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Tartan Beauty

Aristocratic Tartan

Steeped in history…It’s the feeling I get when I see an image of The Scottish Register of Tartan.  The register is maintained by the National Archives of Scotland based in Edinburgh, with the aim to provide a definitive and accessible resource to promote and preserve tartan.

This edict seems like a noble goal and the book appears like a treasure trove–a piece of history that you can hold in your hands.  And, if you have a tartan cloth that you would like to register and preserve, then you may be able to do so at

I imagine holding this book would create a real connection with its contents.  It is reminiscent of my Grandmother’s collection of fabrics that she held dear and kept in an open basket, which invited anyone passing by, to cast a hand in the bin, feel the fabrics and feed the eyes with the various colors and patterns.

Sir Jamie [right] with SNP enterprise minister Jim Mather at the launch of his register plans, 2008. The register itself is made up of the existing registers of the Scottish Tartans Authority and the Scottish Tartans World Register (now defunct) and new registrations from 5 February 2009 and on.


Reflecting on this feeling of “fabric and history” reminded me of another story of “keeping revered fabrics”.  As a child, I had the pleasure of sitting cross-legged underneath my Great-Grandmother’s giant quilt frame (circular, perhaps 8 feet in diameter), downstairs in a well-lit cellar.  On this day, my Great-Grandmother was hosting what is called “A Quilting Bee”, and, as a 5 year-old child,  I took this occasion to sneak underneath the loom where I could not be seen.  Similar to sitting underneath a round dining table draped with a huge cloth, I saw at least eight sets of old-lady-craftswoman legs, gathered in a circle, with busy hands working together, to complete a quilt masterpiece, one stitch at a time.

This practice of the quilting party was brought to the states from Europe and surged in popularity in the 1800s.

While it was fascinating to see the hands of these women work each individual stitch, most intriguing was the conversation of these women, that I eavesdropped on, (me hidden beneath the loom in a clandestine fashion, dead center in the midst of all these knees and squirming feet).  The southern quilts that these ladies produced were constructed with fine stitchery and elegant fabrics.  The host house of the quilting party, had the privilege of keeping the quilt.

And so, for some reason, seeing The Scottish Register of Tartan, transports me back to all sorts of memories of days past.  When I view these regal fabrics, I imagine what it would be like to wear true Scottish tartan and it makes me want to stroll the grounds of the Edinburgh castle.

or even take a day trip and drive out to the country, pulling the car aside after a long, slow, cruise with the windows down, and walk along a Scottish country dirt road, picnic in hand, perhaps in Tayside.

Of course I became curious to know how a tartan fabric may be registered and began researching the process a bit.  Here is an example of a nice fabric that is part of the registry:

STA ref: 8036
STWR ref: none
Designer: Jones, Harriet
Tartan date: 01/01/2009
Registration date: 1 November 2011
Category: Name
Registration notes: Designed by Harriet Jones of Holland & Sherry for a Mr Guzzo of Montreal who is “fascinated by all things Scottish and wishes a ‘family’ tartan using his family’s colours.” Being woven by the copyright holder Joseph H Clissold.

My personal favorite, using woven tartan, is the tartan coat.

Coat by Betsey Johnson:

Linda Evangelista, in Oscar de la Renta, gets a kick out of tartan (Arthur Elgort shoot)

And last, and perhaps best of all, a bespoke creation from Timothy Everest, who has been fantastically described as “borderline cheeky”, from Fall, 2011.

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