11 Dec

T is for Tartan


Just in time for winter’s first chill, tartans are back and hotter than ever. As San Francisco Designer and lover of all things Tartan, Scot Meacham Wood says, “Tartans have a romantic quality.” For me, Tartans bring back childhood memories and just say COZY. I am mad for the plaid.

Scot Meacham Wood Design, House Beautiful

Scot Meacham Wood Design, House Beautiful

If you love symmetry, then Tartans are for you.  It is a perfect grid pattern- what happens in the warp; happens in the weft. Tartan is uniquely associated with Scotland and Scottish kilts. Tartan is often called plaid in North America, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket.  Tartans originated as woven wools, but now they are appearing on all kinds of other materials.


What is it?

Tartan is made with alternating bands of colored (pre-dyed) threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The weft is woven in a simple twill weave, two over — two under the warp, advancing one thread each pass. This forms visible diagonal lines where the different colors cross, which give the appearance of new colors being blended from the original ones. The resulting blocks of color repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.

Historically, Tartan designs were produced by local weavers for local tastes and would usually only use the natural dyes available in that area. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that many patterns were created and artificially associated with Scottish clans, or institutions who were associated in some way with a Scottish heritage. The Victorians’ penchant for ordered taxonomy and the new chemical dyes meant that the idea of specific patterns of bright colors, or “dress” tartans could be created and applied to a faux-nostalgic view of Scottish history.

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Ronda Rice Carman’s Sheil – Purple

The colors used in tartans can be altered to produce variations of the same tartan. The resulting variations are termed: modern, ancient, and muted. ( These terms refer to color only.) Modern represents a tartan that is colored using chemical dye, as opposed to natural dye. Ancient refers to a lighter  color shade of tartan. These shades are meant to represent the colors that would result from fabric aging over time. Muted refers to tartan colors which is shade between modern and ancient. This type of tartan is very modern, dating only from the early 1970s. This shade is said to be the closest match to the shades attained by natural dyes used before the mid-19th century.

Did You Know?

Tartan has a storied and tumultuous past. Seen as a symbol of Scottish rebellion, Tartans were banned with The Dress Act of 1747 until 1782. They became trendy again when Queen Victoria made her royal residence Balmoral and used her favorite setts in the décor. She loved the Scottish tartan kilts so much she ordered plaid carpets for the castle.

qvictoria tartan

Victoria tartan designed by Queen Victoria

Prince Albert personally took care of the interior design, where he made great use of tartan. He utilized the red Royal Stewart and the green Hunting Stewart tartans for carpets, while using the Dress Stewart for curtains and upholstery. The Queen designed the Victoria tartan, and Prince Albert the Balmoral sett that are still used as a royal tartan today.

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Balmoral Tartan designed by Prince Albert. Designed in 1857 it’s the private property of the Royal Family and can only be worn by permission.

Like Queen Victoria, today’s design icons love tartans too, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger’s lines regularly feature plaids and tartans. Vivenne Westwood takes setts to a whole new level. I have been spotting tartans on all kinds of home furnishings Think about adding a little plaid to make your wintry nights homey.


Is it Polished, Preppy or Punk?



Alexander Julian visionary behind Jonathan Charles whips up a case goods collection inspired by his Scottish Heritage. What better way to showcase his love of tartan textiles than to translate it into this Haberdashery chest inspired by the classic MacLeod tartan.

 Tartan Redfined

tartan hololandandsherry

Holland and Sherry’s tartans in the window of their Paris showroom.

holand sherry trim tartan


tartan rochebobois

Even Euro  contemporary powerhouse Roche Bobois gets in the act.


Tartan done in modular carpet tiles by Flor.


Spotted: Antique tartanware from at Craig Ringstad, Fairway, KS in the Antique and Design Center at High Point Market.


Not your typical tartan- Ronda Rice Carman recently introduced  Ronda Rice Carman Fine Fabrics available to the trade and consisting of 350 wools and cashmeres. She’s given the classic cloth a modern twist with unusual colorways and playing with the pattern’s scale.


Ronda’s Highand Collection as seen in Robert Pascal’s office. Combining the finest natural fiber, with time honored techniques; The Highland Collection takes its historical inspiration from the natural splendor and breath-taking colors of the surrounding Scottish Highlands.



More inspiration from Plinth and Chintz


Want to learn more about tartans? Check out Tartan, Romancing the Plaid by  Jeffery Banks.

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