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a woven material, usually of wool

distinctive by stripes of varying width and colours.

The stripes are positioned vertically: the warp

and horizontally: the weft.

The resulting pattern appears as squares intersected by stripes.

The pattern is called the sett and

the tartan is the repeating of setts.

Tartan patterning has evolved into

an iconic image of Scottish identity.

(image from aberdeenshire.gov.uk):


During excavations in northwest China

of an ancient city (Qizilchoqa) in existence over 2,000 years ago –

archeologist unearthed mummified remains of

four men and two women.

All redheaded; all dressed in tartan patterned cloth.

It is believed that they were of a migrating Celtic tribe.

The discovery signified that the Celts (600 BC – 50 AD) wove cloth in a

chequer-patterned design:  tartan.

An early sample of this patterning, specific to Scotland

dates to the 3rd century AD.

Named the Falkirk Tartan, after the Scottish town of Falkirk

where it is believed to have originated –

it is displayed in the collection of the

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

remnant of the Falkirk Tartan

A German woodcut, 1631-  of Highland mercenaries

in the employ of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus,

depicts the men wearing tartan kilts.

This is further evidence of tartan patterning in Scottish dress.

(image from scotshistoryonline.co.uk):

German woodcut, 1631

Tartan Identification

It seems that an initial indicator of tartan as a sort of

“clan uniform”

occurred in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden.

The confrontation was the last in the military efforts

of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (The Young Pretender)

to assert his claim to the English crown.

Grandson of the deposed Stuart king,

the Catholic James II –

Prince Charles as his father before him

was unsuccessful in his attempts.

(image from queenofscots.co.uk):

Prince Charles Edward Stuart attired TT (totally tartan)

Of specific interest for ‘tartanology’ (the study of tartan)

is that Highland combatants at Culloden wore

tartan kilts of patterning similar to others from

the same or closely neighbouring communities –

probably more a general district tartan pattern

than specific family clan patterns.

File:The Battle of Culloden.jpg

The Battle of Culloden, by David Morier (1705 -1770)

The Victorians and Tartan  

Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert

loved visiting Balmoral Castle, which they had built in 1856

on the royal estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

When there, they enjoyed wearing Highland dress and

decorating rooms in tartan prints.

(image from tartansauthority.com):

A Balmoral Castle interior showing tartan everywhere.

a sitting room in Balmoral Castle

Ever industrious, Prince Albert even designed

a pattern known as the Balmoral Tartan.

Tartan image: Balmoral (Royal). Click on this image to see a more detailed version.

the Balmoral Tartan (Royal), 1853

designed by Prince Albert

In response to the royal interest in things tartan,

many Victorians followed suit-

fashioning themselves and their interiors in tartan.

Today tartan is an extremely popular print,

seen in runway presentation

and translated into street style.

For his a/w 2013 womenswear collection

Italian designer Fausto Puglisi

offers yet another example of the international appeal

of tartan- fashion.

His interpretation is a strong, bold statement –

well in-keeping with tales of the fearless Highlanders.

(images from fashionising):

Fausto Puglisi

a/w 2013

The Collection


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