Clans & tartans

COMPLETE TARTAN GUIDE


FAQ

  1. Tartan PictureHow should I start searching for a tartan? Traditionally, you start from your clan name or your last name (e.g. If your clan name is MacDonald, type MacDonald in the Clan finder). If there's no such tartan or if you don't like the sett, go through the relevant district tartans (e.g. If you or your relatives live in Glasgow, type Glasgow as the tartan name in Tartan finder). If you don't like them either, search for some commemorative ones (which stands for an important person or event) or universal tartan (e.g. Freedom, Highland Granite, Flower of Scotland, Heritage of Scotland), which is dedicated to, literally, anyone.
  2. Can I wear a tartan if I do not have Scottish roots? If yes, which tartan should I use? Definitely, yes. There's no need to be Scottish or have Scottish relatives to wear tartan. Custom advises that the individual should choose a pattern which is somehow associated to the person's background, so if you don't have one, you can still choose a universal tartan, such as: Freedom, Highland Granite, Flower of Scotland, Heritage of Scotland and many others.
  3. Are there any universal tartans for everyone? Indeed, there are tartans which are not connected neither with a clan, district nor anything else. So-called ‘universal' tartans, such as Freedom, Highland Granite, Flower of Scotland, Heritage of Scotland may be worn by anyone without fear of treading on culturally sensitive toes!
  4. Can I wear some other tartans if I don't like the sett of my clan's one? Yes. If you don't like the sett of your clan's tartan you can obviously choose some other tartan - your own or your ancestors district tartan, tartan which stands for a person or event you feel connected to (commemorative tartan) or simply one of the universal tartans.
  5. What should I do if I don't find my tartan in Heritage Of Scotland? If you do not find your tartan in our database we may still be able to help. Please contact us providing a link to the tartan as shown on The Tartans Register of Scotland and we will be happy to find out if any of the mills we deal with stock this, or alternatively if we can have it made as a Special Weave for you.
  6. You are a Scottish based company - do you have other national tartans? Of course, we do! We have Heritage Of Ireland, Ireland's National, Welsh National and many other tartans that come from different districts, cities or countries.
  7. Where can I see all of the tartan you offer? All of the tartans may be found in the Tartan finder section. Then you have two possibilities: search by tartan or clan name.
  8. Can I see the samples of tartan before I choose to browse your products? Yes, you can. They are available in the Tartan finder section (after choosing tartan) as well as in the made-to-order products pages.
  9. What is the weight of Heritage Of Scotland’s kilts? The default weight of our made-to-measure kilts is 16oz (heavy weight). Some tartans are also 12 or 13oz (medium weight) and 10oz (light weight). Other will have different weight options soon, too. When it comes to our casual kilts – 8 yards are heavy weight (16oz) and 5 yards are light weight (10oz).
  10. What is the difference between 5 yard and 8 yard kilts? Traditionally kilts were made from 8 yards of material, however, with the kilt becoming increasingly popular for every day wear, the 8 yards can be a little restrictive.

    Casual kilts are made from 5 yards of material and are lighter to wear, ideal for wearing to sports events or as a "casual" wear, hence the name. If you intend wearing the kilt to formal occasions then there is no doubt that the full 8 yard kilt would be better than the 5 yard kilt, as the full 8 yards allows for deeper pleating at the back. The 5 yard kilt is perfectly acceptable, as formal wear and to the untrained eye will be difficult to tell apart. With the extra material however, the 8 yard kilt will also be harder wearing than the casual kilt, and with proper care will last a lifetime.

TARTAN FEATURES

  1. Material weight

    Traditional, wool tartan may come in a few different weights. Most commonly these are:

    • 16oz (heavy weight) - This is the most common and traditional weight at which tartan is woven by majority of the mills. Kilts made from 16oz material are generally warmer, which is an obvious advantage in winter and colder climates. Furthermore, it doesn't require ironing as often as the lighter fabrics do.
    • 12-13oz (medium weight) - Tartans at this weight are also very popular and may be found in the majority of mills' ranges. It is not as heavy as 16oz fabric, but still comfortable and easy to maintain.
    • 10oz (light weight) - The light weight kilts need a lot of care, such as being pressed regularly, therefore we couldn't call them the most serviceable ones. This weight is often recommended mainly for those who live in a truly warm climate or just want to stay cool, though it is most often used for ladies clothing. Because kilts made from this type of fabric are not heavy at all, they are best for casual events and other unofficial parties.
  2. Colour schemes

    When you've already found your tartan (clan, district, commemorative or any other tartan), there is also usually the colouring to choose: "Modern", "ancient" and sometimes "reproduction", "muted" or "weathered". They confusingly do not indicate the age of the sett.

    • "Modern" - this is a default colour scheme, where the colours appear strong and dark. Modern colours are produced using chemical dyes. In Victorian times, using dark colours such as green, blue and black was very stylish.
    • "Ancient" - this colour scheme is lighter in tone. It refers to the natural colours, produced by using natural vegetable dyes such as those used in making the earliest tartans - today, however, they are also created with chemical dyes.
    • "Weathered" - the idea of this colour is to present how a tartan may look after many years of its existence. Weathered colour scheme traditionally represents a tartan which is faded by its age.

    These colour variations look different, but it is important to remember that since tartan is determined by its pattern and general colours, not the specific shades used, all are correct.

  3. Material length

    Heritage of Scotland has two different kilt lengths to offer: 8 and 5 yard. They differ within each other not only because of their lengths.

    • 8 yard kilt is a traditional and more restrictively designed one. It is ideal for all formal occasions such as the wedding. The full 8 yards allows for deeper pleating at the back, therefore it looks absolutely perfect and has an excellent swing.
    • 5 yard kilt is a more casual one. With only 5 yards of material it is lighter and easier to take care of. Even though this one is perfect for casual events, it is absolutely acceptable as formal wear, too.

INTRODUCTION

  • Tartan and SporranWhat is tartan? According to the Scottish Register of Tartans, a tartan is “a design which is capable of being woven consisting of two or more alternating coloured stripes which combine vertically and horizontally to form a repeated checkered pattern.” The pattern is known as the sett. Tartan is traditionally woven using wool, but nowadays there are many other materials that are being used in the process of making a kilt, such as poly-viscose, leather or even denim. The word tartan did not refer to the pattern or the notion of kinship initially, but rather to the type of cloth which Highlanders were wearing, in the kilt form as well.

    Tartan is recognised as a symbol of the Scottish people and their culture. It's a constantly evolving part of Scottish history, as well as a worldwide known piece of fashion.
  • The Scottish Register of Tartans The Scottish Register of Tartans is an official tartans database, established in 2008. It is run by The National Records of Scotland, one of the Scottish Government's Departments. The Register's goals are to preserve past, record the present and inform the future.

    The Act specifies conditions under which new tartans can be registered. They are:
    • meeting the definition of tartan described by the Act
    • uniqueness of a new tartan design and lack of similarity to any of the tartans already recorded
    • using a unique name for the tartan

    Before The Scottish Register of Tartans was established, tartans were protected by the Scottish Tartans Authority. This Scottish Charity had been maintaining and compiling the International Tartan Index. Its current major objective is to promote a deeper knowledge of Scottish tartans, their history, origins and use.
  • Which tartan to wear? From a legal point of view - any tartan you choose. However, custom advises that the individual should choose a pattern which is somehow associated to the person's background. There are many forms of this kind of loyalty and membership - to the clan, to the district where one was born or where his or her ancestors lived, to a regiment, etc. If one cannot find his own connection and does not want to wear a tartan he does not feel an association with, there are lots of so-called ‘universal' tartans, which may be worn by anyone without fear of treading on culturally sensitive toes!

    Traditionally, when you search for a meaningful tartan, you start from your last name and clan name. If there's no such tartan or if you don't like the sett, go through the relevant district tartans. If you don't like them either, search for some commemorative ones (which stands for an important person or event) or universal tartan, which is dedicated to, literally, anyone.

    Generally speaking, the choice depends on one's level of connection or affiliation to the particular group.

TARTAN CATEGORISATION

  1. Clan/Family. Tartan associated to one's family background. The Clan (or Family) tartan is worn by the clan's members as well as well-wishers. If someone has a Scottish surname, there is probably a tartan associated to this name, too. Click here to search the Clan finder.
  2. Name. Tartan intended for anyone of that surname - be it an individual or the whole family. The registrant of such a tartan may be expected to have a number of people with that surname sign off on the design, as evidence that they approve of the registration. In some time such tartans may be accepted as Clan/Family ones if no other patterns are available.
  3. District. Tartan named after particular geographical area. District tartans may be symbols of countries, cities, provinces, states or even small towns. Such tartans are usually worn by those who feel a personal connection to the area that the tartan represents. Practically, it is often used also by those who cannot find their clan or family connection to any of the tartans.
  4. Portrait/Artefact. Tartan's thread-count is taken from a real artifact, painting or an article of clothing. The Scottish Register of Tartans suggests including the tartan's origin in its name.
  5. Corporate. Tartan which belongs to a particular company, organisation or group of people gathered around specific interests. The trend of creating corporate tartans has started in the 1980s and has remained continuously popular right up to the present day. Naturally, these tartans are worn only by employees or group members, and weaving of the tartan is normally restricted to company approved weavers only, to ensure distribution is controlled among approved wearers only.
  6. Commemorative. Tartans created in order to memorialise someone or something. They mark a special event or a person and may be worn by anyone who has an interest or who feel associated to the tartan's theme.
  7. Fashion. Tartan brought to life because of commercial issues. The copyrights are owned by the commercial companies and un-approved mills are excluded from weaving them, unless the notes say different.
  8. Military. Tartans connected to the branches of the armed forces, which can be worn by any person with a genuine claim to affiliation with that branch. Volunteer branches are also included in this category.
  9. Royal. Tartan that is strictly connected to the Royal Family. These tartans are worn only by the members of the British Royal Family. However, few tartans considered as “Royal” ones (such as Royal Stewart) have no restriction and historically can be worn by any subject of that monarch (or, as with Royal Stewart, now anyone can wear it).
  10. Regimental. Similar to normal military tartans, however these are affiliated with a specific regiment, and really, only veterans or currently serving members of that regiment should wear these.
  11. Trade. Tartans which are used to represent other jobs, not related to the military. Trade tartans are however particularly popular among vocations with a strong military connection, such as the emergency services.
  12. Universal. Tartans intended for people with a link to Scotland, who wish to wear tartan but do cannot identify their clans or the districts his/her ancestors lived in. Universal tartans are also a good solution for those who have no particular connection to Scotland but are passionate fans and enthusiasts of all things Scottish!

LEGAL CONTEXT

There are no laws stopping one from wearing another clans, district or regiment tartan; only restricted, copyrighted tartans are affected. And that only affects the people weaving or selling the cloth, not the people wearing it. Legally speaking, nowadays it is less about who has the right to wear a tartan, and more about who has the right to sell it.

Restricted tartans are usually designs from the following categories: trade, fashion, corporate. The full list of restricted tartans is available on the Scottish Tartan register's website: http://www.tartanregister.gov.uk

Although it still divides opinion, most people now do feel free to wear whichever tartan they please, and legally speaking there is no impediment to this. The main concern of course regards good and bad taste, and most people now do realize that this will involve balancing the choice of a tartan you find attractive, with ensuring you do not inadvertently cause hurt or bad feeling by wearing the tartan of a clan or a regiment (for example) to which you have no association.

CREATING AND REGISTERING NEW TARTAN

Anyone is allowed to submit an application in order to register a new tartan in the Scottish Register of Tartans. However, there are some conditions that both the applicant and tartan itself need to fulfill.

  1. The applicant must be a registered user of the Scottish Register of Tartans. Creating the user account is free of charge.
  2. For the service of registering a new tartan an application fee is charged. The amount is £70 and is exempt from VAT. An application fee is not refundable.
  3. Since all tartans stand for something so must each new one. The applicant's duty is to present the reason why the tartan is created. Therefore information about the reasons for creating it, as well as details concerning the tartan's design, must be provided.
  4. Naturally, the new tartan must be unique as well, meaning sufficiently different to all the tartans that the Scottish Register of Tartans has already recorded. The Register is very restrictive when it comes to the conditions under which a new tartan may be considered as a “sufficiently different”, which means in practice:
    1. different geometry design
    2. different colours in substantially different proportions and order
    3. over-checks or additional stripes, providing they are clearly visible when woven

    The Scottish Register of Tartans also suggests which changes to an existing tartan do not make a new one sufficiently different:
    1. changing the size of the sett
    2. changing the shade of colours

  5. The number of colours also matters. The total number of colours in a tartan includes mixtures, which occur where the colours cross paths, meaning that using 2 differently coloured threads results in a total of 3 colours in a tartan. Traditionally, the maximum of thread colours used in a tartan was 6 (which made a total of 21 including mixtures). Nowadays, many wavers and professional designers still stick to this rule, which means that their looms may be also limited to these 6 colours.
  6. Submitted tartans must be named. The applicant needs to explain his/her association to this name, as well. When it comes to the technical restrictions, tartan name cannot extend 200 characters in length. It is also advised to avoid the preposition ‘of' in the tartan name. The only exception is when the applicant can demonstrate a legal right to his/her tartan.

Sources