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Tartan Ferret



How do people invent new tartan, and do they have to be authenticated?
You obviously have to know something about tartans before you start designing new ones - especially when you consider that there are already over 3,500 in existence. There are two ways of designing a new tartan - either by taking an existing one and changing some of the colours and proportions or starting with a blank canvas. Computer software is now available to help with this task.(take a look at our Croft Weaver design programme) Once designed, a tartan should be checked with the Scottish Tartans Authority to ensure that it's not too close to an existing one. That's all that's needed.

Do you have to have Scottish origins to have your own tartan?
No you don't but very few people would want their own tartan if they didn't have some Scottish blood in the family somewhere.

Should I wear the tartan of my father or the tartan of my husband?
There are no hard and fast rules but since most people seek a tartan to which they have a 'genetic' connection, that would suggest that you wear your father's tartan.  However, your children would be genetically connected to both your husband and your father and could wear either. But . . .if you liked your husband's tartran more than your father's - then wear that and enjoy it!

What is the most exclusive tartan?
That's difficult. One answer could be that a personal tartan made for one man would be the most exclusive. Perhaps you mean which is the most desirable tartan and the answer to that could be the Balmoral tartan which was designed by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert and which can only be worn by the Royal Family. No weaver in the United Kingdom would produce that for anyone other than the Royal Family. Some overseas weavers have ignored the longstanding convention and produced what purports to be Balmoral. Such behaviour is viewed with great disdain by the Scottish industry and anyone who wore it in Scotland would be committing a great social (but not legal) sin!

Are all tartan patterns square?
Mostly . . . but some patterns(we call them 'setts') will have rectangles instead of squares which is really to do with the shape of some of the patterns that were produced in the old days on handlooms.

What are the simplest and most complicated patterns of tartan?
The simplest is probably something like Rob Roy which is just a pattern of red and black squares. The most complicated would be the Ogilvie which changes colour about 96 times.

Is there a quality control on the tartan patterns, for example would you ever see an orange and pink tartan?
Sometimes we wish there was some quality control but the answer has to be 'No' - there are no tartan police pouncing on wearers of garish and badly designed tartans. Many amateur designers seem to think that if they crisscross a few bands of different colours then they have a tartan. All too frequently, all they have is a discordant mish-mash that has a passing similarity to a tartan. Tartan designing is an art form and encompasses a knowledge of tartan history and a good eye for design and colours. That doesn't mean to say that anyone else can't have good fun designing their own tartan - it just means that they should study the subject a little before starting!

I'm getting married soon and would like some Russell ribbon for our bouquets - where can I get it?
I'm afraid that no-one produces the Russell/Mitchell ribbon. What we usually try and do if possible is to suggest a ribbon that might pass for the required one. In this case the 'Rose' ribbon has the same colours as the Russell although not quite in the same place! If you're going to be using a fairly narrow ribbon it will hardly show! Have a look at our on article on Ribbon

We are considering the creation of a tartan for the MacTufty surname. Your web site refers to family name tartans and states that they require the approval of the family/clan chief. To my knowledge there is no family or clan chief - is there any reason why we could not proceed in creating a MacTufty tartan and calling it a "Family Tartan"?
You're certainly free to design your MacTufty tartan but you can't expect it to be regarded as a clan or family tartan since it is A MacTufty tartan and not THE MacTufty tartan since you have no authority to decide on a tartan that all MacTuftys would wear. If you were happy for any MacTuftys to wear your design, then its category would change from Personal (for you, your family and whoever else you authorised to wear it) to what we call a Name tartan - one that can be worn by all of the name. This may sound pedantic but we have to try and safeguard the traditions that surround tartan . . . and you can never be sure that a MacTufty chief is not going to appear from somewhere. There is a tiny light on the horizon for you of course and that is if your unofficial MacTufty tartan finds favours amongst those of the name, then in time 'by use and wont' it could become recognised as THE MacTufty!


I've heard about septs - what are these?
Sept is actually an Irish word and we prefer to use the word 'associated' when it comes to linking surnames with traditional clan tatrans. Associations could have come about by various means - marriage, mutual defence packs, seeking of protection or possibly outright takeovers. Most associated families don't know how their links came about but the happy outcome is that they regard themselves as part of the parent clan and they thus have a traditional tartan to wear.

Highland Dress

I want to wear a kilt but there doesn't seem to be a tartan for my surname.
There are probably still some purists around who say that you can only wear a clan tartan if you have the clan's name as a surname. If you have some Scottish heritage and want to celebrate it by wearing the kilt then there's nothing to stop you. Look at the surnames of your grandparents and then your great grandparents on both sides of the family and see if any of them give you a genuine link to a tartan. If you come up with nothing then you can always fall back on what we call a District tartan. This is one that has been designated as being suitable for people from a particular area - a city or locality in Scotland.

If you don't fancy that idea then, then there are quite a few general tartans that can be worn by anyone plus a growing number of 'Fashion' tartans.
At the end of the day you can actually wear any clan tartan that you like even if you don't have a connection, but most people like to feel their use of a tartan is 'genetically' justified - even if it was only that their Great Granny was frightened by a MacDonald! If in doubt, have a look at our surname search facility

I'm due to get married (to an Aberdonian) and would like to wear a kilt, although I am English. I have a Scottish great grandfather who was named Cuthbertson. Your website has the Angus (district) tartan listed. While another site has Angus, Inverness and Lothian. Please can you confirm which is correct?
Statistically Angus seems to be the winner! Over the decades the Scottish tartan industry has sought to fulfil the huge public demand for tartans. When there was no discernible clan connection, weavers would often seek some other way of linking a name to a tartan. In the case of Cuthbertson, the scenario may well have been that researchers studied Scotland's electoral rolls or telephone directories to identify where there were large concentrations of that surname. That's not an unreasonable method bearing in mind that probably all clan tartans started life as district tartans - most of the people living in one glen would use the output from the same weaver and since they invariably belonged to the same clan or were dependants of that clan chief, that district tartan eventually became associated with the people from that area rather than the area.
One researcher may have decided that since the county of Angus had the most, he would stick at that. A later researcher may have added areas where there were sizeable but lesser numbers of Cuthbertsons and so we end up with an anomaly, the solution to which may never appear.
Sorry not to be more helpful. Try looking at names further back on your great grandfather's and great grandmother's side and see if you can come up with one that has a clan connection. If you're going to hire a kilt for the wedding then your research may have been wasted since you'll have a pretty limited choice of tartans to choose from. Whatever tartan you wear, enjoy it. A closing thought - if your bride is an Aberdonian why not get married life off to a good start and show her who's boss by wearing the Aberdeen tartan!

Do kilts have to be made of a certain material?
Traditionally kilts have always been made of wool but they obviously can be made out of other materials such as cotton, linen or polyviscose mixtures. Some trendy kilts are even made out of denim, hessian or leather. Be warned though . . . kilts other than in wool rarely behave like wool - they don't have the same swing, they don'tkeep their pleats and they get very easily creased.

Sporran tassels, how many are you supposed to have and do they mean anything?
There's no significance at all to the number of tassels a sporran might have. Most sporrans have none at all.

Do blokes have to wear a big pin with their kilts, just like I used to when I was a girl?
The custom of wearing a pin came in during Queen Victoria's reign to stop the kilt apron flapping about too much and showing more of the wearer's anatomy than the Queen liked! Kilt pins or brooches are still worn today but for decoration only since the pin only goes through the front apron and doesn't fix it to the kilt underneath.

What tartan would the Prince of Wales wear on an official trip to Scotland?
His Scottish title is Duke of Rothesay and so he could well wear that one. However he can also wear the Hunting Stewart or the Balmoral - the former is a Royal favourite and the latter is the private tartan of the British Royal family.

I would like to buy my husband a kilt as a birthday surprise. I'm fairly good at sewing but don't know where to get the tartan. Can you help?
I think we would be doing you and you husband a great favour if we said 'No!' It's a great idea but it does have its problems. Kilts are not like trousers where a knowledge of the waist size and leg length is enough information for you to buy 'off the peg' or get the trusty Singer sewing machine out. Each kilt is individually made and there are special measurements that need to be taken which really require the co-operation of the wearer. Being good at sewing I'm afraid is not going to help you very much. Kilt making is a very specialist task: you need about 24 feet (7.3metres) of material and years of training before you can consider yourself a really competent kiltmaker. Master kiltmakers have been at it for donkey's years! Have a look at our kiltmaking section and you'll get an idea of what's involved.

Are kilts hand sewn or machine sewn?
They can be either. Ideally they should be hand sewn but because of the labour involved (up to 16 hours or more sometimes) these turn out more expensive than machine stitched ones. But . . . a kilt is a potential heirloom so spend as much as you can afford on it.

How long will a kilt last?
How long is a piece of string? It depends upon how often you wear it. If you just wear it on special occasions (and you stay the same weight) then it can last you a lifetime and be passed on to the next generation.

If I'm buying a kilt do I have to buy all the other clothes to go with it?
No . . . if you live near a kilt hire specialist then you can hire the bits and pieces that you need for a special occasion. If you're wearing the kilt as a casual item of clothing then look upon it as you would a pair of trousers. Those can be worn with Doc Martin boots and a T-shirt so why not wear the kilt in the same way.
If you're going to semi formal events then you probably do need a few additions to your wardrobe. A conventional suit jacket would look silly with a kilt as would a pair of ankle socks so save up for a kilt jacket and some kilt hose.

Is it OK to wear white socks with the kilt?
Despite the fact that very many people do wear white hose (we call kilt stockings 'hose') we would say No! . . .No! . . and No! . . again. White hose first came about for pipe bands and with the increase in popularity of the kilt, it was a lot easier for kilt-hire companies to only stock white. Just like Henry Ford in the early days of the automobile - you can have any colour you like as long as it's black. In this case however . . . it's white.
White hose really are for pipe bands only and if you want to be regarded as 'Highland Hip' then you should wear coloured hose - something that tones in with the kilt. Off-white hose is quite acceptable - it has a slightly yellowish tinge - but do try and avoid the sparkling white variety - especially if they have little knitted bobbles around the top!

I have some tartan kilt stockings - is it OK to wear them?
If you have tartan hose, then conventionally it should only be worn at evening functions but if you want to cut a dash during the day, throw caution to the winds and wear it! That's assuming of course that your hose is in the same tartan as your kilt - it's considered a great gaffe to mix tartans.

Can I wear two different tartans in the same outfit?
Really the only circumstances under which it is 'acceptable' is if you wear a fly plaid that is a different tartan from your kilt. Thus you could wear a Fraser clan kilt and a Fraser Hunting fly plaid

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