clan tartans to suit.

Clan tartans

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Mosman;_John_Campbell_1749.jpg
John Campbell of the Bank, 1749. The present official Clan Campbell tartans are green.

The naming and registration of official clan tartans began on April 8th 1815 when the Highland Society of London (founded 1778) resolved that all the clan chiefs each "be respectfully solicited to furnish the Society with as Much of the Tartan of his Lordship's Clan as will serve to Show the Pattern and to Authenticate the Same by Attaching Thereunto a Card bearing the Impression of his Lordship's Arms." Many had no idea of what their tartan might be, but were keen to comply and to provide authentic signed and sealed samples. Alexander Wentworth, second Lord Macdonald was so far removed from his Highland heritage that he wrote 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."

The tartan of a Scottish clan is a sequence of colors and shades unique to the material, authorised by the clan society for use by members of that clan for kilts, ties, and other garments and decorations. Every clan with a society has at least one distinct tartan. While "heraldic" in the sense of being visual representation of blood relation, they are not "Scottish heraldry", strictly speaking. In Scotland, heraldry is protected under the law by the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, and there are penalties for bearing an unauthorised Coat of arms. Any tartan specified in a Grant of Arms by the Lord Lyon is registered by him, but there is no legal prohibition against wearing the "wrong" tartan. It is considered proper to wear a clan tartan if the wearer is associated with the clan by name, by blood or by legal adoption.

Other modern tartans

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Burberry_check_pattern.png
The Burberry "check" pattern is copyrighted, unlike most tartans

In addition to the clan tartans, tradition reserves some patterns for use by Scottish Highland military units of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.

Those associated with the British Royal Family use the Royal Stewart Tartan regardless of whether they are affiliated by blood to the Stewart clan. This is because of the Royal Family's Stewart ancestry through James VI of Scotland.

However tartan is pretty inclusive. There are tartans for military forces like the Royal Canadian Air Force, commercial companies, special interest groups like Amnesty International, cities, football clubs, commemorations and regions of the world where people of the Scottish Diaspora live. As a result most people, whether of Scottish ancestry or not, can find some tartan which is significant for them. There are also general fashion tartans for those who do not care about the significance.

British Airways used a tartan design as part of its ethnic tailfin rebranding. This design, Benyhone or "Mountain of the birds," was one of the most widely used designs, being applied to 27 aircraft of the BA fleet.

In the Celtic regions of Cornwall and Wales tartans and kilts have been adopted as part of the 19th and 20th century Celtic revival and the traditional Northumbrian tartan, known in Scotland as the Shephard's Tartan, perhaps the oldest tartan design in Britain, is common and worn by Northumbrian Pipers.

See also

External links


There is a Radford University student newspaper called The Tartan (http://www.thetartan.com/) and a Carnegie Mellon University student newspaper also called The Tartan (http://www.thetartan.org/).

References

fr:Tartan ja:タータン pl:Szkocka krata

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