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Weaving and Design

January – 2024 30 MINS READ

This chapter offers a comprehensive look into tartan weaving and design, an integral part of Scotland’s heritage. Tartan’s journey from a practical cloth to a cultural emblem is as colorful as the patterns themselves. Originating in the Scottish Highlands, tartan was initially used by clans as a means of identification. The chapter discusses how tartan patterns are created, focusing on the techniques of weaving. It explains the role of warp and weft in forming the unique tartan grid and delves into the choice of colors, influenced by natural dyes available historically. The chapter also explores the evolution of tartan designs, affected by both social changes and technological advancements.
THE Tartan
The Scottish Register of Tartans provides the following summary definition of tartan:
Tartan (the design) is a pattern that comprises two or more different solid-coloured stripes that can be of similar but are usually of differing proportions that repeat in a defined sequence. The sequence of the warp colours (long-ways threads) is repeated in same order and size in the weft (cross-ways threads). The majority of such patterns (or setts) are symmetrical, i.e. the pattern repeats in the same colour order and proportions in every direction from the two pivot points. In the less common asymmetric patterns, the colour sequence repeats in blocks as opposed to around alternating pivots but the size and colour sequence of warp and weft remain the same.
Traditional tartan fabric showcases a unique weaving style known as a 2/2 twill weave, using worsted wool. This technique involves a precise arrangement where the horizontal weft threads (also called woof or fill) pass over and under the vertical warp threads in a two-over-two-under pattern. With each pass, the weft thread moves over by one warp thread. This creates a staggered effect, ensuring that every warp thread intersects with two weft threads.
Upon close examination, this method results in a distinctive diagonal pattern at a 45-degree angle, forming “ribs” where different colors intersect. When a weft thread crosses warp threads of the same color, it produces a solid color block in the tartan. In contrast, when a weft thread crosses warp threads of a different color, it creates an alternating pattern of the two colors. This intermingling of colors, when viewed from a distance, appears as a new, blended color – a halftone effect similar to multicolor halftone printing or cross-hatching in colored pencil art.
The fascinating aspect of this technique is how it multiplies the color variations. With just two base colors, the tartan can display three distinct colors, including one blended hue. The number of perceived colors increases quadratically with the number of base colors used. For instance, six base colors can yield fifteen blends and a total of twenty-one different perceived colors. Consequently, the more stripes and colors incorporated, the more subtle and blended the tartan pattern appears.
In tartan patterns, unlike simple checkerboard designs, solid colors are not placed adjacent to each other, only blends are. Solid colors might touch only at their corners. This complex weaving process contributes to the rich visual texture and depth that tartan fabrics are celebrated for. The fascinating aspect of this technique is how it multiplies the color variations. With just two base colors, the tartan can display three distinct colors, including one blended hue. The number of perceived colors increases quadratically with the number of base colors used. For instance, six base colors can yield fifteen blends and a total of twenty-one different perceived colors. Consequently, the more stripes and colors incorporated, the more subtle and blended the tartan pattern appears.
James D. Scarlett (2008) described the typical tartan pattern, known as the sett, which forms the basic unit of tartan design. The sett is essentially a square comprised of various rectangles – both square and oblong – symmetrically arranged around a central square. Each element within this pattern appears four times, positioned at 90-degree intervals. Moreover, each element is rotated by 90 degrees in relation to adjacent ones, contributing to the overall symmetry. The size and shape of these elements are determined by the widths of the stripes that construct them.
In a tartan pattern, the sequence of thread colors (the minimal design, often referred to as the ‘DNA of a tartan’) begins at an edge and typically reverses at specific points called pivot points. Occasionally, the sequence may repeat rather than reverse. For example, in one illustrative diagram, the sett starts at the first pivot, reverses at the second, continues on, and then reverses again at the next pivot, proceeding in this alternating pattern horizontally. In another diagram, the sett follows a similar pattern but in a vertical direction. These diagrams exemplify the construction of a standard symmetric tartan, which is also known as reflective, reversing, or mirroring tartan.
The unit of tartan pattern, the sett, is a square, composed of a number of rectangles, square and oblong, arranged symmetrically around a central square. Each of these elements occurs four times, at intervals of ninety degrees, and each is rotated ninety degrees in relation to its fellows. The proportions of the elements are determined by the relative widths of the stripes that form them.
However, there are rare instances of asymmetric (also known as asymmetrical or non-reversing) tartans, where the sett repeats at the pivots instead of reversing. An old term for this type of pattern is a cheek or cheeck pattern. Furthermore, a small number of traditional Scottish tartans and some other weaving traditions like madras cloth feature differing setts for warp and weft, resulting in different thread counts for each. This variation is more common in madras cloth and other weaving styles than in traditional Scottish tartan.
ジェームズ・D・スカーレット (2008) は、一般的なタータンパターンについて説明しており、これはセットと呼ばれるタータンデザインの基本単位です。セットは本質的に、中央の正方形の周りに対称的に配置されたさまざまな長方形(正方形と長方形の両方)から成る正方形です。このパターン内の各要素は、90度の間隔で4回現れます。さらに、各要素は隣接する要素に対して90度回転しており、全体の対称性に寄与しています。これらの要素のサイズと形状は、それらを構成する縞の幅によって決まります。
The Scottish Register of Tartans
The Scottish Register of Tartans (SRT), established on February 5, 2009, serves as the official authority for the documentation and registration of tartan designs in Scotland. Functioning as a division of the National Records of Scotland (NRS), previously part of the National Archives of Scotland before their merger, SRT is responsible for preserving the history of existing tartan patterns and overseeing the registration of new designs. These new designs must meet specific criteria to be registered. 
As the central repository for tartan records, the SRT absorbed data from several prior organizations, both non-profit and commercial, many of which are now defunct. The head of the NRS, who also holds the titles of Keeper of Records and Registrar General for Scotland, leads the SRT as of December 2018. The SRT database, also named the Scottish Register of Tartans, has incorporated records of at least 7,000 tartans from previous registries and continues to add new entries. The exact size of the database is not specified, but it has been significantly expanded since its inception in 2009
A tartan’s design is documented by counting the threads of each color in its sett. This count, known as the thread count, not only indicates the stripe width in the sett but also the colors employed, which are usually abbreviated. Typically, each number in a thread count is even, aiding in its manufacturing process. The first and last threads in this count serve as the pivot points. When a thread count is paired with precise color details and other weaving specifics, it’s known as a ticket stamp or simply a ticket.

There isn’t a universally standardized method for writing a thread count, but the various systems are distinguishable. For example:

  • The thread count “/K4 R24 K24 Y4/” denotes a mirroring pattern with 4 black, 24 red, 24 black, and 4 yellow threads. The beginning black and ending yellow threads, which are the pivots, are not repeated (after Y4/, colors reverse in order, first K24 then R24); this is considered a “full-count at the pivots” thread count.
  • An equivalent way to represent this is by bolding the pivot abbreviations: K4 R24 K24 Y4.
  • The same tartan can also be denoted as “K/2 R24 K24 Y/2”, indicating that the initial black and final yellow threads are duplicated before the pattern continues from these pivot points (after Y/2, colors reverse to Y/2, then K24, then R24); this is a “half-count at the pivots” thread count.
  • In older and less clear thread-counting methods, without the “/” or bold notation, a count like “K4 R24 K24 Y4” is presumed to be full-count at the pivots unless specified otherwise.
  • In all these cases, the result is a half-sett thread count, representing the threading before the pattern mirrors and completes; a full-sett count for a symmetric tartan is redundant. A “/” can also be used between color codes (e.g., “W/Y24” for “white/yellow 24”) for a more concise count in simple tartans that differ only in a color swap in half of the half-sett pattern; however, this is less common.

For an asymmetric tartan, which does not mirror, a full-sett count is represented with “…” markup, like “…K4 R24 K24 Y4…” (after Y4, the pattern starts anew from K4).

Different writers and databases use various color names and abbreviations, so a thread count might not be universally understood without a color key/legend. Some recorders begin the thread count at the pivot with the first color in alphabetical order, but this is arbitrary.

Thread counts, while specific, can be modified for the desired tartan size. For instance, a tartan’s sett might be too large for a necktie, so the thread count is proportionally reduced. In some cases, the count is minimized to the smallest even number needed to accurately replicate the design, which may then be upscaled for kilts and plaids.

Before the 19th century, the weft thread was often up to 1/3 thicker than the warp thread, resulting in a rectangular pattern. The solution was adjusting the weft thread count to square the pattern or intentionally keeping it non-square, as in some traditional tartans. Uneven warp-and-weft thickness could also give a striped look to some tartans.

The dominant colors, or the widest bands, in a tartan are called the under-check, with other terms like ground or background used if there’s one main color. Thin contrasting lines are the over-check, and paired over-checks are sometimes called tram lines. Bright over-checks might be bordered by thin lines, often black, called guard lines. Historically, William Wilson & Son sometimes wove bright over-checks in silk for added shine. Tartan for plaids often features a purled fringe.

Historically, up until the 18th century, it was common to embellish plaids and occasionally kilts with a decorative edge known as a selvedge, woven in a herringbone pattern. This selvedge, typically 1–3 inches (2.5–7.6 cm) wide, complemented the color pattern of the sett. Some modern weavers continue to produce tartans in this traditional style. More ornate selvedges were also employed: these were borders, usually on just one side, featuring a color from the sett repeated in a broad band, often in herringbone, and sometimes accented with a thin strip of another color from the sett or adorned with two thin strips in the middle of the selvedge. These decorative edges were commonly used on the lower parts of belted plaids and kilts, often black in military tartans but potentially more colorful in civilian versions.
More intricate selvedge patterns included a series of narrow stripes incorporating some or all of the sett’s colors. These were predominantly used on household tartans, like blankets and curtains, and applied to two opposite sides of the fabric. A particularly rare feature is the total border selvedge, encompassing all four sides of the fabric with a completely different sett. Peter Eslea MacDonald in 2019 described this as “an extraordinarily difficult feature to weave and can be regarded as the zenith of the tartan weaver’s art.” Such designs are primarily found in a few 18th-century Scottish tartans, preserved as samples in Scotland and Nova Scotia, Canada. This style has also been adopted in Estonia for weaving suurrätt shawls and plaids.


  • 糸数 “/K4 R24 K24 Y4/” は、4つの黒糸、24つの赤糸、24つの黒糸、4つの黄糸の鏡面パターンを表しています。最初の黒と最後の黄色の糸(ピボット)は繰り返されず(Y4/の後、色はK24からR24へと逆になる)、これは「ピボットでのフルカウント」糸数とされます。
  • 同じ表記をピボットの略称を太字にすることで表すこともできます:K4 R24 K24 Y4。
  • 同じタータンは “K/2 R24 K24 Y/2” としても表され、黒い開始糸と黄色い終了糸がピボットポイントから続くパターンの前に複製されることを示します(Y/2の後、色はY/2に戻り、次にK24、R24になる)。これは「ピボットでのハーフカウント」糸数です。
  • 古くて曖昧な糸数カウントのスタイルでは、”/”や太字の表記がない場合、”K4 R24 K24 Y4″のような糸数は、指定がない限り、ピボットでのフルカウントとされます。
  • これらの場合、結果はハーフセット糸数となり、パターンが鏡面反射して完成する前の糸通しを表します。対称的なタータンのフルセット糸数は冗長です。”/”は単純なタータンでハーフセットパターンの半分が色交換のみで異なる場合に、より簡潔な糸数を作成するために2つの色コードの間に使用されることもあります(例:”W/Y24″ は “白/黄色 24″)が、これは一般的な糸数カウントのスタイルではありません。

鏡面反射しない非対称タータンは、”…”マークアップを使ってフルセット糸数として表されます。例:”…K4 R24 K24 Y4…”(Y4の後、パターンはK4から再開します)。





18世紀までの古い時代の慣習では、プレードや時折キルトに、ヘリンボーン織りのセルビッジ(布の端の装飾的な縁)を加えることが一般的でした。このセルビッジは通常1〜3インチ(2.5〜7.6 cm)の幅で、セットの色のパターンに合わせていました。現代の一部の織り手は、この伝統的なスタイルでタータンを製作し続けています。より装飾的なセルビッジも使用されました:これらは、セットの色を広いバンドで繰り返して形成されたボーダー(通常は片側だけ)で、しばしばヘリンボーンで、時にはセットの別の色の細いストリップで縁取られたり、セルビッジの中央に2本の細いストリップで装飾されていました。これらの装飾的な端は、一般にベルト付きプレードやキルトの下部に使用され、軍用タータンでは通常黒ですが、民間のものではよりカラフルなものがありました。


18th-century tartan with a herringbone selvedge at the bottom
Black Watch tartan with a selvedge mark at the bottom (also herringbone)
Wilsons 1819 blanket tartan
Wilsons 1819 blanket tartan with a selvedge pattern on the right

Tartans are documented by counting the threads of each color in their pattern, known as the sett. This thread count not only specifies the width of the stripes in the sett but also the colors used, often in abbreviated form. Usually, the numbers in a thread count are even to simplify manufacturing. The first and last threads in this count are identified as pivot points. When combined with precise color details and other weaving specifications, the thread count is referred to as a ticket stamp or simply a ticket.

In Lochcarron, Scottish Highlands, where tartan weaving is prominent, there’s no standardized method for writing a thread count, but various systems are distinct. For instance:

  • The thread count “/K4 R24 K24 Y4/” represents a mirroring pattern of black, red, black, and yellow threads, with the start and end pivots not repeated. After Y4/, the sequence reverses (first K24, then R24), known as a “full-count at the pivots” thread count.
  • Alternatively, pivot abbreviations can be boldfaced: K4 R24 K24 Y4.
  • The same tartan might also be shown as “K/2 R24 K24 Y/2”, indicating the start and end threads are duplicated before continuing, then reversed after Y/2 (Y/2, K24, R24), called a “half-count at the pivots” thread count.
  • In older, less clear counting styles without “/” or bold notation, a count like “K4 R24 K24 Y4” is presumed full-count at the pivots unless stated otherwise.
  • All these represent a half-sett thread count, reflecting the pattern before it mirrors and completes. For symmetric tartans, a full-sett count is redundant. A “/” can also be used between color codes (e.g., “W/Y24” for white/yellow 24) for more concise counts in simple tartans, but this isn’t common.

Asymmetric tartans, which don’t mirror, use a full-sett count with “…” notation, like “…K4 R24 K24 Y4…” (after Y4, the pattern restarts from K4). However, different writers and databases use various color names and abbreviations, so a thread count might need a color key/legend for universal understanding. Some recorders arbitrarily start thread counts at the pivot with the first color alphabetically.

Thread counts, while specific, can be adjusted for the tartan’s desired size. For example, a tartan’s sett might be reduced for a necktie. In some instances, thread counts are minimized to the smallest even number necessary for accurate design reproduction, then upscaled for kilts and plaids.

Before the 19th century, tartan weft threads were often thicker than warp threads, resulting in rectangular patterns. Adjusting the weft thread count could square the pattern or intentionally keep it non-square, as in some traditional tartans. Uneven warp-and-weft thickness might give some tartans a striped appearance.

In a tartan, the widest bands, known as the under-check, may be termed ground, background, or base, especially if there’s one dominant color. Thin contrasting lines are called over-checks (or over-stripes), and pairs of over-checks are sometimes known as tram lines. Bright over-checks might be bordered by thin lines, often black, called guard lines for contrast. Historically, William Wilson & Son of Bannockburn wove bright over-checks in silk for added shine. Tartans for plaids, not including the belted plaid, often have a purled fringe.

Until the 18th century, a common practice was to enhance plaids, and sometimes kilts, by adding a selvedge (a finished edge of a fabric) in a herringbone weave at the edge. This selvedge, typically 1–3 inches (2.5–7.6 cm) wide, was designed to fit into the color pattern of the sett. Some modern weavers continue to produce tartans in this style. There were also more decorative selvedges used:

  • Selvedge marks were borders, usually on just one side, created by repeating a color from the sett in a broad band, often in herringbone weave, and sometimes edged by a thin strip of another sett color. These were primarily used on the bottoms of belted plaids and kilts. In military tartans, these selvedge marks were typically black, but civilian tartans could feature more colorful designs.
  • More elaborate selvedge patterns involved a series of narrow stripes incorporating some or all colors of the sett. These patterns were almost exclusively used on household tartans, such as blankets and curtains, and were applied to two opposing sides of the fabric.
  • A very rare style is the total border selvedge, which encompasses all four sides of the fabric with a completely different sett. This intricate design, described by Peter Eslea MacDonald in 2019 as “an extraordinarily difficult feature to weave and can be regarded as the zenith of the tartan weaver’s art,” is now only found in a few 18th-century samples from Scotland and Nova Scotia, Canada (likely all originally from Scotland). This style has also been adopted in Estonia in the weaving of suurrätt shawls/plaids.

More elaborate selvedge patterns involved a series of narrow stripes incorporating some or all colors of the sett. These patterns were almost exclusively used on household tartans, such as blankets and curtains, and were applied to two opposing sides of the fabric.
A very rare style is the total border selvedge, which encompasses all four sides of the fabric with a completely different sett. This intricate design, described by Peter Eslea MacDonald in 2019 as “an extraordinarily difficult feature to weave and can be regarded as the zenith of the tartan weaver’s art,” is now only found in a few 18th-century samples from Scotland and Nova Scotia, Canada (likely all originally from Scotland). This style has also been adopted in Estonia in the weaving of suurrätt shawls/plaids.



  • 糸の数 “/K4 R24 K24 Y4/” は、黒、赤、黒、黄色の糸の鏡面パターンを表し、開始と終了のピボットは繰り返されません。Y4/の後、シーケンスは逆転します(最初はK24、次にR24)。これは「ピボットでのフルカウント」糸数と呼ばれます。
  • 代わりに、ピボットの略称を太字にすることもできます:K4 R24 K24 Y4。
  • 同じタータンは “K/2 R24 K24 Y/2” として表され、開始と終了の糸が続く前に複製され、Y/2の後で逆転します(Y/2、K24、R24)。これは「ピボットでのハーフカウント」糸数と呼ばれます。
  • “/”や太字の表記がない古い、曖昧な糸数カウント方法では、”K4 R24 K24 Y4” のような糸数は、指定がない限りピボットでのフルカウントと見なされます。
  • これらすべての場合、結果はハーフセット糸数で、パターンが鏡面反射して完成する前の糸通しを表します。対称タータンのフルセット糸数は冗長です。”/”は、単純なタータンでハーフセットパターンの半分が色交換のみで異なる場合に、より簡潔な糸数を作成するために2つの色コードの間に使用することもできます(例:「W/Y24」は「白/黄色24」)が、これは一般的な糸数カウントのスタイルではありません。

鏡面反射しない非対称タータンは、”…”記法を使用してフルセット糸数で表されます。例:「…K4 R24 K24 Y4…」(Y4の後、パターンはK4から再開します)。ただし、異なる作家やデータベースは様々な色名と略語を使用するため、色のキー/凡例なしでは糸数が普遍的に理解されない可能性があります。一部の記録者は、アルファベット順に最初の色でピボットでの糸数を開始しますが、これは任意です。

18世紀まで、一般的な慣習としてプレードや時にはキルトに、ヘリンボーン織りのエッジでセルビッジ(布の端の仕上げ部分)を追加することがありました。このセルビッジは通常1~3インチ(2.5~7.6 cm)の幅で、セットの色のパターンに合わせてデザインされていました。現代の一部の織り手はこのスタイルのタータンを続けて製作しています。さらに装飾的なセルビッジも使用されました:

  • セルビッジのマークは、通常は片側だけのボーダーで、セットからの色を広いバンドで繰り返し作成され、しばしばヘリンボーン織りで、時にはセットの別の色の細いストリップで縁取られます。これらは主にベルト付きプレードとキルトの底部に使用されました。軍用タータンではこれらのセルビッジマークは通常黒ですが、市民用タータンではよりカラフルなデザインが特徴です。
  • より複雑なセルビッジパターンは、セットの色のいくつかまたはすべてを含む一連の狭いストライプで構成されています。これらのパターンは、毛布やカーテンなどの家庭用タータンにほぼ排他的に使用され、布の対向する2面に適用されます。
  • 非常に珍しいスタイルは、完全に異なるセットで布の四辺すべてを包む全周囲ボーダーのセルビッジです。この複雑なデザインは、ピーター・エスレア・マクドナルドが2019年に「非常に織りにくい特徴であり、タータン織りの技術の頂点と見なされる」と述べたもので、現在ではスコットランドとカナダのノバスコシアの18世紀のサンプルから数点しか見つかっていません(おそらく元々はすべてスコットランドからのもの)。このスタイルはエストニアでもスールラットのショール/プレードの織りに採用されています。
the warp
the weft


Tartan fabric is typically woven in a balanced-warp style, meaning the pattern repeats evenly from a central pivot point outward, with a complete sett ending at the outer selvedge. For instance, a piece of tartan for a plaid may be woven 24 setts long and 4 setts wide. An offset or unbalanced weave occurs when the pattern ends at the edge in the middle of a pivot color. This method was often used for pieces meant to be joined, like a belted plaid or a blanket, allowing for larger cloth spans with a continuous pattern across seams. If the tartan featured a selvedge mark or pattern, it would be on the opposite side of the warp.
While modern tartan production is largely a commercial operation using large power looms, it was originally crafted by rural pre-industrial age weavers and can still be produced by dedicated hobbyists using strong, stable hand looms. Since around 1808, the traditional size for the warp reed in tartan weaving is 37 inches (94 cm), the length of the Scottish ell. Previous sizes sometimes measured 34 and 40 inches. Telfer Dunbar (1979) explains the setup:
“While modern tartan is primarily a commercial enterprise on large power looms, tartan was originally the product of rural weavers of the pre-industrial age, and can be produced by a dedicated hobbyist with a strong, stable hand loom. Since around 1808, the traditional size of the warp reed for tartan is 37 inches (94 cm), the length of the Scottish ell (previous sizes were sometimes 34 and 40 inches). Telfer Dunbar (1979) describes the setup thus”
In this context, “splits” are also called “dents,” and “Porters” are alternatively known as “gangs.”
Tartan patterns, traditional in their design, are categorized into various styles. The simplest form is a two-tone check with broad stripes, which might also include finer lines in additional colors. Another variation involves dividing these broad bands to create a grid of smaller squares, a design particularly prominent in the Vestiarium Scoticum. A more intricate style features a superimposed check, where a third color is placed centrally within one of the foundational check colors, creating a layered square pattern that may also incorporate slim, vibrant, or black lines. There’s also the multi-check category, typically showcasing two large stripes of color against a predominant background color, such as red and blue against green, often accented with contrasting thin lines. These basic types can be intermixed to form more complex tartans.
In some designs, an over-check might use one of the underlying check colors instead of introducing a new one. A less common style, historically used for arisaid tartans but now rarely seen in Scottish use, consists solely of fine lines on a plain background, often white. M. Martin in 1703 observed that these lines were usually blue, black, and red. While no examples of this style are found in current tartan databases, they may exist in museum collections. Additionally, some tartan designs are more abstract and don’t align with these categories, especially seen in Indian madras cloth.
伝統的なタータン柄は、様々なスタイルに分類されます。最もシンプルな形式は、太い帯の二色チェックで、追加の色の細い線が入ることもあります。別のバリエーションでは、これらの太い帯が分割され、小さな四角のグリッドを形成します。このデザインは特にVestiarium Scoticumで顕著です。より複雑なスタイルには、三番目の色が基本的なチェック色の中央に配置され、層状の四角形のパターンが作られ、細い、鮮やかな、または黒い線が加えられることもあります。また、複数のチェックがあるカテゴリーもあり、通常は緑のような支配的な背景色に対して、赤と青の二つの大きなストライプが特徴ですが、対照的な細い線がアクセントになることもあります。これらの基本タイプは、より複雑なタータンに組み合わせることができます。 一部のデザインでは、オーバーチェックに新しい色を導入する代わりに、基本チェックの色の一つを使用することがあります。現在スコットランドであまり使われていない、より珍しいスタイルには、通常白い単色の背景に細い線だけで構成されるアリサイドタータンがあります。1703年にM.マーティンは、これらの線が通常青、黒、赤であると観察しました。このスタイルの例は現在のタータンデータベースには見られませんが、博物館のコレクションに存在する可能性があります。さらに、いくつかのタータンデザインはこれらのカテゴリーに当てはまらず、特にインドのマドラス布で見られるものはより抽象的です
SETT : This pattern is understandable and is not tartan
UNDER CHECK : This pattern is understandable and is not tartan

OVER CHECK : This pattern is understandable and is not tartan

Tartan design, while not governed by formal rules, has attracted insightful perspectives from various authors. Banks & de La Chapelle (2007) offered guidance for broad tartan applications, including fashion. They emphasized the centrality of color and its arrangement, suggesting tartans should comprise clear, bright colors that are soft enough to blend well, creating new shades.
James D. Scarlett, in his 2008 study, observed that starting with more colors results in a more subdued final appearance. He elaborated that increasing the stripes in the sett and the number of colors used leads to a more diffuse and ‘blurred’ pattern, which doesn’t necessarily mean subtlety, as tartans with many colors and stripes can appear ‘busy’.
Scarlett, delving into historical Highland patterns, proposed for a balanced and traditional style that any basic tartan should have a “high impact” background color, complemented by two others: one being a complementary color and the other a darker, more neutral shade. Additional colors should be used judiciously to enhance the pattern without overwhelming other colors. He described tartan as a complex abstract art with a mathematical foundation, rather than a simple checkered pattern with contrasting lines.
In a more general context, Scarlett (1990) advised that tartan colors should be clear, unambiguous, bright yet soft, ensuring good contrast and blending to create distinct new shades where colors intersect, without any color dominating another. He emphasized that background checks should offer firm contrast, and overchecks should be distinct against the under-check colors, aiming for a harmonious blend of color and pattern that stands as an art form.
egarding the omission of traditional black lines, it was noted that this approach significantly softens the design, as seen in the 1970s Missoni fashion and many madras patterns. Examples of Scottish black-less designs date back to the 18th century, with various modern tartans also employing this technique, such as the Canadian Maple Leaf tartan. Scarlett also mentioned that skillful use of black or another dark color can create a perception of depth in the design.
タータンデザインには明確なルールや原則はありませんが、いくつかの著者が考えられた意見を提供しています。Banks & de La Chapelle(2007年)は、ファッションを含む幅広いタータンの使用に関する観点から要約しました。「色とその取り扱いはタータンデザインにとって重要です。したがって、タータンは明るく、はっきりとした色で構成されるべきですが、それらはよく混ざり合い、新しい色合いを作り出すほど十分に柔らかいものであるべきです」。
James D. Scarlett(2008年)は、「初めに多くの色を使えば使うほど、最終的な効果は抑えられる」と指摘しました。また、彼は「セットのストライプが多く、使用される色が多いほど、パターンはより拡散され、「ぼやけた」ものになる」と詳しく述べています。これが必ずしも繊細さを意味するわけではなく、多くの色とストライプを持つタータンは「忙しく」見える場合があります。
Most basic check
MacGregor red-and-black(Rob Roy), as simple as it gets: equal proportions of two colours.
Basic check modified
Wallace red/dress, black on a slightly larger ground of red, laced with yellow and black over-checks.
Split check
MacGregor red-and-green with a wide green band split into three to form a “square of squares”, then laced with a white over-check
Superimposed check
Ruthven, a red ground with a big green stripe “inside” a bigger blue one, then white and green over-checks.
ルスベン、赤地に大きな緑のストライプが “内側 “に入り、さらに白と緑のオーバーチェック。
Multiple checks
Davidson, a green ground with equal blue and black bands, then with red, blue, and black over-checks.
Complex example
Ross, combines split-check and multiple-check styles, with one blue and two green split checks on red, with blue and green over-checks.
COLOR palettes
Tartan colors lack a standardized set of exact color standards; even for “the same” color, the thread hues can vary among weavers. However, a range of general colors is traditionally associated with Scottish tartan, including dark blue, crimson or dark red, medium-dark green, black, medium-dark grey, purple, scarlet or bright red, tan/brown, white (which is actually natural undyed wool, known as lachdann in Gaelic), and yellow. Additional colors like azure (light or sky blue), maroon, and bright or grass green have been less commonly used, along with light grey, as seen in the Balmoral tartan (sometimes interpreted as lavender).
The introduction of newly designed tartans into the tartan databases, many for organizational and fashion purposes, has involved a broader range of colors, such as orange and pink, which were not frequently used in traditional tartans. The Scottish Register of Tartans categorizes hues into basic codes keyed to hexadecimal “Web colors,” aiding designers in fitting their tartans into a coding scheme and allowing weavers to approximate these designs with readily available yarns.
In the mid-19th century, natural dyes traditionally used in the Highlands (such as various lichens, alder bark, bilberry, cochineal, heather, indigo, woad, and yellow bedstraw) began to be replaced by artificial dyes, which were more economical for the growing tartan industry but less subtle. William Morris’s late-19th-century efforts in the Arts and Crafts movement to revive British natural dyes faced challenges due to their low yield and inconsistency across localities. Hard-wound, fine wool used in tartan was resistant to natural dyes, requiring lengthy dye baths and mordants like alum to fix colors. Some dye colors were usually imported, particularly red cochineal and blue indigo, from the Low Countries, with which Scotland had long-standing trade relationships. Aged human urine was also used in dyeing processes. Today, all commercially manufactured tartan uses artificial dyes, even those with less saturated color palettes.
The hues in any established tartan can be altered to produce variations. This practice dates back to at least the 1788 pattern book of manufacturer William Wilson & Son of Bannockburn. Presently, semi-standardized color schemes or palettes are generally divided into modern, ancient, muted, and weathered categories. These terms refer to the relative saturation levels of dye “colorfulness” and do not represent distinct tartans.
タータンの色には、正確な標準色規格が設定されておらず、同じ色でも織り手によって糸の色合いは異なります。しかし、スコットランドのタータンには、伝統的に一連の一般的な色があります。これには、濃い青、クリムゾン(ローズまたは濃い赤)、中間から濃い緑、黒、中間から濃い灰色、紫、スカーレット(明るい赤)、タン/茶色、白(実際には染めていない自然な羊毛で、ゲール語でlachdannと呼ばれる)、そして黄色が含まれます。さらに、青色(淡いまたは空の青)、栗色、そして緑色(明るいまたは草の緑)など、稀に使用される追加の色もあります。また、バルモラルタータンに見られるような淡い灰色(時にはラベンダーとして表される)もあります。 一部のデザインでは、オーバーチェックに新しい色を導入する代わりに、基本チェックの色の一つを使用することがあります。現在スコットランドであまり使われていない、より珍しいスタイルには、通常白い単色の背景に細い線だけで構成されるアリサイドタータンがあります。1703年にM.マーティンは、これらの線が通常青、黒、赤であると観察しました。このスタイルの例は現在のタータンデータベースには見られませんが、博物館のコレクションに存在する可能性があります。さらに、いくつかのタータンデザインはこれらのカテゴリーに当てはまらず、特にインドのマドラス布で見られるものはより抽象的です
Also known as ordinary tartan, it features darker and fully saturated colors. In a modern palette, setts composed of blue, black, and green tend to be obscured due to the darkness of the colors in this scheme.
Also known as old colors (OC), this refers to a lighter palette of tartan. These hues are intended to represent the colors that would result from natural-dyed fabric aging over time. However, the results are not entirely accurate. For instance, in very old tartan samples, black often fades toward khaki or green, while blue remains dark. Natural dyes were capable of producing vibrant colors initially, though not consistently. This style originated in the first half of the 20th century. It’s important not to confuse ‘ancient’ in this context with the same word in a few tartan names, such as “ancient Campbell”.
Also called faded, this style refers to tartan that appears even lighter and less saturated than the ancient palette, as if it had been exposed for a very long time. The weathered style was invented in the late 1940s.
This type of tartan falls between modern and ancient in terms of vibrancy. Despite being a very recent introduction, dating from the early 1970s, these hues are thought to be the closest match to the colors achieved with natural dyes used before the mid-19th century.





Modern palette
Ancient or old colours palette
Weathered or faded palette
Weathered or faded palette
Muted palette
Some tartan mills have created unique color schemes exclusive to their weaving. For instance, Lochcarron has introduced ‘antique’, a scheme that lies between modern and ancient. D. C. Dalgliesh has developed ‘reproduction’, a variation on the weathered style, which dates back to the 1940s and is claimed to be based on 18th-century samples.
A general observation about the ancient/old, weathered/faded, and muted color schemes is that they uniformly reduce the saturation of all colors. However, actual samples of natural-dyed tartan historically often paired one or more saturated colors with paler ones for clarity and depth, achieving a “harmonious balance.” According to Scarlett (1990), “The colors were clear, bright, and soft, unlike the eye-searing brilliance or washed-out dullness of modern tartans.”
It’s important to note that the same tartan pattern in the same color palette from different manufacturers (e.g., Colquhoun muted from D. C. Dalgliesh and from Strathmore) will not be an exact match; there is considerable artistic license in determining how saturated a hue should be.
Tartan-generation software can simulate the appearance of a tartan in any of these color palettes. For example, the “Prince Charles Edward Stuart” tartan can be rendered in various palettes.

Scottish tartans featuring two or more shades of the same basic color are quite uncommon. One of the most notable examples is the British royal family’s Balmoral tartan (1853), which uses two shades of grey as under-checks. Other examples include:

  • Akins (1850) features two shades of red, with one used as an over-check and sometimes rendered as purple.
  • MacBean (1872) also has two reds, with one as an over-check occasionally appearing purple.
  • Childers Universal Regimental (1907) uses two greens, both as under-checks.
  • Gordon Red, recorded between 1930 and 1950 but likely much older, includes two shades of blue and two of red, with one of each functioning more or less as over-checks.
  • Galloway District Hunting/Green (1939/1950s) features two greens, both as under-checks.
  • US Air Force Reserve Pipe Band (1988) has two blues, both as under-checks.
  • McCandlish (1992) offers three variants, all as under-checks.
  • Isle of Skye District (1992) includes three greens, all arguably as under-checks, nested within each other.
  • Chisholm Colonial (2008) uses two blues, with one as an over-check and the other nearly blending into green.

This practice is more common in very recent commercial tartans unassociated with Scottish families or districts, such as the Loverboy fashion label tartan (2018), which features three blues, with one as an over-check.

一部のタータン製造所は、その織り手特有の色彩スキームを作り出しており、これらは特定のタータンでのみ利用可能です。例えば、ロッホカロンは「アンティーク」という、モダンとエインシェントの中間に位置する色彩スキームを導入しています。また、D.C. ダルグリッシュは「レプロダクション」という、ウェザードスタイルの変種を開発しました。このスタイルは1940年代にさかのぼり、18世紀のサンプルに基づいているとされています。
エインシェント/オールド、ウェザード/フェード、ミューテッドといった色彩スキームについての一般的な観察は、これらがすべての色の飽和度を均一に低下させる点にあります。しかし、実際の天然染料で染められたタータンのサンプルでは、歴史的にはしばしば、鮮やかな色と淡い色を組み合わせて、明瞭さと深みを出す「調和の取れたバランス」が実現されていました。スカーレット(1990)によると、「色は鮮明で明るく柔らかく、現代のタータンの眩しい輝きや洗いざらしのようなくすみとは異なっていた」とのことです。異なる製造業者が同じ色彩パレットで織る同じタータンパターン(例えば、D.C. ダルグリッシュとストラスモアによるコルクホーン・ミューテッド)は、正確には一致しないことに注意が必要です。色の飽和度をどの程度にするかには、かなりの芸術的自由があります。


  • アキンズ(1850年)は、2種類の赤を使用し、1つはオーバーチェックとして、時には紫として表現されます。
  • マクビーン(1872年)も2色の赤を使用し、1つはオーバーチェックとして、時には紫色に見えます。
  • チャイルダーズ・ユニバーサル連隊(1907年)は、2色の緑をアンダーチェックとして使用しています。
  • ゴードン・レッド(1930年から1950年に記録されたが、おそらくかなり古い)は、2色の青と2色の赤を含み、それぞれ1色がオーバーチェックとして使用されています。
  • ギャロウェイ地区ハンティング/グリーン(1939年/1950年代)は、2色の緑をアンダーチェックとして使用しています。
  • 米空軍予備役パイプバンド(1988年)は、2色の青をアンダーチェックとして使用しています。
  • マッキャンドリッシュ(1992年)は3種類のバリエーションを提供し、すべてアンダーチェックとしています。
  • スカイ島地区(1992年)は、互いにネストされた3色の緑を含んでいます。
  • チズホルム・コロニアル(2008年)は、2色の青を使用し、1つはオーバーチェックとして、もう1つはほぼ緑に溶け込んでいます。


Akins Clan (Personal)
MacBean (Clan)
Childers (Gurkha Rifles)
Galloway Hunting
US Air Force Reserve Pipe Band
McCandlish Hunting Green
McCandlish Hunting Green
Isle of Skye
Chisholm Colonial

ART OF Tartan

You are all likely familiar with the long history of tartan, but have you ever delved into its true origins and enduring appeal? What is it about this pattern and its colors that captivates us so? While some might consider certain aspects of tartan traditional or even old-fashioned, its significance and style continue to resonate, especially around this time of year. Welcome to a special feature in Highcollar Magazine, where we embark on a journey to uncover the fascinating truths behind tartan checks


The earliest surviving sample of tartan fabric was found in a cemetery in the Tarim Basin, China. It dates back to around 1200 B.C. and is made of kemp, the coarse outer hair of a sheep or goat. The fabric is similar to Scottish tartan of the 17th century, suggesting that these two cultures may have had a common ancestor.It means that the tartan also crossed over to the east. Let’s look at a piece of history.


Exploring the Hidden History and Culture of the Ancient Picts of Scotland: From the Meaning Behind Their Tattoos to Their Lost Language and Mysterious Stone Carvings – A Journey into the Lives, Beliefs, and Enigmatic Monuments and Art Left by the Picts. Unraveling Their Connections with the Celts and Their Conflicts with the Roman Empire, and Examining How the Legacy of the Picts Influences Modern Scotland. Understanding the entire formation of the Kingdom of Scotland is essential before discussing “tartan,” a symbol deeply intertwined with Scottish identity and heritage.