Married in a Tartan Dress

bella tartanThe warmer months are coming, and so is the wedding season. As it’s considered to be one of the most important days in one’s life, it’s usually carefully planned and thought-over in every way possible. If you or your partner has Scottish ancestry, it might be a great idea to get married in a Scottish style!

The groom’s outfit is a quite complicated one, but the one that shines the brightest is of course the bride! There is a vast array of wedding dresses on offer, but the one for a Scottish Wedding should be special. Traditional whit or ivory might suit you well, but what about a tartan dress? Which pattern should you choose? When to start planning? What about the guests?

Read about Tartan on the Catwalk

tatan setAt kilted weddings, both the bride and the guests wear the tartan of the groom. It was thought of as a sign of respect and honouring his clan, but nowadays it’s not as obligatory as it used to be, especially at marriages between a Scottish bride and a foreigner. There are a variety of options – every guest can come wearing their own tartan, and the bride’s “transition” from one family to another can be marked by a traditional ceremony of pinning the tartan. The member of the groom’s family, usually the groom himself or his mother, pin a rosette or a sash in her new clan tartan to the wedding dress. Today it is sometimes done the other way round – if a groom with no clan is being accepted in the bride’s clan.

The other option is wearing one of the universal tartans – there are plenty to choose from. Each one has its own meaning, so you may do a little digging into the subject and choose the one that suits you and your partner best. In fact, you can even design your own tartan. It’s a pricey choice (if you hire a designer rather than make your own pattern, this can cost around £1,000, but it’s the weaving of fabric that is usually the most expensive undertaking), but on the other hand – you may be establishing a new tradition for your family, and besides having your own pattern is always an original choice, designating family identity and being a one of a kind souvenir from this special day. The tartan might be used also as a nice accent in your flat or house – the accessories in the family tartan will make your home look cosy and warm like nothing else.

Bring back the memories of The Royal Wedding!

bustierBut what about the dress itself? There are plenty of designs available here too. The 2015 trends vary – according to the portal, on one hand we have over the shoulder necklines, on the other – tulle in every possible form. The colours also tend to be unconventional – the pastel versions of every kind of colour seem to be appropriate this season, especially soft browns and blues. The other interesting trend is wearing a cape – and that’s a perfect way to show off your clan adherence! The trend opposite to the over the shoulder necklines is the collar – made of see-through fabrics or in the form of a strap around the neck, exposing the shoulders. This glam style is also in fashion, being a tribute to elegance, while at the other end of the catwalk we can watch dresses in a totally relaxed and nonchalant style, being appropriate for a beach wedding or if you want to have a ceremony in a less formal style. The other styles that seem to have the fashion gurus’ approval are deep V’s, cutouts, elements made of short dressfeathers, flouncy sleeves, turtlenecks, laser-cut floral patterns, crop tops, fringe, metallic fabric, corset bodices (another great idea to combine with your tartan!) and sheer skirts. As you can see, there are a huge range of styles to choose from – and the tartan patterns fit perfectly into many of these. If you want to show off your heritage, the kilt and Scottish-related shops are worth visiting – they might have your perfect tartan dress, but… you’ll have to be patient. These dresses are usually at least made to order, if not to measure – and that means that it takes time to prepare them and you should leave extra time for fittings once the dress arrives. What is more, if you did design your own tartan, or your clan’s pattern is quite rare, you have to bear in mind that it’s again the process of weaving that will take most of the time (it might be even several months), so if you are considering this option you have to make up your mind quickly and order the dress in advance. When ordering a brides dress, you may also consider buying the whole wedding outfit, with a matching kilt for the groom and all the accessories. It is usually a bit cheaper since it’s a set, so it may be a bit of relief for your budget.

Read How to Make a Kilt

Remember that the dress doesn’t have to be flashy and catwalk-like – if you prefer a more modest style and like making practical purchases, you can always wear a simple, knee-length tartan dress. This solution has many advantages – it’s significantly cheaper, the dress can also be worn during other occasions, and the whole outfit is certainly more comfortable. This can be perfect if you have a small ceremony for the closest family and friends.

Whichever dress you choose – you have to feel good while wearing it, be yourself and be proud of your Scottish heritage!

What is the difference between Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky?

flask 1Whisky or whiskey? Some of you may think it’s just a matter of orthography, but there is a distinct difference between these two drinks. The controversy will be brought up surely during the Saint Patrick’s Day – when both Scotch whisky and Irish whisk(e)y will be amongst the top beverages throughout the world.

Saint Patrick’s Day’s origins are blurred, but the celebration is mainly associated with Ireland, as Patrick is their patron saint. There is actually a whole narrative about him becoming a Christian and a priest, which can be found in The Declaration – a document believed to have been written by St Patrick himself, describing the way he became the man who evangelised Northern Ireland. The other customs associated with the celebration also refer to legendary events from the saint’s life – wearing green clothes and shamrocks is associated with a legend in which Patrick used the shamrock to describe the notion of the Holy Trinity to the Irish Pagans.

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t shirt 1The celebrations are held on 17th March because that was the day when Patrick died. The biggest festivities are organised in Downpatrick, where the saint is allegedly buried. The drinking custom is said to be connected with another legend. Patrick bought a measure of whiskey from an innkeeper – but it certainly wasn’t full, and Patrick took the opportunity to teach the man a lesson that would make him more generous. St. Patrick said that there was a demon in the inn’s cellar that could not be banished because it fed on the innkeeper’s greed and lack of generosity. The man was horrified and changed his attitude – after some time, Patrick returned to find that the man now filled the glasses fairly and was good and honest. So Patrick took the inn-keeper to the cellar, where they found the devil skinny and starving – Patrick banished the demon away and said that everyone should have a sip of alcohol during his feast day to commemorate this. Whatever the origins were – the tradition of beer and whiskey drinking stays strong. So, which whisk(e)y orthography is correct, what are you actually drinking and what is the difference anyway?

Read something about the Picts – you may be in the 10%!

whisky setWhiskey is generally the name for a liquor most commonly of Irish or American origin. Whisky is a term associated mostly with the Scottish version and the liquors produced in Japan (although the word Scotch belongs only to the liquor produced in Scotland). What is more, the Scottish version is distilled twice, while the other ones are distilled three times, which results in a smoother taste. Much of the confusion arises from the fact that the spelling ‘whisky’ is the only one accepted by the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits in the USA. On the other hand, The New York Times names everything ‘whiskey’ – whatever the origin of the drink. The confusion becomes even bigger if we count in the misspellings such as ‘wisky’ or ‘wiskey’, and the fact that the Japanese and Indian versions are, like Scotch whisky, spelled without an ‘e’. But the deeper into the production process we look, the more differences can be spotted between the Scotch and other whisk(e)ys, however spelled or pronounced. The shape of the still used for production in Scotland vary much more than in the distilleries in America or Ireland, so the Scotch scents and flavours are more diverse. Secondly, the Glenfiddich_Distillery_stillsScots use peat to dry the malted barley – which gives a stronger and smokier flavour than the one achieved in the US and Ireland, where wood and other fuels are used. Thirdly, Scotch is made only with malted barley, while other whisk(e)ys may be made with the addition of some other types of grains. In fact, history and economics decided this; barley is quite an expensive grain, so cheaper and more readily available ones are mixed together with it in many non-Scotch whisk(e)ys. What is more, the American climate and soil is different from that found in the British Isles, so settlers had to use different methods to grow their grains and distill the liquors – hence the difference in taste and general character of the finished drinks.

Read about Scottish Linguistics

The differences, similarities, types and distillery characteristics are all quite confusing. Whatever the actual spelling is, we recommend checking what suits your tastes best. Whisk(e)y isn’t about the spelling – the national Scottish drink is a big part of the British history, and now it has become a trademark for both Scots and Irish people worldwide. Wherever you are – we hope you’ll have a sip of nice, genuine Scotch on 17th March!

Tartan on the Catwalk

As has happened for the last few years, now the cooler weather is coming in, warm woollens and vibrant tartans are back in the minds of fashionistas everywhere as they prepare their wardrobes for another long winter. Scotland’s renaissance in the world of fashion continues, with classic and comfortable designs rising in popularity after the last couple of years of punk rock style. Today we’ll look at a few of the top trends, and explain how you can get the look for yourself!

As we said, the harsh punk vibe of the last few years has mellowed out. But hints of this still remain (albeit in a far more comfortable and achievable sense for day-to-day wear). The grunge styles of the early 1990’s are making a nostalgic comeback and soft flannel or wool tartan shirts, skirts and dresses are perfect for this. Paired with tough biker boots and a leather jacket, even a hint of Scottish tartan style is enough to meet this trend, and it’s perfect for young women and teens!

cape plaidHowever, one of the biggest high fashion trends right now is the blanket cape. Popular in many shades and patterns, but most of all in bold tartan prints, this casual but stunning garment is perfect for cold weather events. All of the major fashion houses have come up with their own versions for this season, but we feel our classic lambswool designs are just perfect to provide a more economical alternative. On the other hand, if you truly want to indulge yourself, silky smooth luxurious cashmere is always an option, and Heritage of Scotland can guarantee to provide a traditional and correct tartan pattern which is not the main concern of many other fashion retailers. The blanket cape needs confidence to pull it off and may swamp a smaller figure so it’s perfect for layering with jeans and heels for coffee with the girls, or with a jumper and boots for walking on a crisp autumn day. You should definitely not wear it with an overcoat, for one; even Scotland doesn’t get cold enough to require that level of wrapping, and secondly; it will be guaranteed to overpower and add bulk rather than flatter your figure. If you are particularly petite, consider wearing a lavish tartan stole instead, or for girls check out the miniature versions of our capes! The key note is that unstructured, flowing layers are in style, and even better in traditional Scottish materials and designs!

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Regardless of which garments you choose, bold tartan patterns are set to be massively popular this tartan dressseason as well. Dress tartans are the perfect choice for this, with their white backgrounds and vibrant focal shades, they really jump out and demand attention. One of our favourites is the Stewart Dress, with its detailed grid-work of bright red and bold black; however there are dozens of patterns to choose from. DC Dalgliesh, a dedicated hand-crafting tartan mill who utilise traditional looms and apply exacting standards to create their gorgeous fabrics, have a range known as the Dancers Fancies – a selection of vivid designs inspired by traditional clan tartans such as Baird, Longniddry and MacPherson. These fancies are especially suited for dancers because they not only replace the backgrounds with white as in traditional Dress tartans, but also tweak the colours of the pattern lines, so one tartan might be available in four or five shades, from delicate purples to rich reds, fresh greens or jewel-toned blue, meaning that the dancers stand out on stage very clearly and the swishing fabrics of their skirts make for a wonderful display. These designs are also perfect to ensure that fashion-lovers can choose whichever colours suit you best and still wear a tartan that is meaningful to you with pride! Our favourite combination for bold picks this season would be a flirty billie kilt teamed with thick tights and leather boots for a sensible yet sexy ensemble to flash your Scottish heritage!

Read about Kilt Accessories

The subject of modern Scottish identity is a huge preoccupation for Scots at the minute and, as with all such things, when it becomes such a major focus it easily spills over to influence other parts of our lives. Between the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 2014 Year of Homecoming, The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles; Scotland has been thrust into the global limelight in a way not often experienced by this fantastic, yet modest, nation. All of these great events are of course being recognised through fashion, from the usual fare such as baseball caps and T-shirts, to stunning bespoke garments made using specially designed commemorative tartans. The Scottish Independence Referendum coming up this week has also seen the eyes of the world turn our way, and while a serious political event has naturally inspired more thoughtful reflection than fashion trends – it is also natural that such concentrated thoughts have led to a rather great focus on the Saltire flag of late! Whichever side of the political division you fall on, Heritage of Scotland is proud to support all Scots and much of our clothing, and even home-wares, feature the Saltire and Union Flags – for spirited Scots, blessed Brits, and everyone else who shares our wonderful nation!

We look forward to your comments as always, and can’t wait to hear how you will continue to include your Scottish pride in your winter wardrobe this season!

The Charm Of Dumfries And Galloway

Dumfries and GallowayAs Scotland basks in the heat of a so far brilliant summer, plenty of us will be thinking of our summer holidays. But as the recent weather proves, you don’t have to go far to enjoy a wonderful holiday, and visitors to our bonnie land can enjoy themselves too! Today we are going to look at a region of Scotland often overlooked by the fans of all things Highland and tartan related, the Borders. The southern part of Scotland has an incredibly rich history all of its own, and areas of outstanding natural beauty, from sandy beaches and rolling hills to craggy mountains and vast forests, are home to a plethora of amazing wildlife. The South-West is home to Dumfries and Galloway, and it is here our report will focus on some perfect ideas for a summer break!

The Dumfries and Galloway area is chock full of royal history, with no Scottish king more famous than Robert the Bruce himself! The king is best known for the famous Scots legend about him watching a spider building its web in the mouth of a cave, and continually failing until finally succeeding against all odds, and seeing this as a sign that the Scottish people must continue to fight against the English. Others nowadays will remember that he was a contemporary of William Wallace, as seen in the Hollywood film Braveheart – but what most people don’t realise is the nickname “Braveheart” actually refers to King Robert himself! Following his death in 1329, his heart was removed from his body and placed in a small silver casket. A close friend and ally of the Bruce’s, Sir James Douglas, wore this casket around his neck on a silver chain and rode into battle against the English, rallying the troops to his side in memory of their deceased king.

Read about Highlands Games

During his life, Robert the Bruce spent a great deal of time in Dumfries and its surrounding areas. From the dreadful murder of his Robert the brucecousin and rival for the Scottish throne at Grey Friar’s Church, to his first major victory on the battlefield at Glen Trool, to his last journey to the shrine of St Ninian at Whitburn much of the Bruce’s life centred round this southern corner of Scotland; and an amazing Trail of the Bruce can be followed in this area nowadays, with historians retracing the steps of his life between various locations of importance. The trail is split into sections, allowing you to tackle one portion at a time – or meander between them, ticking off monuments, castles and battlefields as you explore the rest of the region.

If you tire of exploring old buildings, ruins and museums though, Dumfries and Galloway also has much to offer in the great outdoors! The Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and Wetlands Centre is an excellent day out for all the family, offering walks among the Solway coast mudflats and flower meadows as well as comfortable towers and hides from which many different species of bird can be seen; from ospreys to barnacle geese. Or, for a more culinary experience, why not try the Cream o’ Galloway; where the kids can explore adventure playgrounds and gardens while you see how delicious Scottish cheeses and ice-cream are made, and sample some yourself!

Learn about St. Andrew

Of course, true romantics can’t spend time in this area without visiting the legendary blacksmith’s at Gretna Green! This small town lies just over the border from England, and in days past young English couples would hope over the border to pledge their troth as runaways, fleeing the stricter rules on marriage without parental consent for youths down South. Due to a quirk of Scots law, almost any person could conduct a marriage ceremony as long as two witnesses were also present, and so the town blacksmiths became known as “anvil priests”, marrying couples outside their shops using their anvil as an altar! Though the rules surrounding marriage have become much more regulated in modern times, Gretna Green is still a very popular wedding destination – hosting over five thousand ceremonies per year! Perhaps yours will be next…?

Robert BurnsAnd to finally wrap up, you didn’t think we’d forgotten about Dumfries’ most famous son, did you? Of course not – who could forget that Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns himself, though born in Ayr, spent his final years in this beautiful Lowland Borders region! We have written much about the celebrations of Rabbie Burns’ life and poetry before, so suffice it to say that Dumfries is the place to be come January 25th! And indeed all year round Dumfries is a great place to learn more about this most influential of Scottish poets; Ellisland Farm where he lived and worked is now both a working farm and a museum to his time there with guided tours available, Robert Burns House where he died at the tragically young age of just 37 has been restored to show the day-to-day life of the writer and his family, and round the corner at the Globe Inn you can share a dram and some poetry at the Bard’s local pub! There are many other museums and monuments to Robert Burns in this region, and any fan of Scottish literature will want to make this pilgrimage a priority for their trip!

We hope this overview of just some of what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer has been useful to you – often the Lowlands are overlooked, especially by overseas visitors seduced by visions of tartans and Highland bagpipes, but the gentler landscape of South West Scotland has much to offer as well. As always, we hope to hear your perspective, and look forward to reading your comments below!

Unicorn – Scotland’s National Animal

unicorn paintingAs regular readers will know, we truly believe that Scotland is a magical place filled with all the wonder and beauty of its Celtic past. But this passion for mythology goes further than usual in Bonnie Scotland – even our official national animal comes straight from legend! The fantastic unicorn is a powerfully symbolic creature and the selection of this special creature as a symbol for Scotland tells us a lot about the character of the Scottish people. Today, let’s look closer at the history of the unicorn, its symbolic meaning, and why it was chosen to represent our wonderful nation!

Unicorns, and unicorn-like creatures, have existed in myths across the globe for thousands of years – appearing in writings and art from locations as exotic and far apart as Greece, India and Ethiopia. In its original descriptions, it is portrayed as just another unusual type of animal – albeit one with strange abilities! One such description comes from the Alexandrian merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes, whose states in his writings on the flora and fauna of 6th century India that the unicorn was a fierce beast who, when cornered, would jump from a cliff rather than allow itself to be caught, landing on the tip of its horn to prevent injury to its body! During this time depictions of the unicorn in art and sculpture vary from being very similar to the one-horned horse image we are used to seeing today, to showing creatures that clearly have far more in common with goats, antelope or even oxen!

Read about Scottish Highland Games

During the Middle Ages, unicorns became strongly associated with the virtues of purity, joy and healing and nurturing influences.Coat of Arms of Scotland As a result, they were commonly used in medieval artistic depictions to signify the presence of virgins, especially the Virgin Mary, in the artwork. One specific legend of the time stated that only a noble young virgin could catch a unicorn, and that the otherwise fleet-footed and freedom-loving creature would be so enraptured by such a maiden, that it would go to her willingly and fall asleep with its head in her lap, causing it to be captured. Also around this time, the medicinal use of unicorn horn, a substance known as alicorn, became popular in certain circles, with proponents claiming that the powdered horn, with its qualities of purity and healing, could cure illnesses and be used to detect poison. Of course, as we know now that unicorns are mythical, these substances were not actual unicorn horn, but probably ground narwhal or rhinoceros horn.

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The Celtic mythology of Scotland recognised these qualities of the legendary unicorn as well, and the wild freedom, proud intelligence, pious purity and courageous beauty of the creature seemed to sum up the Scottish people very well! From the fifteenth century onward the unicorn begins to appear in royal documents as a symbol of the nation, first on gold coins, then as a central image on the Royal Coat of Arms. Originally this showed two unicorns as flag bearers, one holding the Saltire and the other the Lion Rampant, but, as a nod to the union between Scotland and England, this later changed. The new version of the coat of arms still showed a unicorn holding a St Andrews flag on the left, but its twin on the right was now replaced with the English lion, holding aloft the flag of St George.

Hampton Court UnicornThe unicorn as it is depicted as a symbol of Scotland is not just a horse with a horn however. In a nod to the earlier illustrations of the beast, the Scottish unicorn has a horse-like head and body, but the beard and cloven hooves of a goat, with a tufted tail like a lion. Additionally, the unicorn is bound by a golden chain round its neck which winds all round its body. This device in heraldry informs the viewer that the beast depicted is seen as wild and dangerous, as the unicorn was in ancient times. The fraught relationship between Scotland and England throughout the generations however, gives this an ideal (if accidental) additional symbolism for the Scottish people, who have long had a history of fighting for their freedom.

Read more about The Picts

This constant battle between Scotland and England was immortalised in a children’s poem titled The Lion and the Unicorn, making further reference to each nation’s most recognisable symbols. But despite the unicorn still being chained in the heraldry, many people of Scotland still hope to one day break the golden bonds and take back true freedom for this nation. Others don’t feel this is necessary, and are happy with the status quo with our neighbours and friends – but regardless of political leanings is it easy for everyone to agree that the unicorn is a perfect and beautiful emblem of Scotland; proud, beautiful, strong and brave!

10th Birthday of Heritage Of Scotland

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary since launching our online flagship,, we want to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes facts and titbits that make this such a great company! In this very special blog you’ll learn all about Heritage of Scotland itself; from the products we supply, to our fantastic staff, and how we continue to grow and develop for our future!

Since our beginnings in the street markets of Edinburgh it has been our mission to bring high-quality Scottish goods to the masses. We soon had several shops in both Edinburgh and Fife, catering to a variety of markets from souvenir shops, to kilt outfitters, to specialised high-end stores selling luxury cashmere and Scottish jewellery. But it was the launch of our website in 2004 which really helped us to achieve our dream of reaching Scots globally, and the more our company has grown the more we have been able to offer. We believe everyone should be able to follow their heart and remain true to their heritage, no matter where life takes them, and so we are incredibly proud of the huge range we offer worldwide. As one of the biggest Scottish home-ware and clothing retailers we have something for everyone; from casual party kilts to handmade 8 yard masterpieces, from funny T-shirts to stunning wedding gowns, all aimed at everyone from preteens to pensioners!

Read About Tartan Colour Meanings

Our success of course is thanks to this huge range of products; we have offerings from every level of the market and are proud to say that we feel we have been instrumental in ensuring anyone can afford to honour their heritage, no matter what their income. But the jewel of our collection is of course the close relationship we have with amazing suppliers and craftsmen all over Scotland! We not only supply products from the biggest names in Highland wear such as Lochcarron, Thistle Shoes and Art Pewter, but also support many small companies and even individual artists to reach a worldwide client base with their authentic and passionate creations. Two of our favourite small suppliers, working in very different mediums, are Gwenda Watt of Needleworx, and Mark Turner of Mark Andrew Turner Photography. Gwenda lives and works in Stirlingshire creating beautiful tartan cushions with quirky Scottish silhouette designs such as Scottie dogs and Highland Cows, and Mark is a hugely talented young photographer now living in Bristol but retaining his passion for recording rugged Scottish landscapes with sensitivity and atmosphere.

Even since gaining our online presence, thingsJohn Morrison Edinburg have changed a great deal in the world of technology.  People are more connected than ever before and we are now active of a number of platforms, using eBay and Amazon to support our retail sales, but also getting to know our customers on a personal level through social media. We love to keep our followers up to date with the latest deals and products via Twitter and Pinterest (who can resist all those gorgeous photo boards!), but Facebook is our most well-loved forum for connecting with people and attaining our ultimate goal of promoting Scottish culture across the globe! We hear from our customers daily, and the customer service team love to see the photos people share with us – putting a face to the name of someone they may have been speaking with for a number of weeks is a great pleasure, as is seeing our products worn to some of the most important events of a person’s life; from tiny babes at their Christenings, to young men in their Prom kilts, blushing brides in tartan finery and much more!

Learn More About Tartan For Ladies

Through Facebook, and this very blog, we have been able to share information about all aspects of Scottish life; our wildlife and special places, myths and legends, real history, and our vibrant and proud present. In bringing people together we are also forging bonds within the Scottish diaspora itself; nothing is more heart-warming to us than seeing a comment from someone searching for their long lost family and clan and noticing that several other followers have replied to encourage and guide their fellow Scot. Likewise, we feel so lucky to be in a position of success which allows us to share our good fortune with others, offering prizes and experiences through our online competitions to promote and support Scottish creativity and cultural appreciation.

So what does the future hold for us? No one can ever know truly, but with our new venture into weaving at our very own mill in the heart of Edinburgh finally coming to fruition, and several other exciting projects in the works, we feel confident that we will continue to grow and serve the needs of our fantastic customers all over the world. Happy birthday to us, and here’s to the next ten years!

Bagpipes History

Love them or hate them, it can’t be denied that bagpipes are the quintessential sound of Scotland. In this blog post, prepare to learn more about these “instruments of war”, used to celebrate, commemorate and even intimidate, throughout much of Scottish history!
Bagpiper in EdinburghAlthough bagpipes are thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, possibly dating back as far as 4000 BC, the instrument spread throughout Europe during the early part of the second millennium AD. Unsubstantiated claims for their use in Scotland date from around 1300, but the first concrete evidence of “warpipes” being used in their traditional role on the battlefield comes from writings about the Battle of North Inch in 1396. This early association with the military has always stayed with the bagpipes; their penetrating notes were used to unsettle the enemy, and communicate with allies. The unique construction of bagpipes means that the high pitched and VERY high decibel shrills and skirls emanating from them can be heard for several miles, and with their aggressive tones they quickly supplanted the horns and trumpets which had been previously popular.

Modern pipes are made of four main sections; the blowpipe, chanter, bag and drones. Traditionally, the bag would have been made from a full animal pelt, in the distant past goats, sheep, even cows and dogs were used to make this part of the bagpipes! In modern times, thankfully it is more common for synthetic materials to be used for the bag – with a fabric covering often made from tartan – either the official band tartan, or the regional sett, or for soloist pipers their own clan design. The bag is a reservoir for air blown by the piper; as the bag is continually squeezed under the piper’s arm while playing the air is forced out through the drones to create sound. Five sticks emerge from the bag, three drones, a chanter and a blowpipe, and we will look at the role each of these plays now.

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The blowpipe is used to inflate the bag; the pipe will prefill the bag before he starts to play then continue to keep filling the bag while playing. The blowpipe is usually made from hardwood though the exact wood type varies, and new techniques in the manufacture of this essential part of the instrument mean that pipers can fill bags more easily – leading to a smoother sound and more ease of playing. Unusually for a wind instrument, no reeds are played by the mouth directly, the blowpipe is just a filling device, and the reeds are contained within other areas of the pipes.

Also made from hardwood, the Great Highland Bagpipes has three drones – two tenors and one bass. Essentially, the drones create the music when the pipes are played; each one has a reed contained within and they can be tuned to different keys. As the air escapes the bag a constant low “droning” noise is heard, the distinctive noise of the bagpipes and the reason for this part’s name! When the bag is squeezed harder, more air escapes, increasing the volume and pitch of the drone, with the tone differing depending on the piper’s finger position.

The chanter is the most well-known part of the bagpipes, and is essential for player input. Held by the piper in both hands, the Angel playing bagpipeschanter is a long stem drilled with holes acts as the finger-board. As the player moves his fingers to cover or uncover the holes, the airflow within the instrument changes and the notes differ, just like with instruments such as the clarinet or flute! It was traditionally made from Scottish woods such as holly or laburnum, then later from exotic hardwoods such as cocuswood or ebony, though nowadays synthetic materials which are easier to maintain are also popular. Chanters can also be purchased with a mouthpiece attached, separate from the bagpipes themselves, as practice instruments.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

Using a practice chanter can be essential for new players. Playing the pipes properly is a whole body effort – you must blow air into the pipe constantly, squeeze the bag under one arm at a controlled level to ensure the air is escaping at the desired pressure, and keep up with precise patterns of covering and uncovering the holes of the chanter to create notes – all while keeping the drones balanced on your shoulder and making sure no part of the unwieldy and large pipes slips or is dropped by accident! Understandably, this is very difficult to master all at once, so practicing just on the chanter allows the piper to thoroughly learn the finger movements required without the pressure of managing everything else all at the same time. As they gain more experience they can move onto using the full pipes, though many pipers will return to the practice chanter when learning a new piece of music until they are confident of their performance.

Bagpipes are often played in Scotland as part of an ensemble of pipers and drummers. All the pipers play the Great Highland bagpipes and provide the melody and complexity of the music, with the mixed drum corps providing the rhythm from a selection of snare drummers, tenor drummers and one (or occasionally two) bass drummers. Musically, the band follows the direction of the pipe major, though when on parade the drum major may be responsible for leading the band on their route and keeping time with a mace. The pipers almost always play traditional arrangements, but the drum scores are often composed by the drum major himself – and the drummers are judged not only on performance, but also on how well their drumming complements and suits the traditional sections played by the pipers during competitions.
Pipe band in the CanongateIt is in pipe bands that the bagpipes military roots can be seen most clearly; with drums and pipes being truly historic in their use on the battlefields, to provide direction or convey commands, to boost morale or to strike terror into the hearts of enemies. All battalions of the Highland Regiment still have pipers, and the practice has also been adopted by many other Regiments, not to mention civilian entities such as police forces, fire brigades or universities.

Read about Kilt Accessories 

As a solo instrument the Great Highland Bagpipes are also popular, from christenings to weddings, ceilidhs or funerals, even in modern times no Scottish life event is complete without a piper. Soloist pipers play an especially important part in traditional weddings, where they will often compere the event to keep things running smoothly (especially during the speeches!) as well as playing the bride down the aisle, providing accompaniment as the happy couple leave the church or registrars, and again when they enter the reception to be welcomed by their friends and family.

As Scotland continues to develop and grow into a strong 21st Century nation, the bagpipes continue to be a vital and vibrant part of its citizens lives; traditional soloists are everywhere, in our personal lives, working in partnership with Highland dancers, or even busking on the streets of our beautiful cities. Pipe bands bridge the traditional and the modern with innovative drumming and amazing displays of virtuoso technique. Even more encouraging, the pipes have been adopted by modern musicians in rock bands – or rather rock music has been adopted by pipers! With groups such as the Canadian Real MacKenzies, or Scotland’s own Red Hot Chilli Pipers blending electric guitars and punk vocals with the traditional sound of the bagpipes, it can truly be seen that this instrument goes from strength to strength and is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most defining features!

Worldwide Influences On Kilts And Tartan

Scottish kilts have a reputation that spreads across the globe! From adventurous ancestors, Scots have now put down roots worldwide and the diaspora has a strong presence in nations as diverse as Australia, Italy, the United States, Poland and Canada! But we haven’t only influenced other nations with our characteristic national dress and reputation for great hospitality – they too have influenced us. The kilt, and Scottish culture in general, is vibrant and modern; always changing in this fast-paced world, and always willing and able to adapt to new situations. Perhaps it is for this reason that kilts remain so fashionable and popular into the modern age!

Read about Kilt And Tartan
kilt, CamouflageOne often noted aspect of outside influences on the Scottish kilt is in design variances. Men don’t always want to wear the full, traditional version of the kilt, especially to casual events. Taking notes from American style jeans and military fatigues, utility kilts are fast becoming a popular alternative to the typical tartan kilt. Usually made from a plain coloured canvas or cotton fabric, utility kilts often feature elements such as stud fasteners instead of buckles, box pleats as standard (whereas for tartan kilts, knife pleating remains more common), and even side pockets to negate the necessity of wearing a sporran! Originally most commonly seen in black, and popularised by punk and goth fashions, utility kilts are now available in a range of shades such as khaki or tan, and are in fact very practical garments – allowing for high intensity or dirty activities such as playing sports, hiking, manual labour, and many other things, without worrying about ruining a precious or expensive garment as the traditional kilt tends to be!

Read about Contemporary Kilt Alternatives

Utility kilts are often cooler than traditional ones as well, an added bonus for kilt hot climates or strenuous activity; but many people do still prefer that traditional kilted look. The Scottish diaspora in these hot places have found that using lighter fabrics than the expected 16oz worsted wool can relieve them considerably, and make it possible to wear the important tartan designs that are so meaningful to clansmen and women worldwide. Most commonly men will opt for 13oz wool, or a medium-weight polyviscose fabric as a smart and breathable alternative, although in East Asia and other very hot locations, 10oz wool, cotton and silk tartan fabrics have all been used for men and ladies to display their Scottish heritage. This has meant a change in how the kilt and other garments are worn of course, as very light fabrics cannot really be used to make kilts – but waistcoats, sarongs, even turbans! have all been made in tartan patterns to allow those with proud Scottish links to show their affiliations no matter where they are!

Read about International and Occasional Tartans

The tartans used in kilts and other garments are hugely important too of course. A hundred or so years ago very few patterns were in use, and by far the most common tartans to be seen were clan or “surname” tartans, linking a person directly to their family of birth. While clan tartans are still massively popular in the present day, many people can no longer trace which clan (if any) they precisely belong to, and might only know of a vague and distant genealogical link to Scotland. Due to this, tartans relating to one’s district, vocation, hobbies and many other aspects making up one’s personality are growing in popularity – with more and more of these registered every year. Naturally, these are especially popular among emigrant Scots who wish to adopt traditional dress while honouring the land that is now their families home, and may have been for several generations. The United States especially has a long list of American-specific tartans, many states have an official design registered for their district, likewise for the armed and emergency services, and many other corporations, universities and clubs are following suit.

Read about Kilt Accessories

Isle of Skye ModernIn fact, one of the most popular “universal” (can be worn by anyone) tartans was not designed in Scotland;  Isle of Skye is a beautiful design honouring the rugged landscape of Skye, but was in fact designed by an Australian (who traced her lineage back there and loved the island so much she eventually moved “back home”). World religions too are represented, with tartans designed to illustrate the faiths of Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish Scots (among others) all being available. The way in which tartan, that most striking example of Scottish design, has been used to portray and represent all these wonderfully diverse different groups of people truly does show how varied and widespread Scottish influence has become, and in turn how Scottish culture and tradition has been shaped and influenced by the different cultures and countries which it has touched.

Read about Tartan for Ladies

Do you have a fond memory of a time you influenced or were influenced by Scottishness abroad? Or perhaps you have a story about your life as part of the diaspora, living, possibly even born, outside of Scotland – while holding onto your heritage? As always, we look forward to your comments!

Tartan Spirit Through Everyday Products

Traditional Scottish clothing is great – and the kilt can certainly be worn in many situations – however it is definitely more associated with special occasions so many Scottish men and women nowadays may not frequently wear or use anything particularly related to their proud heritage on a day-to-day basis. Today we hope to dispel the myth that Scottish accessories and Highland wear must be staid and boring, and introduce you to some great, fun and modern products which can be incorporated into any proud Scots’ life!

Read about different kilt outfits

Scottish Beach TowelFirst of all, I’m sure everyone is looking forward to the summer holidays approaching soon, and perhaps going for a trip far from home; so why not let your fellow travellers know your origins and liven up your suitcase a little with this great kilt luggage tag, a whimsical and fun way to declare your Scottish roots (and make sure you don’t lose your suitcase)! Of course, after reaching the hotel, you’ll want to relax by the pool or hit the beach, and this will be the perfect time to take out your Scottish Saltire beach towel, to ensure maximum comfort and Scottish satisfaction when soaking up the sunshine all too often missing from normal life in Scotland! These will be a perfect way to strike up conversation with other Scots visiting your holiday location, or even attract attention from others who have heard of the legendary Scottish friendliness, we are popular worldwide after all!

Lear more about a perfect place for holidays – Isle of Arran

However, even the best holiday must come to an end at some point, and how do you keep up your Scottish pride when back to normal working life? Perhaps particularly suitable for ex-pats, or those of Scottish heritage, why not take in some Loch Ness Monster themed pensas a fun addition to your desk. And of course, a Celtic photo frame featuring a photo of you in your best kilt, sporran and Prince Charlie, or a top a Munro with your family, or even exploring the many pubs of Edinburgh’s Rose Street with your friends, will be a must have!

Kindle caseOne of the most prevalent aspects of modern life is our reliance on technology, but even in this digital era Scottish traditionalism doesn’t fail us! New iPad and Kindle cases (iPad, iPad Mini, Kindle) are the perfect way to keep your precious gadgets safe when on the go, and being available in almost any imaginable tartan ensures you will always have a way to display the tartan which is most meaningful to you, from clan, district, military and commemorative designs. Oh, and while you’re out and about, don’t forget your clan keyring – a common way for people to carry something of personal interest to them, but in this case not only that, but a beautifully crafted representation of your family bonds.

Tartan BlanketFinally of course, we can’t forget the Scottish home. A place to retreat and be comfortable at the end of each day, a place to entertain friends, and a place to enjoy family life, it can be so satisfying to add touches of your own personality to your home décor, and as with all other aspects of life, a bit of Scottish flair can easily be incorporated here also. Perhaps a deliciously soft and cosy tartan blanket draped over the back of a sofa ready to be wrapped around a napping child or chilly grownup? Or some intricately etched Mackintosh inspired drinks coasters to keep handy for when sharing a wee dram with your guests? Whatever you select, from teatowels to candle holders, you can be sure that it will help to make your home as welcoming and intriguing as the land of kilts itself – and ensure you always remember the joy and pride you take in your roots!

Hopefully this short article has sparked off your imagination, and you will soon be able to integrate some Scottish aspects into your daily lives, if you don’t already! Let us know your favourite ideas, or if you have any of your own stories about how to live a vibrant, modern life, while ensuring you respect and acknowledge your heritage!


Just Married, in a Kilt

Bride and Groom outfitsWeddings topics come back around from time to time, especially when the spring or summer begins. It doesn’t mean of course that only these seasons are good to get marry in, but it is common around the world that the majority of wedding ceremonies take place during so called “warm months” (which obviously means something different for people in Scotland from those of you who live in Texas, for example :) ) . Last year we were writing about the wedding ceremony and its traditions. It is important for all of you with Scottish roots to know them and put into practice if possible, but it is also good to remember some basic facts about how the Scottish wedding should look. How to dress for this celebration and how to behave.

Read about Scottish wedding traditions

One of the most significant roles in a true Scottish wedding is the tartan or tartans. Not only the bride and groom wear tartan, but also wedding decorations often feature it. For some the question is – which tartan to choose? Traditionally, wedding guests from the bride’s side wear the host’s tartan as a token of respect. But there are many other options available. The second common approach reflects clans diversity and richness as well as clans union and tells men (and also women) to wear their own families tartans.  But what if someone doesn’t have his or her own family tartan? Remember that you can use tartans from different categories: district, memorial or even universal ones. If you still feel confusion in this area, feel free to read our Complete Tartan Guide.

Another important question is: How to dress for a wedding? For some of you it’s not a question at all – you’ve probably taken part in a Scottish wedding before, maybe more than once. But let’s be precise and consolidate our knowledge.

Learn about Scottish kilt outfits

The groom’s wedding outfit is complete, which means that it should include all the Kilt and Wedding outfit elementsappropriate Scottish outfit accessories. The most important is a made to your measurements kilt, preferably an 8 yard one, which has an excellent swing. You not only look perfect but also feel comfortable. It is acceptable to wear 5 yard kilt, too. Along with the kilt a formal Prince Charlie Jacket and 3 button waistcoat is usually worn, as well as a white wing collar shirt, and black bow tie. It is also nice to wear a fly plaid in the same tartan as your kilt. A fly plaid is a very formal piece of fringed tartan worn over the shoulder which is fastened with a brooch. It is important to remember not to wear this accessory unless you are a groom or a best man, or have been specifically requested to do so – you can’t upstage the groom.  Your wedding outfit (no matter which your role is during the ceremony) should be completed with:

  • plain kilt hose and
  • ghillie brogues – kilt shoes with no tongues and long laces.

Other accessories which a wedding outfit includes are:

  • (normally full dress) sporran,
  • leather belt with a belt buckle (why not wearing your clan crested one for this occasion?),
  •  pin for your kilt (same question here),
  • Sgian Dubh.

More about kilt outfit elements

The bride’s outfit is not that complex. To make a dream come true and looks like a real Scottish princess a bride wears a wedding dress. There is no official tradition stating what the dress should look like, so the bride will choose how she decides to incorporate her Scottish roots in her wedding outfit. She can wear a tartan dress or a dress with a tartan hem. The popular tradition called “sashing of the bride” says that the bride wears a sash in her husband’s tartan, presented to her by her mother-in-law. However, it is very important to wear the sash on the right shoulder as the left one is reserved for the clan chiefs. The bride may also decide to wear only a tartan ribbon or a shawl. Don’t forget to add some tartan touch to your dress even when you’re not the bride!

Read about tartan for ladies

Scottish wedding dressScotland is a special and unique place to be married. Not only does it have breathtaking landscapes, but the law here allows you to choose any wedding ceremony location! It’s because what matters is the person conducting the whole ceremony, rather than place. You can therefore enjoy romantic views when saying “I do”. This good news will please both Scottish people and people living elsewhere in the world considering Scotland for their nuptials.

Even if your Scottish roots go back to time immemorial, showing off your heritage during this very special event is a great way to honour your ancestries, and instill the love of Scotland in the youngest generation. Respecting the wedding traditions and wearing a full Scottish outfit are the best ways to do this!

HeritageOfScotland customers have applied our Scottish traditions to their weddings! See the gallery of their pictures and send your own to: