When stripes of different colour are woven width-ways and length-ways, they cross over each other at right angles and create an interweaving of colour, giving rise to balanced checks or the mystical pattern known as plaid.

The word plaid originally referred to the woven woolen cloth worn over the shoulder or around the body in traditional Scottish Highland dress. The plaid cloth was woven in the tartan pattern of the family clan the Highlander belonged to. In the UK, tartans are still regarded as the specific plaid patterns that have been worn for eons by Scottish family clans. In North America and elsewhere, the word plaid is often synonymous with tartan.

Tartans have certain specific features:

  • They are woven in 2/2 twill
  • The width-ways pattern is repeated identically along the length of the cloth
  • There is often a pivot point of a mirror image within the single unit pattern.

New tartan designs can be registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans to ensure copyright, but do not have to be.

Scottish Tartans

Tartans may be worn by anyone, you do not have to be a member of a clan to wear one. Clans often had several tartans, for hunting, warfare, and formal occasions. The Scottish Register of Tartans is an excellent website to find your traditional family tartan and enjoy the beauty of their vast collection of tartans.

Irish Tartans

Kilts, plain coloured in saffron or green, are first documented as being worn in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. In 1956, tartan cloth fragments from a cloak, a doublet, and trews were unearthed near Derry, dated to 1590-1650, and named the Ulster tartan. It is not known whether this cloth belonged to an Irishman or a recent Scottish immigrant. The cloth was badly stained by the bog, and this dark stained tartan pattern is known as Ulster Peat, whereas less stained fragments were reconstructed and the tartan pattern is known as Ulster Red. This discovery sparked interest in tartan and a resurgence of interest in kilts in Ireland. It is only gradually since then that tartans have been designed for family names or regions of Ireland. Around the turn of the 21st century, two companies each designed a range of tartans for Irish counties and families. There is a superb article about the history of Irish kilts and tartans on the Scottish Tartans Authority website.

I used the pattern of the Ulster tartan, as it is of Irish heritage, to make a scarf for my husband. He chose the colours from those associated with his family background. As a suggestion, the colours for your own Irish tartan could be based on any of the colours of your family crest or coat-of-arms, the colours of your family county of origin flag and your Gaelic Athletics Association colours.

Please note:

My understanding is that traditional tartans are not copyrighted and can be made by anyone. More recent tartans are usually restricted and can only be made with permission of the copyright holder. Unless permission is sought from the owner, I will only weave traditional tartans or tartans of your own design that are not similar to copyrighted ones. I will check for similarity of new designs on the Scottish Register of Tartans website.