05 January 2010


What could possibly be more Scottish than tartan? (... please don’t call it plaid). Tartan is so identified with a special culture and country. Hasn’t every family of Scottish descent had a moment of wanting to wear/flaunt a tartan? A warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to a grand clan heritage? Or a more atavistic image connecting to bold, boisterous, fearsome warriors?
MacDougall wr567r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register
Nostalgia ruled when I dug my old “Christmas” skirt out of mothballs in the cedar chest to savour the MacDougall tartan. Once it attended a reception for Coline MacDougall of MacDougall, 30th Chief of the Clan. Lately, the zipper has decided it won’t quite close. That made me think fondly of the Hunting Fraser jacket and skirt that I wore to rags as a young teenager.

What is the protocol these days about choosing or wearing a tartan? Is there a protocol? King George III and Queen Victoria did their bit to restore some tartan pride after the crushing defeat of the ’45. For a time there was a notion that we are only entitled to wear “our” clan colours. No doubt those clever little pocket clan books are still being sold—the ones where you looked up your surname to see if it qualified as a clan or a sept!

In their day, I’m sure our ancestors felt no restrictions on their warp and woof, slavishly matching their cloth with their clansmen neighbours. Historian and weavers are thankfully having their say now. There are at least two authoritative-looking websites for searching and learning about tartans: Tartans of Scotland (including "the Scottish Tartans World Register, to bring you the complete Register of all Publicly Known Tartans online, which includes details and images of over 2800 tartans.”) The Scottish Tartans Authority is another, but this site played havoc with my Internet browser so I gave up and used the former. Each site illustrates variations with the sources of their samples from ancient to modern.

Maybe we’ve come full circle. Now you can even have a personal tartan created and woven to order. The RCAF has a familiar one; so does Nova Scotia. There was a recent contest for designing a tartan for the City of London, England. The Isle of Coll was not to be outdone:
Visit Coll: http://www.visitcoll.co.uk/ >> “Coll” >> “Coll Tartan.”
The MacDougall search reveals 18 samples. Some of them vary wildly! MacFadyen offers three choices. And out of 22 Fraser designs, not one looked like my old brown hunting pattern! How much fun did you have on the site?
MacFadzean wr744r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register

Did I ask what could be more Scottish than tartan? Don’t get me started on the bagpipes ...


Steve Danko said...

OK, Brenda, you've now forced me into this...

Q. Why do bagpipers always march while they play?

A. They're trying to get away from the noise.

BDM said...

Can't let you get away with that "always march," Steve!! Pipers have been known to stand for hours (how do they do it without passing out?) at funerals and solemn memorial services. In the olden days in the Highlands, I have one story---it was traditional to have a tot of whiskey almost every step of the procession toward the burial ground---when a well-fortified piper inadvertently broke into a brisk dance reel instead of the expected dirge/lament. It's said in the Old Statistical Account of Scotland that piping was then banned at funerals by the horrified Presbyterian incumbent. OMG another blog in the making.