Scottish Clan Tartans

Ancient Keith Tartan Modern Keith Tartan
Ancient Modern

The history of Scottish Tartans in full of controversy. Even the word "tartan" has several meanings, depending on how it us used. "Tartan" means cloth. "A Tartan" is an identifying symbol - each tartan is distinct, and a clan can be identified by its tartan. "The Tartan" is a symbol of Scotland, along with the bagpipes. (The American Sign Language symbol for Scotland/Scottish is a crossways motion against the sleeve, symbolizing the checked pattern of the tartan. The British sign uses a pumping of the left arm, signifying the playing of the bagpipes.)

Tartans have several characteristics:

The real controversy of tartans is "When did the clan tartans originate?" There is much evidence to suggest that before the banning of the tartan in 1746, there were no "official" clan tartans. Weavers created new setts (patterns) whenever they wanted, and used whatever thread they had available. Some older Scottish family portraits show many different tartans being worn by the same family. (One shows two boys with a total of five different tartan patterns between them!)

There are some people who believe that the "naming of clan tartans" was thought up by weavers during the early 1800's when Scotland was going through a "romantic revival" throughout the British Isles. (Much like the American West.) Whatever your thought's and feelings about the origins of the tartan, most clans today have one or more tartan setts associated with their name.

The tartan pattern that you see at the top of this page are representations of the tartan sett of Clan Keith. My surname, Falconer, is a name associated with Clan Keith. When I was in Scotland, I chose to have my kilt made from the "Ancient Keith" Tartan cloth. Now, this brings up another tartan controversy, that of "modern" vs. "ancient". For the most part, modern tartan colors are older than ancient tartan colors. Seem strange? Well it is. The reason for this is that after years of producing tartans, some of the weavers decided that some of the bright colors they were using could not have been made way back when. Therefore, they devised new tartan colors using more muted tones and called these the "ancient tartan". Now the fact that they produced these many years AFTER they had made the modern colored tartans didn't seem to bother them.

Since I take most of this controversy with a grain of salt, I looked at both tartan colors for Keith, modern: dark blue, dark green, black and ancient: light blue, light green and black, and decided that the sett showed up much better in the ancient pattern.

The following links have more information about kilts:

There is a great book, "So You're Going to Wear The Kilt!", by J. Charles Thompson, Published by Lang Syne (ISBN: 185217-126-X). It is a very informative book and I would recommend it to anyone thinking about getting a kilt, or unsure of how to wear their kilt. If you're interested in getting a kilt made, I highly recommend:

Celtic Craft Center

Paisley Close
101 High Street, The Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 1SP
Tel: 031-556-3228
Fax: 031-557-1794
Fisherman's Wharf
1323 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: 415-567-6520
or 800-535-KILT
Fax: 415-567-5918



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