Tartan – It’s Not Plaid

| Date posted: September 27th, 2013


I have a fascination with Scotland. I don’t know how it started but I love the history, the landscape, the bagpipes, and did I mention the accents? Of course I also love fabrics; so naturally, even though it is not unique to Scotland, I’m a huge fan of tartan.

Being an ancient fabric, there is some debate where the name “tartan” comes from and it’s exact meaning. My understanding is that tartan refers to a pattern of interlocking stripes that run both horizontally and vertically. Traditionally it’s woven from wool, but it’s still considered a tartan if the stripes are printed or applied to the fabric in other ways. Basically, it’s the pattern that carries the name tartan, not the fabrication method or the fabric’s fiber content.

The term “plaid” is often loosely used to describe this type of fabric, but in fact “plaid” means a large piece of fabric or blanket. Confused? Don’t worry it’s a very easy mistake to make, and here’s why: What we refer to as a kilt was historically called a “belted plaid”; and that’s what it was originally – a large piece of wool fabric (typically tartan) that was gathered and belted around the waist.

Modern fashion tartan is used in many ways and is available in a wide variety of fashion colors and fabrics. My favorite use for tartan is as a lining on a wardrobe staple – like a sheath dress. The contrast and striking pattern give the garment unexpected pop and interest. I enjoy knowing it’s there, even if it’s never seen!

No matter what you call it, with its fantastic variety of pattern and colors, tartan (plaid) is here to stay.

Tip: Check the pattern’s fabric recommendations. If a tartan is suitable, purchase enough fabric to line up seams when sewing.

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Sewing has always been a part of Christine's life, One of her earliest & fondest memories is that of her mother sewing in the family room. Christine started making doll clothes by hand at a...

Reader Comments

  • Denise Wild

    SO interesting!!