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Proud wearer of a kilt | by Silanov
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Proud wearer of a kilt

A man in his kilt with his dog at Lanhydrock estate, Cornwall.


Some background information:


Tartan is a pattern, which is particularly associated with Scotland, as Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. It consists of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours.


The alternating bands of coloured threads are woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The weft is woven in a simple twill, two over - two under the warp, advancing one thread each pass. This forms visible diagonal lines where different colours cross, which give the appearance of new colours blended from the original ones. The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.


The earliest evidence of tartan is found far afield from the British Isles. According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between 400 to 100 BC, produced tartan-like textiles. Some of them were recently discovered, remarkably preserved, in Salzburg, Austria.


The earliest documented tartan in Britain, known as the Falkirk tartan, dates from the 3rd century AD. It was uncovered at Falkirk in Stirlingshire, Scotland, about 400 metres north-west of the Antonine Wall. The fragment was stuffed into the mouth of an earthenware pot containing almost 2,000 Roman coins. The Falkirk tartan has a simple check design, of natural light and dark wool. Early forms of tartan like this are thought to have been invented in pre-Roman times, and would have been popular among the inhabitants of the northern Roman provinces as well as in other parts of Northern Europe such as Jutland, where the same pattern was prevalent.


Tartan as we know it today, is not thought to have existed in Scotland before the 16th century. By the late 16th century there are numerous references to striped or checkered plaids. It is not until the late 17th or early 18th century that any kind of uniformity in tartan is thought to have occurred. At that time Scottish tartans were used to distinguish the inhabitants of different regions.


For many centuries the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of particular areas, though it was common for highlanders to wear a number of different tartans at the same time. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colours. And a witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes "McDonnell's men in their triple stripes". From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardised tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan, and this was formalised when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739.


The most effective fighters for Jacobitism were the supporting Scottish clans, leading to an association of tartans with the Jacobite cause. After the Battle of Culloden efforts to pacify the Highlands led to the 1746 Dress Act banning tartans except for the Highland regiments of the British army. In 1782 the Dress Act was repealed due to the efforts of the Highland Society of London.


However it is generally considered that clan tartans date no earlier than the beginning of the 19th century. The method of identifying friend from foe at the Battle of Culloden was still not through tartans but by the colour of ribbon worn upon the bonnet. David Morier's well-known painting of the Highland charge at the Battle of Culloden shows the clansman wearing various tartans. The setts painted all differ from one another and very few of the those painted show any resemblance to today's clan tartans. Contemporary portraits show that although tartan is of an early date, the pattern worn depended not on the wearer's clan, but upon his or her location or personal taste.


The naming and registration of official clan tartans began on April 8, 1815, when the Highland Society of London resolved that all the clan chiefs each "be respectfully solicited to furnish the Society with as Much of the Tartan of his Lordship's Clan as will serve to Show the Pattern and to Authenticate the Same by Attaching Thereunto a Card bearing the Impression of his Lordship's Arms." Nowadays tartan and is an important part of a Scottish clan and almost all Scottish clans have several tartans attributed to their name.


In addition to clan tartans, there are many tartans created especially for individuals, families, districts, institutions, and corporations. There are even specific commemorative tartans for various events and certain ethnic groups. Tartan has had a long history with the military and today many military units — particularly those within the Commonwealth — have tartan dress uniforms. There are also many regional tartans, officially recognised by government bodies. For example in Canada most provinces and territories have an official tartan.


Sometimes tartan is differentiated from another with the same name by the label dress or hunting. Dress tartans are based on the tartans worn by Highland women in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are commonly used today in Highland dancing. On the other hand hunting tartans are a Victorian conception. These tartans tend to be made up of subdued colours, such as dark blues and greens. Despite the name, hunting tartans have very little to do with actual hunting. Another category are mourning tartans, which, though quite rare, are associated with death and funerals. They are usually designed using combinations of black and white.


Of course I tried to find out, which tartan the man on my photo was wearing. But I could only detect that his tartan bears a great resemblance to the tartans associated with the Scottish Clan Forbes. However I’m far away from being one-hundred per cent sure.

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Taken on September 4, 2011