What is Tartan?

Technically speaking, tartan is a pattern woven from threads, usually of two or more colours, which cross at right angles in a rectangular pattern. The primary difference from a check pattern is that with a tartan there are points where the different colours cross, forming an intermediate colour, or speckled blend of the two colours. Historically, patterns dating from the Iron Age which are similar to today’s Tartan have been found in China, while samples in Britain possibly date back to the 3rd century. There are strict rules regarding the design and patterning of modern Tartans. 

To a Scot though, Tartan is so much more than a distinctive, beautifully patterned weave. Tartan is a symbol of homeland, family, culture and heritage. Whether worn, or simply observed during ceremonies, Tartan invariably evokes a powerful emotional response for people of Scottish descent. From early times Scots would wear Tartan clothing that was distinctive to a weaver from their area of origin. Over time, these patterns became more closely identified with a region, and by extension, often with the Clan of the same region. Following the Jacobite struggles the Dress Act of 1746 was passed in an attempt to restrict the wearing of tartans. The Act was ineffective and only served to create a strong romantic and nationalistic base for the resurgence of Clan awareness and tartan identity. The leading weaving manufacturer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was William Wilson & Sons, and the company amassed a collection of Tartan samples that were carefully described and recorded. From 1815 official Clan Tartans were named and registered, and today virtually every Clan has at least one distinct tartan. 

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