Re: [SCA Newcomers] plaid and tartan patterns
Barony of Bryn Gwlad
Kingdom of Ansteorra
In reference to: The usual habit of both sexes is the
plaid; the women's much finer, the colors more
lively, and the square much larger than the mens. .
I was unable to get to link to work, but I concede
that you are probably right, as I think I read the
same site a some point in my research. The following
is an article by Matthew A. C. Newsome that caused my
confusion, resulting in what I posted being incorrect.
Sorry for any misunderstandings as such was not my
Friday, April 28, 2006
Ok, so this post will mainly be of interest to the
guys reading this thread on X Marks the Scot.
There has been some interest there about the
Northumberland tartan (also called the Shepherd's
Check). This is a very simply black and white tartan
that can be expressed in the basic formula K = W. In
other words, it doesn't really matter what the thread
count is, so long as the black and white threads are
The same design in different colors is used as the Rob
Roy tartan (K = R), the Moncrieff tartan (R = G) (this
also is an old MacLachlan tartan, by the way), the
Robin Hood tartan (K = G) and some other variants.
It is an extremely traditional design. The oldest
tartan found to date in Scotland, called the Falkirk
tartan (being discovered in Falkirk) is a simply check
of light and dark undyed wool.
The tartan came to be associated with Northumberland,
in northern England, because it was adopted as the
official dress of the Duke of Northumberland's piper
in 1760. From the Northumberland Tartan Company web
It is not widely known that the county of
Northumberland has an official tartan and moreover
that this tartan is held by many to be one of the
oldest check patterns, predating the more colourful
Highland tartans which followed it. The Northumberland
Tartan, variously known as the Border or Shepherd
Plaid, is also closely linked to the Percy family,
forming the official dress of the Duke of
You can read more history on their site. You can
purchase this tartan through the Northumberland Tartan
Company, of course, but also through any regular
tartan retailer under the name "Shepherd tartan." It's
the same material.
I've always liked this tartan. Probably partly because
my own surname of Newsome is English (though not from
Northumberland that I know of), and partly because of
the extreme simplicity of the design.
What I do not like about the tartan, and the reason
that I have never owned a kilt in it, is because it is
always produced with such an incredibly small setting.
Even in heavy weight kilt cloth, the thread count is
miniscule. Here is a picture of a gentleman wearing a
kilt in this tartan. (This was taken a couple of years
ago at the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Georgia).
The kilt does not look bad, mind you. The small
pattern is simply not to my taste, and not to the
taste of a lot of men I talk to about this. Compare
this to the size sett you typically see the Rob Roy
tartan, or the Moncrieff tartan woven in. I've seen
those tartans woven with anything from 1" to 4"
squares. I've always thought that the
Northumberland/Shepherd tartan would look much more
striking (and much more masculine) in a larger
If I were ever to own a kilt in this tartan, I would
have the cloth woven for me in a large pattern,
perhaps with 2.5" squares or so. It would cost a bit
more than using the cloth that is standardly
available, but I think it would be worth it.
To give some idea of what that would look like, here
is a picture of a kilt I made for a client in the
Moncrieff tartan (red and green). I edited the photo
to be black and white and played with the contrast and
brightness to achieve something like what the
Northumberland tartan would look like on a larger
scale. I think I might even go a bit larger than what
is in the photo, but this gives you some idea.
So how about it woolen mills? When your current stock
of heavy weight Shepherd check runs out, why not try
weaving it up with a larger setting. I'm willing to be
it will increase your sales of kilts and cloth in this
tartan. In the mean time, if anyone wants a kilt like
this and doesn't want to wait for the tartan industry
to begin to produce it in a larger pattern, let me
know and I'll be glad to order up a small batch for
you (and maybe enough for a kilt for myself while I am
Following the idea that early tartan was based on "whatever they could
get their hands on". I still need to figure out what they could get
there hands on, dye stuffs, colors they could produces. The "local
cammo" comment helps a lot to. I will need try to look for earth
tones and avoid the bright colors of the more modern tartans.
I am aware that properly speaking (in Scottish or British usage) the
tartan is the pattern and the plaid which is rarely seen these days is
the piece worn over the shoulder. In Gaelic the word plaid originally
meant "blanket" and tartan is derived from the French word tiretaine a
type of cloth made of woolen-linen blend. So at least historically
speaking tartan referred to the fabric itself and not a particular
design. In American English it get all jumbled up and few American
know their tartan from their plaid. So the word plaid is often used
when describing a fashion tartan. (basically a tartan cloth that has
no specific meaning; regional or clan associations, etc.)
Re: [SCA Newcomers] plaid and tartan patterns
As wide as Granny's loom and with what ever color
wool she had dyed. The side note is the tartan was
(sort of) local cammo - so a rocky area might tend
toward greys, blues by the sea, etc. Color coded
clans were much more a product of granny's dyes
until very late in period. While I do dress my
clan in the same tartan (based on what I can find
20 yards of at Joanne fabric in 11 weight worsted
wool...), I have no issues switching to one without
a specific family precident. Did I mention the
ancient tartans are great dirt/grass stain cammo too?
Keith Howard <khoward001@...> wrote: Charles is
correct. The tartan would be made from whatever
they could get their hands on, it wasn't until
later in history that clans would adapt specific
One other thing, and I know this is being anal.
The tartan is the actual design, the plaid is the
piece wornover the shoulder.
- Greetings All:
The article Pre-Culloden Tartans on albanach.org was
very helpful to me. There I found three tartans with
pre-16oo dates: Lennox District Tartan is dated only
as pre-16oo, Ulster District Tartan is dated as 159o,
Shepherd's Check (Northumberland Tartan) is dated a
325. In addition to these, there were three more
possibilities. These were old tartans did not have
enough documentation to be defiantly proven to be time
period, even though it seems likely that they were.
They are Rob Roy Tartan, Gow Clan Tartan and Caledonia
Tartan. I would like to thank everyone for coming up
with so many good comments, links and ideas.