Choosing a tartan

Before you can order a kilt you must decide which tartan it will be made in.  You may have ties to a Scottish clan or family name that you may want to select.  Having no ties to Scottish ancestry, the whole inventory of tartan fabric is available to you.

There is no such thing as having the ‘right’ to wear a certain tartan.  The ‘correct’ tartan idea was taken very seriously in Sir Walter Scott’s time, when they started giving clan names to the tartans.  Clearly there was not going to be a tartan for every surname, so what would those people do who had a name for which a tartan had not been designed?

A theory was advanced that each clan included, in addition to clansmen who were blood relatives of the chief, “septs” who were incorporated into the clan in spite of the difference of blood, which of course would result in a different surname.  “Sept” is actually the Irish word for “clan” so it is like a family within a family.  Clan societies continue to publish and revise “sept lists” of names that belong to the various clans.

One of the most complete listings of the Scottish names and clan affiliations is in the book Scots Kith and Kin, published by Clan House in Edinburgh. It lists over 4000 names with their possible clan affiliations.

For people who have no Scottish affiliation, they are at liberty to choose a tartan that they admire.  There are many internet sites that list and show the thousands of tartans that are available.

Colour Variations

Once you have chosen a tartan pattern, you will find that many tartans have colour variations.  Most woolen mills have at least three colour variations for each tartan, and they vary from mill to mill.  Generally, they will have one colour scheme of dark colours, one of lighter colours, and one of muted colours. 

The darker colour scheme is called “modern” and the lighter one is called “ancient”.  The lighter dyes resemble the older vegetable dyes that were used long ago.  The darker dyes of the “modern” tartans were made popular in Victorian times as a more somber variation of the tartan.

The muted colours are dyed to look as if they have faded over the years.  Another colour variation in some tartans is the “hunting” version.  These tartans generally employ a lot of green in their colouring.

Dress Tartans

The term “dress tartan” does not necessarily mean that it is for dress-up occasions.  These tartans incorporate substantial amounts of white.  These were inspired by an eighteenth-century description of Scottish garb which said that the women’s dress “called Arisad, is a white Plad.”  Modern spelling makes this “arisaid”.  At one point in Queen Victoria’s reign, she asked that the weavers of tartan throw some white colour into the rather drab modern colours to enliven them.

Dress tartans are often worn by Highland dancers, women, and those wishing a lighter version of the clan tartans.

There are several weights of tartan fabric, ranging from 8-9 oz tartan which is suitable for Women’s wear that drapes and men’s ties.  An 11 oz. tartan is often used for Highland dance kilts, and a 13 oz tartan is suitable for a gentleman’s kilt, which may be worn for Scottish Country dancing, or for formal wear such as a wedding.  The heavier 15-16 oz. weight is used for military and band kilts.

In your consultation with me, we will discuss the suitability of the weights of tartan fabrics for your needs.