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burns night tartan fabric

The Differences Between Various Types Of Tartan Fabrics

Posted on: 25th Jan, 2018

With the annual Scottish celebration of Burns Night coming around again this month, here at Acorn Fabrics we thought it would be a great time to take another look at our tartan fabrics. Specifically, this week we’re looking at the various different types of tartans, and a couple of the key differences between them. Some of them may well surprise you!

There are five major types we’ll be covering in this week’s blog:

  1. Ancient
  2. Modern
  3. Weathered
  4. Hunting
  5. Dress

So then – curious to see how it all fits together?

burns night coloured tartan fabrics

How Many Different Types Of Tartans Are There?

In short: lots. There are well over 1000 registered on the Scottish Register of Tartans, the public body responsible for keeping track of the official designs. Some families (such as the ancient McDonald clan) actually have several designs to their name, having been created at various points throughout history. Now comes the really confusing bit: the names of the different types of tartans we’re looking at today (Ancient, Modern, etc), actually have nothing to do with their historical setting. It’s actually all about what types of shades they use in their designs. You can have an Ancient tartan from 1950 and a Modern tartan from 1870. It’s no wonder people get mixed up!

red mclean tartan fabric

The Key Differences Between Tartans

Lots of the major differences arise from how the process of dyeing tartan fabrics has evolved throughout history, giving rise to distinct sorts of shades that ultimately help to define each different type of tartan.

Ancient Tartans

Before the 1860s, the materials available to craftsmen were mostly vegetable dyes from plants and animals. This meant that the final results from these relatively primitive dyes weren’t terribly stable, and the colour could fade easily. After just years of fading, the tartans relatively quickly became light and soft in colour, and this is what today’s Ancient Tartans aim to emulate. Greens and blues are particularly subdued, for example, and red often appears more orange in Ancient Tartan designs.

Modern Tartans

Meanwhile, Modern Tartans are patterned on the historical tartan designs created after 1860. More chemical dyes became available at this point in history, which allowed the tartans to be more colour-fast (in other words, hold their colour better). These synthetic dyes gave rise to the Modern Tartan’s distinctive bolder, darker shades. Blues appear as navy, and greens are more bottle green. (Our Tartan Gordon Fabric and Tartan McLean Fabric are both excellent examples of Modern Tartan designs.)

Weathered Tartans

In contrast to other tartans, Weathered Tartans use a colour palette that imitates tartans that have been exposed to the harshest weather elements that Scotland has to offer, including rain, sun and wind. This results in muted colours that most resemble those that would have been worn centuries ago, at a time when Scottish men wore their kilts day and night.

Hunting Tartans

Historical Hunting Tartans would have indeed once been used by ancient Scottish clans while out hunting, and modern variants have more greens and browns in them than Ancient and Modern versions, to better blend in with the foliage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that modern Hunting Tartans are only worn while out hunting, and like many other tartans, they’re equally frequently used in many formal and social occasions.

Dress Tartans

Arguably amongst the easiest tartans to identify, Dress Tartans are most commonly associated with highland dance. Dress Tartans generally incorporate some sort of white into their design – a pattern which was originally inspired by 18th Century women’s fashion. Many people have observed that lots of Dress Tartans are just variants of regular clan tartans, with their main colour swapped out to white.

Now that you’re familiar with the major tartan variants, why not browse our very own selection of tartan fabrics right here on our website? If you have any questions or you’d like to make an order, feel free to give us a call on 01282 698662 – we’re always here to help!

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