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 brides.com 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!

Traditional themes in Scottish Jewellery

Scotland has such a strong national identity our symbols are recognised worldwide! From the obvious themes such as thistles, saltires and tartan, to our varied animal life; Highland cows, grouse, stags (and of course, Nessie!), to more subtle hints such as delicate Celtic knots and traditional materials. All these themes and more can be seen in Scottish jewellery, and today we will look at the most classic of these, and how they are being incorporated into contemporary trends.

Traditional jewellery in Scotland is well known for often being made from Scottish Agate
sterling silver and featuring Scottish agate settings. Agate is the most commonly found semi-precious stone in Scotland – we have no mines for rubies or diamonds or emeralds – so agate stones were the Scottish equivalent, alongside amethyst, smoky quartz (known as Cairngorm stones for the location in Scotland where the majority of these were mined), blue topaz and sapphires. Agates are unique amongst gemstones, in that their colours, patterns and shapes vary dramatically from one stone to the next – indeed no two are ever exactly alike! Their opaque and vibrant colours and unusual patterns made them a sought after commodity, and they have been collected in Scotland for use in decorative items and jewellery since Neolithic times at least! The Victorians, in their mania for all things fashionably Scottish, oversaw a revival of the use of agates and some of the most beautiful pieces date from this era, with finely filigreed sterling silver settings highlighting the glowing stones to perfection.

In modern times, agate jewellery remains popular. Many of the older pieces are now considered to be very valuable, as large agates are far less common than they once were, and the craftsmanship and quality of the cut stones in antique jewellery is without comparison. Thanks to the bright, bold colours and shapes, agate jewellery can still be worn with modern clothing and look just as good as it did 200 or more years ago! Smaller nodules of agate are still quite common of course, and many modern pieces will see these turned into simple polished beads to be worn in a string.

Read more about The Picts

The next major trend in Scottish jewellery and many other Scottish decorative items in fact, is of course, Celtic knot-work! Any article discussing Scottish trends would be completely remiss not to look at these fascinating and enduring designs. For years, people have tried to interpret and apply meaning to these mysterious and complex patterns, with limited success – and certain designs have endured for centuries and are still in popular use today!

Pocket Watch, Celtic Knotwork, QuartzOne of the most instantly recognisable Celtic knot-work patterns is the triquetra or Trinity Knot. One of the simplest of the Celtic knot patterns, this design has three pointed loops and, like other knot-work designs, has no visible beginning or end. Christians may interpret this design to signify the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whereas Pagans often associate it with the triple goddess aspects of Maiden, Mother and Crone, or Mind, Body and Spirit. Regardless, the general consensus for this design is a feeling that it represents the joining of three disparate aspects to create a greater whole. As with many Celtic symbols, it is often shown enclosed within a perfect circle; this device represents continuity and protection.

Another popular design which has endured through the ages is the Shield Knot. This is most often depicted as a quaternary design, meaning it has four corners, and may be round or square. As indicated by the name, this design is thought to be a symbol of protection for the wearer. In this design, each corner may be seen as representative of associated themes such as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, or North, South, East and West, or even the cardinal elements of paganism; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. With this added layer of complexity to the design, another layer of meaning may come into play. Celtic knots with closed paths (i.e. paths which can be traced) are considered to by symbolic of a journey, whereas Celtic knots with open paths (i.e. the whole knot appears to be made of one strand and a beginning or end cannot be discerned) are considered to represent eternity or infinity.

Read About Tartan Colour Meanings

In jewellery, these designs have been crafted from almost every material imaginable and have never gone out of style. From simple etched wooden pendants, to lavish and ornate gold and gemstone pieces, Celtic knots are everywhere in our lives. Often the first piece of jewellery a Scottish girl will own will be a Celtic knot-work cross or a triquetra ring. The designs themselves have rarely changed, they are truly enduring and don’t need to! They may appear as accessory designs to more modern patterns, or be outlined in sparkling gemstones, but Celtic knot-work is most definitely still a vibrant part of contemporary Scottish jewellery design.

How to make a kilt?

kilt freedomAs we continue to share with you all aspects of Scottish life from places to visit, to important festivals and sporting events, to the ins and outs of Highland wear; we thought you would like to learn some of the “behind the scenes” aspects to kilt-making so you can celebrate this wonderful garment with a new-found understanding of the hard work and traditional methods that many kilt-makers still use to this day!

Once you have selected your tartan cloth, the next step will be taking your measurements. Every kilt maker will take at least two measurements – your waist size, and your drop (overall kilt length). They will probably also take your hip size as if this is larger than your waist it will affect the overall construction, and perhaps also the fell length – this is the vertical distance between your waist and hip measurements.

Read About How To Wear A Kilt Outfit

Next, the kilt maker will determine the exact length of fabric required, firstly by calculating the expected pleat depth. For a standard knife pleated kilt, each pleat will be a full sett deep and have approximately one inch of fabric showing, so your precise pleat depth will be determined by the sett size of the tartan you have chosen. The sett size is the size of one iteration of the repeating pattern which makes up the tartan. For example; a tartan with a sett size of 6 inches will use 7 inches of fabric per pleat, a tartan with a sett size of 8 inches will require 9 inches of fabric per pleat. Kilt makers will also add extra pleats, or extra depth on certain pleats to accommodate a client who wishes to have a full traditional kilt made with more fabric, such as 8 or 9 yards. But, for our purposes today, it is sufficient to stick with the first situation.

Once pleat depth is determined, the kilt maker will multiply this value by half of the hip measurement, lindsay modern tartanand add the full hip measurement (as the front of the kilt has two overlapping aprons, remember), plus an extra 15% for any adjustments required to centre the pleats, add an apron fringe etc. This will be the required length of fabric. Let’s look at two examples:

Gentleman A has a hip measurement of 34 inches, and has chosen 13oz Lindsay Modern tartan, which has a 6.5 inch sett size. Each pleat needs 7.5 inches of fabric, this times 17 (half of the hip size) gives 127.5 inches. Adding on the original 34 inches, for the front aprons, gives 161.5 inches, and the extra 15% for adjustments and other requirements gives a final length required of about 186 inches, or just over 5 yards – perfect for a standard kilt. The kilt maker could also add extra pleats by making the visible portion of each less than an inch, to make this a full 8 yard kilt.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

black watch tartanGentleman B however, has a hip measurement of 38 inches and has chosen 16oz Black Watch tartan, with a sett size of 8 inches. Each pleat will require 9 inches of fabric, and 9 multiplied by 19 equals 171 inches. Adding to this the full 38 inch hip measurement gives 209 inches, then an extra 15% on top for adjustments gives a final required length of 251 inches, or just under 7 yards. In this instance, the kilt maker will be required to reduce the number or depth of the pleats to allow the kilt to be made with the usual 5 or so yards of fabric – or encourage his client to go for a full 8 or 9 yard kilt and add in extra pleats and depth.

As most tartans are woven at double-width, around 55-60 inches depending on the mill, for the vast majority of people less than half of that width will be required for the length of the kilt. Therefore, kilt makers will often purchase half of the final required length and cut it lengthways, sewing the two pieces together and hemming the top to give the actual required length. Excess width will now be trimmed off, to make the fabric as wide as the required kilt length, this excess will be kept for making the waistband and sporran loops.

Once this is all done, the real work can begin. The fabric will be laid out flat with the selvedge at the bottom and, working from right to left, the kilt maker will mark the various sections as needed. The first mark will be for a few inches of excess left to hem the under apron, then the under apron itself is marked, and will be half of the initial hip measurement. Then the reverse pleat is created – this pleat is folded from right to left at a slight angle and prevents the rest of the pleats from fanning out too much around the side of the kilt, giving a smooth and tidy silhouette to the finished garment. After the reverse pleat has been marked, the rest of the pleats follow. These are measured straight along the lines of the fabric from selvedge to hip, then angled in towards the centre at varying degrees from hip to waist (if the waist is smaller) and are followed by marks for the over apron; again (if all the measurements have worked out correctly) a bit of length will still be left to allow for the final finished hem and fringe.

Read About Measuring for a Kilt

Now all of the pleats will be folded and pinned, then pressed to ensure they are all lying straight and flat as required. Often the final pleat will be up to double the depth of the others, again to prevent unwanted flaring. At this stage many kilt makers will baste along the bottom and middle of the pleats – basically putting in two rows of a long running stitch which can easily be removed later to make sure nothing slips out of place while the work continues. Once the pleats are all pressed and temporarily secured the kilt maker can move on to actually sewing everything properly into place.

Firstly he will sew along the top of the pleats, kilt just a quarter of an inch from where the waistband will be, then the very edge of each pleat will be carefully stitched down onto the pleat beneath for the length of the fell. This important step will prevent the kilt from flaring out over the wearer’s rump which can give a skirted appearance, and is one of the key features of a true Scottish man’s kilt. Next the pleats will be steeked, basically a horizontal line of stitching is added from the inside, about an inch above the fell line, to further stabilise the pleats. Now too the slit for the under apron strap to pass through is created, usually the edge of the second pleat from the left is used and it will be hemmed sturdily to prevent this from becoming a weak point.

The edge of the under apron will now be hemmed, as will the over apron. For the over apron however, a piece of excess fabric may be stitched into the hem so the raw edges run along the length of the apron. This raw edge is deliberately frayed, then trimmed neatly to leave a fringe. Then a cotton lining about one quarter to one third of the total kilt length will be sewn along the top edge, and down the apron hems; folded and tucked where needed to follow the shape of the kilt.

Read About Kilt and Tartan 

A waistband will be created from the extra fabric cut off at the beginning, the final width of this will only be about half an inch and it simply gives a polished and tidy finish – ensuring no fraying will occur and maximising the lifetime of your kilt. From the same excess fabric two sporran loops about three and a half inches long and half an inch wide are made; these are sewn to the pleated section at the back, about a third and two thirds along.

The final step is to add the straps to the edges of the aprons, and the buckles to the pleated section, with the edge of the metal part just half an inch or so shy of touching the edge of the outermost pleat on either side. For a five yard kilt, two buckles are normally used, one each on the under and over aprons, but for 8 yards kilts many kilt makers prefer to use three, adding a second strap a few inches below the first on the over apron with its corresponding buckle to the right of the pleated section.

And at last your traditional Scottish kilt is ready to wear! We very much hope you have enjoyed this thorough explanation of how Scottish kilts are usually made, remember however that every kilt maker will have their own quirks and methods so this process will sometimes vary slightly! As always, we welcome all comments and discussion – perhaps there are some kilt makers reading this – or perhaps it has inspired you to find out more and learn to make a kilt for yourself!

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 Colour Meanings

Royal Stewart TartanHello readers, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy Hogmanay – we certainly did here in Scotland and are now recharged and refreshed after the festive break.

To kick off our 2014 blog, we thought it would be great to go back and look in more depth at a topic we have covered slightly in the past – the terminology for different colour-ways of tartans, and the meaning behind colour selection for some modern tartans!

First we’ll consider the standard clan tartan, in this example transcribed as MacDonald Modern (occasionally, MacDonald Clan Modern). The ‘Modern’ here lets you know that the colours are the standard modern chemical dyes used in tartan weaving. The reds, yellows, blue and greens will be strong and bright, while navy, bottle green and black will be very dark. ‘Modern’ colour ways are of course the most common, and are usually considered the standard by which all other colour variants are derived from.

MacDonald Ancient TartanThe next most common colour way is the ‘Ancient’ tartans, as in MacDonald (Clan) Ancient. These colours are still produced using modern chemical dyes (as are all the colourways), but are attempting to mimic the appearance of cloth which has been aged for many years. Ancient colourways became popular in the 1950’s and 60’s when the fad for vivid ‘Modern’ colours had waned slightly. One reason for the enduring popularity of the ‘Ancient’ shades is that the lighter, faded style makes it easier to identify and differentiate the lines in certain patterns. In the Black Watch Modern tartan, for example, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the areas of navy and bottle green as they are so dark. Some people like this subtlety, but others prefer the ‘Ancient’ version where the colours more easy to tell apart.

Aberdeen Distrcit Modern TartanReproduction’ cloths were next to come along, after the discovery of a tiny fragment of tartan fabric, dating back almost 200 years inspired the weavers at DC Dalgleish to try and recreate the colours present in the sample. These tartans are stronger in hue than the ‘Ancient’ ones, but the colours are overall softer and more natural looking than the ‘Modern’ dyes. Other mills have tried to capture their own versions of this, giving rise to two new colourways which are growing in popularity; ‘Muted’ colours are slightly less bright and artificial looking than ‘Modern’, but not quite as natural as the ‘Reproduction’ colourway, and ‘Weathered’, which is a more extreme version, aiming to look as though the fabric was not only dyed using vegetable dyes, but was then aged for many decades. The ‘Weathered’ palette tends towards greys and browns and may look very different than the original ‘Modern’ scheme, but the pattern and thread-count will remain the same, only the definition for what constitutes red, or blue, or green has differed.

Stewart Muted Blue TartanAs previously mentioned, pattern variants are noted by a term just after the clan or district name. This may be seen in the MacDonald Old Modern tartan, as an example.  These terms will describe in some sense the reason that this variant is different from the main tartan. In the cases where the term ‘Old’ is used, it means either that a new design has been adopted, or that this is an earlier design which was previously unknown, the colourway designation ‘Modern’ here still only refers to the dying process which has been used on the threads. ‘Hunting’, ‘Mourning’, and ‘Dress’ are the other terms commonly used in this way, and it is quite self-explanatory as to the circumstances under which each variant design was used. ‘Hunting’ tartans tend to be developed by clans with a very bright or complicated standard design, to allow for outdoor pursuits in a less showy outfit, ‘Mourning’ tartans are very rare, but consist of replacing the background of a tartan with white, and making the entire overcheck black. Finally we have the ‘Dress’ tartans, which are frequently worn by Highland Dancers. These variants see the background of the tartan be replaced by a pure white ground which makes the overcheck even more vibrant and noticeable when dancing. Dress tartans, along with ‘Hunting’ tartans are by far the most common pattern variations.

But what about colour symbolism? Of course, with most clan tartans, any colour symbolism would only apply to the standard variant, as all the different colourways or other variations can dramatically alter the colours of the finished tartan. However in fact, despite never-ending rumours, the majority of old tartans (i.e. those designed before the 20th century) don’t have any specific symbolism attached to the choices of colours at all. The reason for this is quite simple; when tartans were first developed, the colours were determined by the local availability of dyes, and the wealth of those wearing them. Tartan designers didn’t think of themselves as such as the time, and their selections would have been based on what was naturally pleasing to them while being readily available and affordable for the people they were weaving for. Furthermore, many tartans were “invented” during the Victorian revival of Scottish and specifically Highland fashions. This was not done in a malicious way, but because many of the truly ancient patterns and designs had been lost or forgotten during the period known as Proscription, so clan chiefs had to try to piece these back together from incomplete records, or have new designs made. As such these patterns, while not false, do not necessarily have the same connotations as the older, lost designs.

Modern tartans however, are frequently designed with specific colour symbolism in mind. Because there is no specific system equating particular shades with particular meanings, one shade of blue may be used by three different designers to mean three different things! Perhaps the background of the Saltire flag in a commemorative design, the waters of a local river for a new district tartan, or even the blue eyes of a loved one in a personal tartan! This means there are unlimited possibilities for symbolism when designing a new tartan and it can be very interesting and enlightening to read the notes attached to every official tartan registration to see if there is a particular story or meaning behind each design.

World Peace TartanOne of our favourites is the World Peace Tartan; a new design registered only a couple of years ago. The tartan was designed to promote a global message of peace and features a very distinctive light blue background – chosen for its similarity to the striking light blue used by the United Nations. Red and black lines cross the overcheck, representing the everyday reality of war and violence which affects our planet, and lines of purple and green, representing the thistle, mark Scotland’s position at the heart of this initiative to raise awareness and promote peace. Finally, strong white lines run through the centre of the black lines, symbolising hope for a peaceful future. Isn’t it wonderful to see how, with just a few ideas for symbolism and using only a handful of common colours, a talented designer can create such a beautiful design?

We would love to hear from you about any tartan symbolism you’ve encountered, or any colourways or variants you have been drawn to – perhaps you have eschewed your standard clan tartan for something a little more offbeat, or perhaps you have designed a tartan yourself in the past? As always comments are welcomed!

Kilt and tartan – facts and myths

As Scotland is a nation rich in history and steeped in long-held traditions, it can be difficult sometimes to discern the legends and myth from the truth. Some stories are so outlandish as to be easily identified for the tall tales they are – but some true stories are even more strange seeming! Rumours and myths regarding kilts and tartan are perhaps the most prevalent of all, so let’s examine some of these in detail, and see what the fact and fiction is behind these legends!

Read about Tartan Day celebrations

Douglas tartanLet us begin by examining the confusion over the symbolism behind tartan; as this beautiful, traditional and varied cloth has caused many rumours and legends to spring up around it! First among these is the suggestion that the number of colours in a tartan highlights the rank or overall importance of the person wearing it. This is of course completely untrue, and is easily debunked with just a bit of forethought. For example, most people, when thinking of tartan, think of a clan tartan. The clan tartan is worn by all members of a clan regardless of rank – whether it has three colours or seven! And of course, the chief of clan Douglas is not considered less important than the chief of clan Stewart because he displays fewer colours! This myth may have begun in connection with certain colours in and of themselves denoting wealth, and therefore importance; a poor Scotsman could not have afforded to use saffron to dye yellow threads in his tartan, or to use silk for the pure white threads – however like many things about tartan and kilts, the true reasoning behind this legend is now lost to time.

Read about international and occasional tartans

Queen VictoriaAlso lost to us, is the origination of tartan as a mark of your clan or family origins. Many people think that, to negate the myth that Scotsmen have worn tartan and kilts since ancient times, they have to take the complete opposite attitude and instead state that clan tartans and modern kilts are a pure invention by the quite recent Victorian era! However, the truth is somewhere in between; while the Victorians are certainly responsible for popularising tartan, kilts, and all things Scottish, it was always the case that many Highland clans lived in relative isolation, with all their neighbours being family and having a common tartan. Tartans of this era were what we would now consider “district setts”, that is, the local weaver for that area had his own preferred pattern and so everyone living in that district would wear the same tartan. For these small or isolated clans however, the lines between district and clan tartan were blurred – as the only people living in that district were all also related! It isn’t until the early 1700’s that some evidence is discovered for the possible realigning of tartans along clan lines, and it is not properly confirmed that tartans were now viewed in this way until the year of Culloden, and the subsequent Act of Proscription. This set back the development of clan tartans seriously, and during the Victorian revival of Scottish pride many clansmen had to scramble to find our “their” tartan, with this demand inspiring unscrupulous invention on the part of some weavers. However, it can be considered that the natural evolution of tartan was already heading in the direction we find ourselves today!

Lear more about tartan for ladies

Another common trope amongst kilt aficionados is the belief that certain colours have a symbolic meaning. Again, the truth of this rumour lies somewhere between acceptance and denial; old tartans do not have any particular meaning based on their colours, though a meaning may have been later ascribed. Nowadays though many, if not most, modern tartan designers will explain their design choices in terms such as “I chose the blue to represent the Scottish loch near the families home, gold to represent the richness of their harvests, and red to represent the love amongst the family”, the fact is that there is still no fixed meaning for particular shades, and in fact several designers may variously describe the exact same shade of red (or any other colour) as signifying love, blood, rowan berries, or any other connotation!

See also: Scottish kilt outfit

Prince Charlie Kilt OutfitFinally, let us discuss a couple of kilt outfit myths; firstly the idea that you cannot wear more than one tartan at a time. This one is almost correct – you should not wear the tartan of two different clans at once, and generally speaking for reasons of good taste you should probably avoid wearing other tartans simultaneously as well! Tartan colours can be difficult to match attractively and the clashing patterns don’t help! However, if you are wearing a standard clan tartan kilt you are permitted to wear the hunting version of the same clan tartan for your fly plaid – an odd exception but completely true! Last but not least, of course everyone has heard that old chestnut about what a “real” Scotsman wears under his kilt (not much if the rumours are true!). The simple truth of this statement is that, when kilts were first worn, undergarments were just very uncommon for the average man (or woman) to own! It wasn’t a particular choice or requirement, just an everyday fact of life. Nowadays we do of course have access to a far wider range of attire, and even the kilts itself has changed drastically in design, so underwear is perfectly appropriate – or even recommended! Male Highland dancers for instance are actually required to wear underwear when competing to ensure they don’t accidentally flip their kilt too high and embarrass the judges; and with their skill, athleticism and dedication to Scottish tradition, no one can deny that Highland dancers are the epitome of true Scotsmen! As one kilt enthusiast put it; “If you’re man enough to wear the kilt, you’re gentleman enough to think about the women and children around you”!

So readers, what are your favourite kilt myths? Were you ever taken in by one of these only to find out the truth later? We look forward to your comments!

Contemporary Kilt Alternatives

With a spate of recent good weather in the UK, Scotland has been basking in some of the nicest summer weather we’ve enjoyed for a number of years! However, us pasty Scots aren’t too used to temperatures reaching well over 30 degrees Celsius, and so we’ve naturally been trying to stay cool however possible! When the mercury climbs skywards a full, traditional kilt, combined with the other thick or woollen products Scotland is famed for, are simply not comfortable for most people to wear. So today we’ll make a few suggestions for ways to maintain a touch of Scottish flair in your outfits while remaining cool and comfortable – fully prepared to take advantage of the great summer we’re having!

Gents 5 Yard Kilt, MacKenzieFirst of all of course we must consider the myth that it is not possible to wear a kilt at all during hot weather; with made-to-order kilts there can be adaptations to make this traditional garment a comfortable option no matter what the weather! Although most men will only have one main kilt, usually 8 yards and 16oz wool to ensure suitability for formal events and a long life span, 5 yard kilts are also popular and, as they use so much less fabric, can be much more comfortable! Additionally, many mills supply a range of fabric weights, so an 11-13oz fabric may be chosen for a lighter, cooler experience. And of course kilts have their own “built in air conditioning” so even a slight breeze on a hot day can cool you down quite effectively! In stock casual kilts are also often available in 5 yard options, though the man-made fibres which these kilts are composed of are not as naturally breathable as wool, so it will vary from person to person how comfortable these feel.

Read about tartan spirit through everyday productsTartan Trousers, MacKenzie

However, other times we might simply want to wear something a little bit different from usual. Tartan trousers can be a great way to change up your Scottish outfit, and are highly appropriate for golfing attire of course! Available in as many tartan choices as kilts nowadays, you can even find specially styled tartan trews (as they are known in Scotland) which are able to be worn with kilt jackets such as the Prince Charlie, for formal events such as weddings. For gents’ casual wear, cool T-Shirts and polo shirts are great ways to display your Scottish pride, and are available in a massive range of colours and styles, ensuring you don’t need to worry about bumping into an identically dressed neighbour at your next Highland Games! And of course, a stylish baseball cap is a must have to finish off your outfit on a sweltering day, with golfing, rugby, and other designs proving popular.

Tartan Toe Post Flip Flop, Stewart RoyalThe ladies have it much easier in terms of Scottish clothing during the hot months, as the ideas for Highlandwear are already much less restrictive for them. With a broad range of tartans now available in light and airy dupion silk, it is also much easier to continue wearing formal dresses and sashes to special events. But it’s not only special dresses which are a great choice for ladies this summer; tartan flipflops are perfect for taking on holiday, and tartan handbags are available in more patterns and styles than ever before, with fashionable options such as satchel-style bags being an ideal touch to finish an otherwise mundane outfit. And with kilt makers expanding their ranges to include such garments as tartan mini-skirts and hotpants itLadies Wool Tartan Handbag, Stud Fastener, Bruce of Kinnaird is easy to beat the heat and remain true to your roots!

Learn about international and occasional tartans

Finally, for children, Scottish T-shirts are again a popular choice, and Saltire or Lion Rampant beach towels will be essential for the beach, though what they might thank you for the most could be a new Nessie soft toy or Scottish style toy shield and sword set!

Don’t forget also to stock up on postcards and souvenirs if you are a visitor to our bonny country this summer, and create memories of a lifetime in the land of kilts this year!

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!


International and Occasional Tartans

Returning once more to the ever-popular topic of tartan we now consider a few more modern designs, such as tartans which have been created to commemorate special events or raise awareness of a certain topic, and also regional tartans which have been adopted in areas with a strong Scottish diaspora community.

Irn Bru tartanWhen creating a new tartan, the only restrictions on design are that it must not copy a tartan which already exists, in name, design, or intention. Therefore many designs have been registered which reference a wide number of concepts such as love and loyalty, or Scottish symbols such as the lion rampant, stag, or thistle. There are tartans celebrating whiskey, haggis, even Irn Bru and shortbread! Many of these are of course corporate tartans, designed and registered to promote a certain product or company. However others are registered as so-called “fashion” tartans, and though only one mill may have permission to weave the fabric, it can be sold to anyone for private use in garments and other textile goods.

Read about Tartan Day

One such new design is the World Peace Tartan, a beautiful blue and purpleWorld Peace Tartan kilt design which is very contemporary and which has been growing in popularity for the last few years thanks to its versatility for male and female wearers, and for its positive and hopeful message. The World Peace Tartan was created to promote a global message of peace, and the striking light blue in the design is representative of the presence, hope and potential of the United Nations organisation. The role Scotland plays in promoting world peace is represented through the Scottish thistle, with lines of purple and green. The red and black in the design have been chosen to remind us of the realities of war and violence, and finally the white running throughout the pattern symbolises peace and light, and reinforces the need for a new culture of peace among humanity.

As we can see from the globally relevant World Peace tartan, not only Scottish concerns are represented in modern tartans, with tartans aimed at the Scottish diaspora becoming more and more attractive and popular, echoing the modern tradition of providing regional tartans for those of Scottish birth but without family tartans. This is also a common practice in Ireland, where family name tartans are unknown and men wishing to wear the kilt, or cilt, will instead choose a tartan affiliated to their county of birth.

Learn more about tartan for ladies

LMaple Leaf tartan rugikewise, America, Canada and many other countries with Celtic immigrant populations now have their own national and regional tartans, some of these very popular indeed. The Canadian Maple Leaf tartan for example was designed in 1964 and became so well loved that it was finally adopted as the nation’s official tartan in 2011. With its wonderful shades representing the varying tones of the maple tree’s leaves; green in the spring, gold in the early autumn, red at the first frost, and brown after falling, it is a common choice for Canadian citizens over and above the tartan for each province they could also choose.

By comparison, the United States America tartan is not quite so well-known; however this is unsurprising – as there are US Forces Seabees 2 Modern tartanso many more United States tartans to choose from! Americans, whether of Scottish extraction or not, can choose from further regional choices celebrating the individual states, to vocational tartans such as the Leatherneck or Seabees designs, which honour the U.S. Marines Corps and the U.S. Navy respectively. Again in these cases, the tartans are not (yet!?) officially recognised by the U.S. military but through very popular usage have come to be strongly associated with it, and it is commonly accepted that only those with a strong connection, either current or ex-service people or their close family who wish to wear the tartan as a mark of respect, should display these tartans. With tartans now registered which celebrate jobs from fire-fighters, to paediatricians, to travel agents, or acknowledge personal interests such as sports and music, there truly is a design for everybody out there and any person interested in tartan and kilt wearing will be sure to find a design that speaks to them and they can feel a connection with, regardless of whether their own heritage if Scottish or not!

Read about kilt construction

5 Yard Kilt by John MorrisonWith such a wealth to choose from, it can be intimidating to decide which tartan you should settle on when purchasing a kilt or other tartan garment. For most people, a family tartan will be the first and foremost when thinking of investing in an important garment, such as an 8 yard kilt or a tartan wedding dress. However, there will always be opportunities to add a touch of Scottish pride or tartan flair to an outfit even when you don’t want to wear full Highland regalia. For these times a nice tie or waistcoat featuring the regional tartan celebrating your home, or commemorating a special holiday, a college or university tartan remembering your alma mater, or a fun design to show off your interest in a certain football team might be just the thing!

Let us know in the comments if you have found a non-clan tartan that holds a special place in your heart!

Celebrating Tartan Day

Tartan Fabric, Stewart RoyalOur last post was about kilt accessories. Now, it’s time to focus on incoming celebrations. Tartan Day, a modern celebration of Scottish heritage, is held annually on April 6th – the same date in 1320 on which the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, declaring Scottish independence and sovereignty. Originally centred among the vast Scottish diaspora in Canada and the United States, Tartan Day as a way to remember and honour their ancestor’s roots, Tartan Day celebrations are now spreading across the world, though some nations celebrate on different dates, such as Australia’s Tartan Day taking place on July 1st.

Read about Burns Night traditions

Tartan Day events include organised parades, complete with ranks of bagpipers proudly marching in their full Highland regalia, Scottish Highland dancing competitions or displays, and performances from Scottish bands, screenings of Scottish films, and exhibitions of Scottish art and photography. In addition to these more public events, there may also be more spiritual and reflective activities such as the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan, and the Calling of the Clans.

The Calling of the Clans can be a very emotional experience for many clan members, whether Highland Dancethey were born in Scotland or to  emigrant families. This ritual will often take place on the first night of a Gathering, or other large Scottish event, and involves representatives from each of the clans present stepping forward to declare their clans name, and having the members of that clan in the audience call back with their clan name, or a cheer, to let the chief, or other representative, know that they are present and proud to be a member of their clan. It is a simple event but very meaningful for many people, as it allows them to declare their clan affiliation publicly – and possibly get the chance identify other clan members they have not met before, as is very common nowadays, with the original clans spread out all over the world! Historically the Calling of the Clans was used to gather and unify friendly clans the night before a battle, the various different groups would confirm their allegiance to their birth clans, but agree to act as though part of one large clan for the good of the whole. Though of course Highland battles are no longer a feature of Tartan Day (one would hope at least!) the feeling that all the clans can still come together to feel unified under a banner of friendship and a shared community is still wonderful to experience.

Learn more about fascinating life of St. Andrew

Tartan Day Parade in New YorkThe Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan is very much a modern tradition – and also very much a Scottish-American creation, rather than originating from the homeland – but it is lovely nevertheless, and is inspired by historical events. The legend behind the modern Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan service is that, during the time that the Act of Proscription (a law forbidding the wearing of Highland clothing) was in effect, Highlanders would sneak tiny scraps of tartan fabric into church, the “kirk” in Scots, to be blessed by a minister. There is a book of Scottish folklore and prayers by a Mr Carmichael which makes mention of “Consecration of the Cloth”, but no contemporary evidence exists to confirm exactly when this ritual started, or why. The modern ritual dates only from around 1941, and is of course celebrated publicly, in fact at a “Kirkin’”, the whole church service may be dedicated to Scottish heritage and the friendships shared between different countries through common ancestry. As with the Calling of the Clans, clan representatives will be present at a Kirkin’, and at a predetermined time during the service, they will approach the altar in turn to offer up a length of tartan fabric to be blessed or prayed over. The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan service has been celebrated most often in Presbyterian churches, but other Christian denominations have also participated in recent years, and it is in particular a popular aspect of the massive New York Tartan Day celebrations!

We feel it is truly wonderful that so many people all over the world like to remember their Scottish roots, and pay homage and respect to old traditions, while creating new ones to pass on to their own children, so readers, how will you be celebrating Tartan Day this year?