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Tartan questions

How do I choose the right tartan?

Selecting a tartan can be bewildering at first sight. But choosing is easy and fun once you know how. We suggest you first decide on the following issues.

  • Do you want a tartan associated with your family background, or do you care more about the colours? If the family link is important to you, read further here about finding family or clan tartans, and what to do if no exact match exists.
  • What weight of material do you want? Once you've decided whether you want the most common Heavy weight wool, or would prefer Medium weight wool, you will have simplified your choice greatly. Most mills stock only a selection of tartans in only some weights. So if your heart is set on a special pattern you may have to be flexible on the weight of cloth that is available. But in general we suggest choosing the ideal weight first and then we will proceed from there.
  • Is the exact shade important to you, for example, to match another garment? If so, it is best to find out which weaving mill manufactured that other fabric, as the "same" tartan produced by two different mills can vary greatly. The reason is historical, as colours and 'thread counts' were often only loosely defined. Also, just like paints and wallpapers, one batch can be different to the next. And computer monitors seldom display perfectly. So we strongly advise that you order a swatch of the tartan/s you like (before having your kilt made) to check the actual colour.

How do I find my family or clan tartan?

Most people prefer a family tartan for reasons of tradition. But if you can't find one you like, there are many alternatives. To find your family tartans, just key your surname into one of the following sites:

Unless your name is fairly common, and spelled in the most orthodox way, the chances are that you may not find a tartan under the exact same name. Don't worry! The spelling of names was only recently formalized, and names mutated as members migrated. So many spelling variations exist for the same family name. It's still the same family by blood, so please don't get hung up on spelling.

Also, Scottish clans have a tradition of ' Septs'which are other families by descent or alliance to which a Clan gave protection. If your family name appears as a Sept of one of the official clans, it conventionally entitles you to wear their tartan. Our tartan finder is designed to help you identify such associations, but it might do no harm to try keying in alternative spellings of your family names.

It is also common to choose a tartan derived not with your 'current' surname, but perhaps with your mother's maiden name, or that of another forebear such as a grandparent. Or you might choose to select the tartan from a member of your partner's lineage instead. We would encourage you to look widely, and choose a pattern that is not just historically 'correct' but also pleasing to you!

What is the best material and weight for tartan?

There are many different weights of tartans available but, in our opinion, there are only two that are suitable when having a man?s kilt made for you, so tartan weights are extremely important to decide on quite early in the decision making process. We do not use light weight tartans because they don?t hang or swing properly, and really don?t stay sharp, crisp, and straight. We?ve heard it said that after a relatively short time being seated, the lightweight kilts look like they?ve been slept in?!!! Perhaps not the look you?re hoping for. Most kilt wearers can tell right away who is wearing a lightweight kilt. Lightweight fabrics of all kinds are used mostly in non-traditional kilts or fashion kilts. We do not make fashion kilts since most, if not all, are made with machines and that is against our belief.

We use tartans that are woven in a range of weights from Medium Weight (13-14 oz) to Heavy Weight (15-16 ounce). For a kilt, most people choose Heavy weight, which gives the ideal balance of warmth, pleat crease-retention, durability, swing, and ease of wear.

How many tartans are available?

This is a great question that deserves an answer that is usually difficult to find. There are well over 4000 tartan designs that are registered. However, there are only about 500 tartans that have ever been woven. You are often led to believe that you can pick any of these 4000 tartans for your kilt, which is not quite true. They are available?.technically, but you often must order a significant amount of tartan that results in higher costs and extended wait times. There are advantages to choosing a tartan that is already woven, but only a quick contact with the weavers will determine this so, please ask us, we would appreciate the opportunity to help in your research and decision making process .

That being said, we do offer a special weave service whereby MacIsaac Kiltmakers can have special tartans designed, woven, and registered uniquely for you and your family. Please don?t hesitate to ask us, we would be most happy to help you determine the possibilities available to you.

Why do colour shades and appearance of tartans vary?

You may find that the actual colour of a piece of tartan fabric differs from what you expect, compared to what you've seen on a computer display; or compared to the 'same' tartan from a different weaving mill; or even compared to a previous piece from the same source. This is not uncommon and is becoming consistently a marketing approach for the weavers who want to build loyalty to ?their shades? of colors in the tartans.

Tartans are made up of two main ingredients namely the sett [a number of threads crossed by a number of threads that make up the actual design] and the colors. The sett is the foundation of the tartan and this is what controls the tartan after its design is completed and registered with the Tartan Authority. It is this registered sett that the weavers must adhere to in order that the authenticity of the tartan remains constant, regardless of which reputable weaver actually weaves the cloth. Without this commitment to maintaining the designs as they?ve been registered, eventually we could see several clearly different tartans that are supposed to be the same but have drifted from the standard because of someone?s personal interpretation.

Even today, just as with any textile manufacturer such as carpet, one batch might not quite match another exactly, but with technology finding its way into the weavers? looms, the consistency we experience from our weavers is extremely good. However, when viewing ?actual? samples on your computer screen, well these can never display reliably... just look at a range of television sets in the shop side by side, and see how the colours vary!

So the only advice we can give is that if you are making a major purchase such as a kilt and you are concerned with exactly what the colours will be, please order a fabric swatch from us in advance. We do not charge for these sample swatches.