Interested in your Scottish ancestry? Well then discover the origins of Scottish tartans and find your family name with this helpful post. In this post I will uncover when this fascination with tartan began for the Scots, and also show you a few sites where you can buy anything from coasters to cuddly soft toys.
National Tartan Day – April 6th
International Tartan Day – July 1st
St Andrew’s Day (Patron Saint of Scotland) – November 30th
Topics discussed in this post:
- What is tartan?
- History of Scottish tartan!
- Where to buy tartan products!
- My Final Thoughts on Scottish Tartans and Your Family Name!
What Is Tartan?
Ah, tartan. One of the most famous Scottish symbols that dates to at least the 16th Century. The first mention of tartan appears in 1538 where there was an order for a bale of cloth of Heland Tartane.
But what exactly is tartan?
Tartan is a pattern that consists of criss-crossed lines both horizontally and vertically. These lines are of varying thickness and can be in a multitude of different colors.
The pattern of stripes that you see running vertically is exactly the same on the horizontal axes.
One of the most popular tartans is the Royal Stewart, which you may have seen Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II wearing. Other popular tartan designs include Black Watch, Caledonian, Hunting Steward and Jacobite.
Difference between tartan and plaid
You may have heard of plaid and you may have associated it with tartan. However, plaid and tartan are actually two completely different things.
Plaid is a piece of tartan cloth that is draped over the shoulder and is a kilt accessory. Not to confuse you though plaid is also a pattern as well. But it does not contain stripes that are exactly the same on both the horizontal and vertical axes.
How is tartan made?
Before alternating these bands of colored threads they needed to be pre-dyed. Common ingredients used to color the wool included alum, copper, iron, fir club moss and oak galls. Even urine was used for this coloring process.
After the wool was colored they were then woven together at right angles. This will result in a block of colored lines both horizontally and vertically. This pattern that is repeated is known as a sett.
Originally tartan clothing was made from woven wool but what with the advancements in technology other materials are now also used.
History of Scottish Tartan!
As I noted earlier the earliest existence of tartan in Scotland appeared sometime in the 16th Century. But it was not until the late 17th to early 18th Century that tartan designs were used to differentiate between the different Scottish clans.
A tartan pattern was loosely associated with the weavers of a particular region. However, it was not uncommon for highlanders to wear different tartan clothing at the same time.
Then in 1746 a Dress Act was introduced that would ban the wearing of tartan, except for the Highland regiments of the British Army. This ban was brought in in order to suppress the Highlanders who were fighting for the Jacobite cause, (which was a fight to stop parliament interfering with the succession of the English and Scottish thrones).
However, in 1782 this act was repealed, largely thanks to the Highland Society of London.
The weaving manufacturer William Wilson & Sons became the predominant suppliers of tartan. By 1822 William had amassed a collection of over 200 different setts.
These setts were collected from samples of cloth from clan districts all across Scotland. Many of the setts were numbered, but some were given names.
In 1822 King George IV visited Scotland which increased his popularity with the Scottish population. This was the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch in 171 years and so there was such enthusiasm for his visit.
Because of this excitement there was a sudden demand for tartan and as such it was made the national dress for the whole of Scotland. Subsequent clan tartans were designed and created. And so they are regarded as an invented tradition.
How many tartans are there?
Today, there is anywhere between 3,500 to 7,000 different tartans. The number is difficult to calculate as there is some confusion as to how “different tartan” is defined. New tartans are always being added with approximately 150 new designs created each year!
The Scottish Register of Tartans is maintained by the National Records of Scotland and is the official database for all Scottish tartans. The database lists tartans by name, whether they are for a clan, corporate, district, or fashion, and when it was designed, (if known).
National Tartan Day!
To recognize Americans that have Scottish ancestry Congress established in 1997 National Tartan Day. The date chosen was April 6th as this was when the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. This was a declaration of Scottish independence.
This day originated in Canada in 1987. And soon spread all over the world in countries where many Scottish people emigrated to, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
On this special day you will see parades of pipe bands, Highland dancing as well as other Scottish themed events.
There is also International Tartan Day which is held on July 1st. This date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription. This act banned the wearing of tartan.
Where To Buy Tartan Products?
Lang Syne Shop has been trading for 35 years and supply gifts that you will remember. Originally publishing books about Scottish ancestry they now offer fun memorabilia and souvenirs.
Lang Syne Products include:
- Family surname / clan books
- Fridge magnets
- Tea towels
You won’t find your tartan featuring on these products. However, the clan and family books uncover the meaning of your Scottish name, as well as a bit of history behind the name.
Presently there are more than 300 English family name books and 19 Welsh books. So if your ancestry is spread out across the United Kingdom you can learn about your other British ancestors as well.
Here you will find a range of high quality products that have been beautifully handcrafted by Michael Yuill. And as the name suggests tartans are created on wood, (actually reclaimed timber), and are made in Kirkintilloch, Scotland.
Tartan products include:
- Candle plinth
- Whiskey Sets
Shipping is available within the United Kingdom as well as worldwide. And also shipping is free if you purchase more than $1000. And if you are not completely satisfied with the product then you can return it for free within 24 hours.
Gift cards are also available. So if you are not entirely sure what to get for someone then why not buy a gift card and let them decide.
There is also a reward points system. The more you buy then the more you earn points, which can then be redeemed later.
My Final Thoughts on Scottish Tartans and Your Family Name!
Even though clan and family tartans are an invented tradition there is definitely a lot of fun trying to find your Scottish tartan. And if you don’t find your family’s tartan then you can simply design your own. Just head on over to the Scottish Register of Tartans.
There is though a £70 fee for this privilege, but you can give your tartan your very own unique name. Now that’s pretty cool isn’t it.
If like me and your proud of your heritage why not display your family’s tartan on a coaster or a candle plinth. The products at Tartan Wood as I have mentioned are of very high quality. So please, check out their website and see for yourself.
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