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Introduction



 


Tartans have become synonymous with Scotland and Scottish clans and families in particular. However, tartans were originally a style of cloth intended to be decorative. They had patterns that were popular within certain districts of manufacture, they relied on a limited range of colour dyes and were made of the local coarser type of wool.

This has lead to the idea of district tartans being the original association, between the land, the community and its cloth. Where there was a strong clan within a district, as was often the case in the highlands, then visitors from other areas might well have been recognised as of a clan from their tartan. This must have been true of visitors from the Western Isles, for instance. It is this concept of clan tartans that today predominates, but the use of tartan is yet richer.


When tartan was proscribed by law, the Government or Black Watch pattern was the only legally one. This was used by the regiments raised within Scotland, forming the basis of the regimental tartans.

By the early 1800s, it was realised that the knowledge of tartans before the 45 was being lost and, simultaneously, there was a romantic movement concerning Scotland's past. This lead to institutional and individual efforts to preserve tartan designs. Tartans were reconstructed from portraits, collected on pilgrimages, demanded from clan chiefs and recovered from weaver's notes.

Tartans became a backdrop. The weaving and tailoring industries were especially boosted by the visit to Edinburgh of George IV in 1822 and by Sir Walter Scott's statement, as the visit's manager, "Let every man wear his tartan". Queen Victoria gave considerable encouragement thereafter, though this encouraged both fantasy and fact in the study of tartan. (Some royal tartans remain the preserve of the House of Windsor or individual titles within it, just as clan chiefs sometimes have a chief's tartan.)

The significance of tartan as national dress, worn under various circumstances, created clan tartans for every "name", even those that previously had none. These were often supplemented by hunting tartans of subdued character and dress tartans which were brighter.

Further variety was added by fashion, fancy or trade tartans to fill any niche, including various colours of a single pattern. Dancing Tartans originate from the ARISAID or Dress Tartans. There were even some mourning tartans developed.

In recent years the corporate tartans have become popular where an institution or company adopts a tartan design for livery and use in merchandising.

Where no clan tartan exists, families can and have developed new Family Tartans. Generally which tartan is worn is controlled by convention there not being a statute for its government. Disputes as to its use and production rely on the civil law of Copyright, Design Act and in rare cases Patents/Trademarks. 

Manufacturers often offer a given tartan design in a variety of colour effects, called Modern, Reproduction, Ancient and the like. An ancient and a modern tartan is often the same pattern and should not be confused when the design is being considered.