Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin

  Tartan + Tweed cover

Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin is a history of the two fabrics that are traditionally linked with Scotland. It has lots of interesting photographs, some of them quite nostalgic as a fair few pop/punk/rock bands have used tartan as their stage costumes. Rod Stewart and The Bay City Rollers get a mention plus Slade’s Noddy Holder who wore a tartan suit along with a mirror embellished top hat.

I found the Tweed half of the book more interesting, simply because I learned quite a lot of things that I hadn’t known before about tweed, whereas I found the tartan section to be a bit repetitive and not as well written, also I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t known before. However if you don’t know much about the history of tartan this will be a good read for you.

As a Scot I have an awkward relationship with tartan. Most of us avoid wearing tartan except for weddings or nowadays graduations or Scotland football matches – if you’re a man. Scottish women tend to avoid it completely for fear of ending up looking like something seen on a shortbread tin. For some reason schools often have tartan skirts as part of the school uniform, even in England and everybody is glad to get out of their school uniform at last – so that’s another reason tartan isn’t popular here.

Anybody can design their own tartan so there are thousands of different designs now and I think that diminishes it, but I suppose it helps to keep the industry going. The myth that only Scotsmen can wear kilts is killed off in this book. If you fancy sashaying about in a kilt then feel free to go for it! There’s no doubt that men in kilts walk differently, the kilt almost has a life of its own it seems.

When we went to Northern Ireland for a holiday (don’t ask) we were surprised to see tartan EVERYWHERE. It seems to be used as a tribal flag by the Ulster Scots, so you could buy tartan curtains and bedding – you name it and they had it in tartan. There’s no doubt about it, human beings are strange.

As I said, I found the tweed section more interesting, I also prefer tweed to tartan and over recent years the industry has really modernised and become beloved by fashion designers. There are quite a lot of good fashion photographs, starting with Coco Chanel herself.

One really tragic fact in this book is that 635 men from the tweed making Scottish Border town of Galashiels were killed during the First World War, most of them in one attack at Gallipoli. Several of the mills ended up being bought by outsiders as many of the local mill owners had lost their sons in that attack.

There’s a section on Tartan and Royalty. From that dandy King George IV to today members of the royal family have been keen tartan wearers. I must admit that there are times when Scots find that slightly patronising. But at one point Princess Anne seemed so fond of tartan and supporting the Scottish rugby team, we thought she was making a bid for being the Queen of an independent Scotland – but that never came to pass.

Anyway, this has been a ramble and a half, suffice to say that I was so enamoured with the Tweed part of this book that when I saw a bundle of Harris Tweed at a recent vintage fair I snapped it up – but what am I going to do with it? I have no idea.

4 thoughts on “Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin

  1. Hmmm, does it mention that tartan seems to be universally called plaid outside the UK. As part of the Americanisation of our language I imagine seing references to men in plaid skirts instead of kilts.

    In its present form the use of tartan is all bosh and Victorian invented faux culture or fashion, being an attractive pattern. Its real original historical relevance is forgotten mostly, being much like the modern day “clans” which are essentially clubs giving some the opportunity to defer to so-called chieftans and dress up.

    • H,
      Yes it does mention that tartan is known as plaid in the US, also that the checked (lumberjack) shirts are called plaid. To me the material those shirts are made with is very different from tartan. I think all that bosh started before the Victorians and even before Sir Walter Scott promoted all things Scottish.
      I find it desperately sad that those clansmen were so loyal to the head of their clan that even when the chief shoved them off the land to make way for sheep, they still stayed loyal to them. I don’t know any Scots who have anything to do with their clan. I certainly don’t, but I can see the attraction for tourists with a Scottish heritage.

  2. This sounds like an interesting read to me…I love textiles and history! I’m not sure when I realized how much I was drawn to plaids, as we commonly call them here, but it was pretty early in my life. I tend to like fabrics with texture and a mixture of tones, and I’ve always enjoyed sewing. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy of this book at my library.

    • Paula,
      I have piles of fabric, a real stash and eventually I’ll get around to using it all for various projects – I hope! I love patchwork quilts, but I think a patchwork tweed and tartan throw might be a bit too much of a mixture. I hope you can get a copy of this book from your library.

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