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What Makes Tartan Fabric Special?

Posted by Fabrics Galore on

tartan fabric

One of the most popular fabric patterns of all time is tartan. This pattern is woven with colored threads, crossing at right angles, often worn during the colder months as they fit into the season's landscape. Many people purchase tartan fabric for their dressmaking projects, as the design works well with a wide variety of styles, giving you the opportunity to really experiment with the design, creating jackets, coats, dresses and shirts to your heart’s content. But what makes this timeless fabric so special, remaining popular for countless generations? 

History of tartan fabric in the UK

This closely woven woollen cloth has always been associated with Scotland, where the different patterns were used to identify individual clans. Although this design was worn all over the country, the Highlands saw its development continue, when it inevitably became synonymous with the symbol of clan kinship. Each area’s clan became identifiable by its own distinct pattern, differentiating the inhabitants from their neighbours in the next glen. 

In 1746, the government in London attempted to purge the Highlands of all unlawful elements, acting to crush the rebellious clan system. Based on these attempts, a law was actually passed which made the wearing of tartan an offence, so by the time the Act was repealed in 1785, tartan had lost considerable popularity with the Highlanders. This fabric was hardly seen again until 1822, when George IV visited Edinburgh and suggested that people should wear their respective tartans. Many new patterns were reinvented by the tailors of that time, differentiating from the original patterns of the clans which had been lost. 

The popularity of tartan fabric in the UK increased considerably throughout the 19th century, especially when Queen Victoria discovered her love for Scotland whilst visiting the Highlands in 1842. After purchasing Balmoral Castle in 1852, the English nation desired to be more associated with everything Scottish - including tartan.

Why is tartan fabric so popular? 

One of the main reasons why tartan stands out so much as a fabric is because its pattern is so unique. Over countless decades, tartan has had various meanings and has become one of the most ambiguous patterns in modern fashion. Tartan inspired the now mainstream ‘plaid’ pattern, which was manufactured by British and American designers, resulting in most of the high street designs we know today. 

Plaid and tartan do have some differences, but the designs were seen by everyone in the 1970s, on shirts, suits, interiors and more, developing into a ‘grunge’ style in the 1990s. Tartans are usually confused with plaid and are usually used interchangeably with this fabric. It is just important to note that in Scotland, ‘plaid’ is a piece of tartan designed cloth which is slung over the shoulder as an accessory, rather than a dressmaking material. 

What else do you need to know about tartan fabric?

These check patterns can either be an even pattern or uneven, which can affect the finish you are looking to achieve. You can determine whether a pattern is even or not by looking closely at the material’s design. For example, if the stripes on the pattern are an even width and placed an equal distance apart on the background, you are working with an even pattern. On the other hand, if the width or distance between these stripes varies, this is an uneven pattern. There is also the choice between wool or cotton tartan fabric, so it just depends on your dressmaking project and how you want your finished garment to look. 

Would you like to buy brushed cotton tartan fabrics?

Tartan fabrics were originally designed using wool but are now available in different materials, so you can find the perfect fabric for your dressmaking project. No matter whether you are looking for a brushed cotton variant, or viscose blends, there are a variety of different patterns and colours to choose from. When using tartan fabric, you will be able to design the perfect garment based on your specifications, which just highlights why this fabric has stood the test of time with its versatility. 

Across the Fabrics Galore website, we have a huge assortment of tartan fabrics available for you to choose from. We even have a wonderful selection from our ‘Clueless’ range, which is named after the film Clueless, available in 9 different colour combinations. To learn more about the tartan fabrics we have available, or if you are looking for something slightly different, please feel free to contact our specialist team, who can answer any questions. 


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