A reconstruction from a black and white photograph of a tartan shawl worn by Mairi Mhor nan Orain – ‘big Mary of the Songs’ (1821-1898) from Skye.
Mairi MacPherson started composing in her 50s, and from then until her death produced some beautiful songs in Gaelic on a wide range of subjects.
She was a leading figure in the battle for crofters’ rights as was Professor John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895) from Edinburgh.
The Dualchas Heritage Service have commissioned a colour painting from the Mairi photograph portrait which is why they were eager to ascertain the colours of the tartan shawl.
Scottish clans (from Gaelic clann, “progeny”), give a sense of identity and shared descent to people in Scotland and to their relations throughout the world, with a formal structure of Clan Chiefs recognized by the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms which acts as an authority concerning matters of heraldry and Coat of Arms. Most clans have their own tartan patterns, usually dating from the 19th century, and members of the clan may wear kilts, plaids, sashes, ties, scarves, or other items of clothing made of the appropriate tartan as a badge of membership and as a uniform where appropriate.
There are many different types of Tartan: Clan or family tartans, district tartans, regimental tartans, and universal tartans along with others such as corporate, chief, Royal and mourning tartans.
When deciding what tartan to wear most people will first look at the clan and family tartans:
Duvets and T-shirts available with Clan badge.
Since the early 19th century most clans and large Scottish families have had their own tartan. If you have a Scottish surname there’s a good chance you will have an appropriate tartan. If the Scottish side of your family is on your mothers or even grandmothers side that’s perfectly acceptable as the surnames of the maternal line of your family can be worn (It’s not against the law to wear a tartan of a surname with which you don’t have a connection provided the tartan is not ‘restricted’).
Once you have your tartan name you may find that there are several options of tartan ‘sett’ (the arrangement of thread colours that make up the pattern) Most commonly these are ‘Clan’ which is the standard sett, ‘Hunting’ this variant will use more earthy tones such as greens and dark blues. ‘Dress’ where the main or ‘ground’ colour of the tartan is replaced by white.
Within each variant you may also see ancient, modern, weathered etc, these names refer to the thread colours; With ancient tartans the threads are dyed to approximate the colours produced by vegetable dyes, modern tartan thread colours use the more vibrant colours of synthetic dyes introduced in the 19th century whereas weathered tartans reproduce the effects of sun bleaching or general weathering on fabric.
If you have no clan or family tartan association (or maybe you just don’t like the colours available) you may want to look at district tartans.
district tartans most probably pre-date clan tartans in origin. each tartan is associated with a specific district such as Roxburgh, or Fife for example or a city such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow.
District tartans are not exclusive to Scotland, there are many district tartans for other parts of the UK such as Cornwall, Isle of Man and Irish Counties, even Welsh National. Going further afield there are hundreds of district tartans for other countries such as USA, Canada and Australia. Theirs even an Antarctic district tartan! This site will endeavor to create a county tartan for every county in the USA that does not currently have one registered.
These are tartans adopted worn by Scottish and other regiments around the world. The most well known is Black Watch worn by the 42nd Black Watch Regiment. However, many clan tartans are also regimental tartans such as Cameron of Erracht (Cameron Highlanders 79th of Foot ) and Leslie (King’s Own Scottish Borderers). If you have a regimental connection then maybe a regimental tartan is more appropriate.
When every other avenue has been exhausted there are still thankfully the ever growing range of universal tartans to choose from. Hunting Stewart, Black Watch, Caledonian, and Jacobite are the older ones. There are now other more modern tartans such as Scottish National, Brave Heart Warrior, Flower of Scotland and Pride of Scotland and for American citizens the newly designed county tartans. Many of the new tartans have been designed with the wedding market in mind so colours such as purple are quite popular.
Absolutely anyone can wear a universal tartan.
Other types of tartan have some restrictions imposed upon their wearing; Royal tartans such Balmoral can only be worn by members of the British Royal Family (although others such as Royal Stewart and Earl of St Andrews have no such restriction. Chief’s tartans should only be worn by the chief of the clan and his family, the only exception being when there is no appointed chief of the clan.
So you have no excuse not to find a tartan and join in the FUN.
Check out Day Colors for a wide variety of designs, Harold Heraldry for Family coat of arms and Ganjastan for MMJ stickers.
Have a fun life.