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Scottish Tartans - Questions & Answers

Scotland Forever is a tartan that began as an idea here at Alex Scott & Co. (Kiltmakers) Ltd in 2003 and was launched to the Aberdonian public in early 2004. You can see our current range of Scotland Forever products here.

Aberdeen Forever is a tartan that began as an idea here at Alex Scott & Co. (Kiltmakers) Ltd in 2013 and was launched to the Aberdonian public in early 2014. You can see our current range of Aberdeen Forever products here.

There are a vast range of tartans available and the choice can be daunting. Often just knowing where to begin is the first stumbling block. You can read more about choosing your tartan in the Kilt Buyers Guide - Part 1.

Modern tartans are not, as commonly thought, new tartans. Modern tartans are simply tartans woven with wool that has been dyed using modern chemical dyes. These dyes produce strong, bright colours that could not have been produced in ancient times. To read more check out the Kilt Buyer's Guide - Part 1.

Hunting tartans are simply a variation of the original, brighter coloured tartan. They are usually green or brown. As the name suggests, they are worn when hunting or shooting. Many of the clan tartans are vibrant and colourful and not best suited to this. Changing the background colour to green or brown allows the tartan to blend in with the landscape. Hunting kilts are traditionally worn slightly shorter than other kilts so that if the wearer is walking through long grass and reeds the bottom of the kilt will not touch the wet grass and soak up water.

Ancient tartans are tartans woven with faint, pale coloured treads. This does not mean the tartan itself is ancient, they are woven in modern looms to the highest standard. The term 'ancient' refers to the colours that are designed to look like ancient tartans would have looked before the invention of modern chemical dyes.

Dress tartans are, like hunting tartans, another variation of a clan tartan but with broad white sections incorporated in to it. These lovely, white tartans are more suited to formal or evening functions.

Not all Scottish tartans are based on family names. Many modern tartans have generic names such as our Scotland Forever. District tartans are simply tartans linked to places rather than people.

The amount of tartans increases constantly as new ones are designed and registered yearly.

The International Tartan Index (ITI) has over 5500 entries. A lot of these tartans are variations of the same tartan so a definite answer is difficult.

You can read more on the Scottish Tartans Authority website. The Scottish Tartans Authority is the body that registers all tartans.

Flashes are wool strips 1 - 1½ inches wide that are worn at the side of the sock. Plain flashes complete with garters are available from our Highland wear section in an array of colours to match any tartan. Those who order a made-to-measure kilt can order flashes made from the off-cuts that are left from the kilt making process. Unfortunately, as the tartan is only woven to a certain width it means that those who are over 6 feet tall (1.83m) may not have enough cloth left to make flashes.

When and where tartan originated is difficult to pinpoint. People have been weaving cloth for centuries simply to survive the harsh weather found in many parts of the world. The Celts began to weave cloth using multiple colours from the earliest times. The amount of colours used began to be used to signify status. Early tartans with many colours would be reserved for Kings and nobles while less colourful kilts were for lower ranked people. They evolved to signify a specific area and only later came to be used to represent families. To learn more about weaving and how the tartans are formed in the weaving process, go to the Kilt Buyers Guide - Part 1.

In truth you can choose either the paternal or maternal side to select your tartan. Generally speaking people choose the paternal family name. If the individual does not like that tartan or there is no tartan for that name, the mother's maiden name can be used. If this is still not satisfactory, looking back through previous generations of the maternal side of the family will throw up different names to choose from.

You can wear almost any tartan you wish. There are thousands of tartans that can be worn by anyone and there is nothing to say you cannot wear the tartan of clan other than your own. The only restriction is private tartans. These are tartans that have been registered with a licence that limits them to a company, family or other organisation where a membership is required. You can find out more about that at the Tartan Authority Website. You can read more about choosing your tartan in the Kilt Buyer's Guide - Part 1.

Since the industrial revolution, cloth has been woven using large looms that allow fast and uniform production. In modern times the process is more automated than ever and quality at an all time high. So the quality is one aspect that is different to cloth from long ago. Chemical dyes did not exist in ancient times, which mean modern day tartans are much brighter. Another modern invention that would make kilts from the distant past different is the invention of detergents. Dye will show its truest colour on very clean wool. In times of old the tartans would have been pale in colour and probably have a brown, earthy tinge to them. As to the set of the tartans, so many tartans have existed that some of them may well have been the same, or at least similar to modern tartans.

The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is: "noun: fabric woven in a chequered or tartan design."

The word plaid however, has an additional meaning in Scotland. A Plaid is a large piece of tartan cloth that is worn with the highland outfit over the left shoulder. It is accompanied by a brooch at the front known as a plaid brooch.