April 6th is Tartan Day in the USA, so we’re jumping on the bandwagon and celebrating along with our American friends and guests! We thought we’d take a look at what Tartan is and why people round the world celebrate Tartan Day.
What is Tartan?
Tartan has been described as “an art form in which the artist-weaver manipulates a limited range of colours to produce designs of squares and rectangles” – James D Scarlett ‘Tartan the Highland Textile’ 1990. It’s a woven material, traditionally the everyday wear of Highlanders for centuries. Other areas in Scotland wore tartan too, but it was in the Highlands that it became the symbol of clans and distinguished each clan from the next. Tartans were spun, dyed, woven and made into clothing locally. Wealthier families could afford brighter fabrics.
Tartan was made into traditional Scottish clothing, kilts, trews (trousers), bonnets with the clan badge attached and more. Early tartans were just two or three colours, using locally sourced plants, roots and berries. This led to each area creating it’s own tartan, the beginnings of area or clan specific tartans.
As the world developed and chemical dyes became available, tartans became more complex. Brighter colours, more varied colours and each clan ended up with a number of tartans for different occasions. For example, ‘hunting tartan’ and ‘dress tartan’. As clans grew through marriage and births, the newer clans created a tartan of their own by adding an ‘overstripe’ to the basic pattern of the main clan tartan.
The first record of a member of the Royal family wearing tartan was King James III in 1471.
King James V wore tartan in 1538 when he was hunting in the Highlands and King Charles II wore a tartan ribbon on his wedding day in 1662. Since then, it’s become common for Scottish men to wear their kilts at celebratory occasions, such as weddings and other formal events.
The Banning of Tartan
Many men love wearing kilts and many women love a man in a kilt. Makes you wonder why kilts were ever banned! Well in 1746 after the Battle of Culloden, the English government were attempting to break down the clan system and gain control of Scotland. They passed a law which made carrying weapons and banning the wearing of tartan. It was heavily reinforced. Less than 40 years later in 1785, the Act was repealed, but Highlanders continued to wear the same dress as other Scots. Many weavers had died and the patterns and skills along with them. Very little of the original tartan survived.
George VI is to be thanked for the revival of tartan in Scotland. He visited Edinburgh in 1822 and suggested people attending formal and official events should wear their family tartans. The loss of the skills and patterns meant that weavers of the time had to re-invent many tartans and patterns. It created some confusion with so many tartans being made and with the popularity of tartan, patterns now have to be registered.
Modern Day Tartan
Tartan, especially kilts, are hugely popular. Lots of men will “kilt-up” to go and support Scotland in Football or Rugby matches – especially away games! Tartan is used in home decor, seen up and down the catwalk and of course the ever popular tartan paint. OK, that last ones a wee joke we Scots like to tell. Just like the fact that the Haggis Hunting seasons starts in August, it actually begins on the 30th November and ends on Burns Night in January…
Why Celebrate Tartan Day?
Tartan Day is celebrated all over the world. Today thought, it’s the American’s turn! Celebrated on the 6th April, it commemorates the Scottish Declaration of Independence, from which the American Declaration of Independence was based on, in 1776. It’s also a day to recognise American’s with Scottish ancestors as well as those Scots who have made the move “across the pond”.
New York hold one of the biggest celebrations, their New York Tartan Week celebration has a huge march up Sixth Avenue. This year the parade will be on Saturday 9th May 2016, so whilst we all settle down to watch Britain’s Got Talent, New Yorkers will be starting their march. Outlander star, Sam Hueghan, will lead thousands of marchers up the Manhattan street, along with pipers, bands, dancers, clan members and the Barbour Dog Pack of Scotties and Westies.
The event has many sponsors including Scottish favourites, Belhaven Best (the official Beer of the Parade) and Laphroaig (the official Whisky). Visit Scotland are also sponsors and are running a competition to win a VIP Trip to our bonnie banks! Whilst sadly The Dunstane isn’t a stop on their trip, we do have some fantastic special offers if you would like to plan a trip of your own.