Tartan Shawl

Woman Sketching in a Landscape, Barthélemy Vieillevoye,1798 - 1855

Tartan Day

Apr 6

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foeman have sought for it,
Heroes fought for it,
Honour the name of it,
Drink to the fame of it,
The Tartan!"

~ Murdoch MacLean, The Tartan

Are you wearing or displaying some tartan today? Tartan Day began in the late 20th century as North American holiday in Canada and the United States and has been increasingly adopted around the world as a day to recognize Scottish heritage and culture. The ubiquitous of tartan in the modern era owes some of its popularity to the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. George IV was then the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years. The festivities surrounding the event were attended by Sir Walter Scott who had recently founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh in 1820. Scott and the Celtic Society urged Scots to attend festivities "all plaided and plumed in their tartan array". One contemporary writer sarcastically described the pomp that surrounded the celebrations as "Sir Walter's Celtified Pageantry". Regardless of such wet (tartan) blanket reporting, this was just one of the historical events that set the stage for the 19th century craze for tartan which extended to formal portraiture of the day, and tested the skill of artists to realistically depict the draped pattern of right angles over soft natural curves!

Tartan Shawl

April 6th, Tartan Day is an official celebration held mainly in the United States and Canada, of a recognition of Scottish Heritage. 

Though tartan patterns became fashionable outside of Scotland as a result of appreciation for the pattern as Highland regiments moved through Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, leading to tartan as a favored choice for accessory garments such as shawls, turbans, and trimming, by the 1840s Queen Victoria's frequent visits to her estate at Balmoral in Scotland further stimulated a fashion for tartan garments, aided by advances in colour printing of fabrics.  It has been popular ever since.

The skill of Celtic weavers was acknowledged even in Roman times, and visitors to the Highlands of Scotland in the early 18th century commented on the quality of the fabric that the inhabitants produced. Their woolen cloth had a distinctive checked pattern that, by the 17th century at least, was commonly referred to as tartan. Tartan patterns, or 'setts', are created by using two colours of thread, which results in three colour combinations. All patterns are structured as a series of stripes around a central 'pivot' stripe, which are then repeated as regular blocks of pattern. Typically, early tartans would have been relatively muted in colour and created from natural dyes, but a trend for more colourful patterns emerged as brighter dyes became available. 

From 1815 there was a move to register all tartans, and many patterns were created and linked with surnames for the first time. It is likely that what started as geographically based patterns, resulting from the local availability of dyes, - then became linked with clans in a particular area, and, in turn, with surnames alone. 

The popularity of tartan during the Romantic period, both in clothing and due to the Romantic revival of posed a challenge for period artists to depict the rectangular patterns in portraiture.

For more beautiful vintage depictions of tartan, visit the facebook site, Vintage Tartan - A Pictorial Gallery, by clicking the portrait below - Alexandre Jean Dubois-Drahonet Portrait of a young Scottish girl, wearing tartan and thistles in her hair, 1843.

Tartan Shawl
Tartan Shawl

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