Tartan, with its colourful threads in traditional patterns, is Scotland’s most famous textile. This patterned woven cloth has become one of the most iconic symbols of Scottish culture.
Tartan originated in the Highlands where clanspeople used local plants, mosses and berries to dye wool before spinning and weaving it into tartan. The patterns consist of interwoven vertical and horizontal lines, known as a sett. No-one knows exactly when tartan first came into use but the first known mention of tartan in Scotland dates from 1538.
The idea of clan and family tartans is thought to be a relatively new invention, following the standardisation of tartans worn by the Highland regiments of the 18th century, and during the Victorian period, when all things Scottish were considered fashionable. Prior to this, it is believed that clansmen were known to wear variety of different setts and the weave of cloth tended to be dictated by the custom of a particular area, rather than by clan or family affiliation.
If you wish to wear tartan, there are no strict rules on what sett to choose and there is plenty to choose from. Take a trip to the Clan Tartan Centre in Leith, Edinburgh, where you can search their database of 50,000 names and take away a certificate showing your clan name.
If you are looking for a specific colour of tartan, you can search through the thousands of designs on the Scottish Register of Tartans’ online collection to find your perfect colour combination and design.
You can learn more about the cloth at the Tartan Weaving Mill on the Royal Mile near Edinburgh Castle. The attraction boasts huge power looms, a mill shop and photography studio where you can get kitted out in Highland dress for the camera for a fantastic memento of your trip to Scotland.