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The word tartan describes the distinctive checkered pattern generally worked out in a woven material such as woolen cloth. Formerly the colors came from vegetable dyes concocted by infusing various local roots, mosses, and flowers. Now, of course, chemical dyes are used, but these can be skillfully modified to impart a soft, mellow hue that gives the new length of tartan an "ancient" appearance. Though such tartan material is a characteristically Scottish product, weavers and dyers in other countries have also produced attractive checkered designs that are entitled to be called tartans. Each particular pattern is known as a sett and a length of tartan repeats this design as often as required.

Everyone is familiar with the kilt worn by Scottish regiments and pipe bands and by many Scotsmen. The ancient dress of the Scottish Highlander, however, was not a kilt of this type, but a belted plaid. This plaid (the feileadh-mor or great wrap) was a generous length of tartan cloth about 16-18 feet long and over six feet wide. The upper portion covered the wearer's shoulders. It was belted at the waist and the lower portion hung down to the knees. By the early part of the 18th century, the lower half of the belted plaid (the feileadh-beag or little wrap) was in general use as a kilt. Since then the kilt has been the traditional garb of the Highlander as regimental uniform, at Highland Games and outdoor activities, and on social occasions such as weddings and dances.

Today, of course, many Highlanders use it as everyday wear. The great dividing line in the history of Scottish tartans was the Jacobite Rising of 1745. After the defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his Highland followers, various Acts of Parliament were passed, the aim of which was to disarm the Highlanders and to destroy the clan spirit by prohibiting the wearing of traditional Highland dress. This ban lasted for 36 years, and one of its unhappy consequences was that the age-old methods of using vegetable dyes were not passed on to the next generation. 

The MacNaughton Tartans The MacMillan Tartans

Reprinted from THE RED BANNER,
the Clan Macnachtan Association Worldwide
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