Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - A Wee Bit of History on Scottish Clans
For centuries, Scottish clans have been an integral part of the nation's culture and heritage. Clans are essentially large families, bound together by actual or perceived kinship and descent. They unite under the leadership of chiefs and were historically located in the Scottish Highlands. While clans were once a way of life for Highlanders, being part of a clan today is more about celebrating Scottish ancestry and traditions.
Clans arose back in the 11th century, as a means of defense and strength in numbers for people living in the Highlands. The clan chief was the head of the clan and had power over its members. Clans occupied and controlled specific territories and aggressively defended their lands against rival clans when necessary.
An individual's clan membership passed down through their father's side. Clan members rallied around the clan chief and saw him as their leader. The chief provided protection and resources for clan members in exchange for their loyalty. Many clans had their own tartan patterns, which served as a means of identification during clan battles and raids.
After the last Jacobite uprising in 1746, clans underwent significant changes. The British government dismantled the traditional clan system in an effort to tame the unruly Highlands. The wearing of tartans was temporarily banned. Chiefs who had supported the Jacobite cause lost their lands and titles. Many clan members were forced to emigrate.
Over time, the role of clans transformed. They became less about waging battles and governing territory, and more about preserving history and cultural traditions. Clans maintain worldwide gatherings and associations today. Clan chiefs are still appointed, albeit it in mainly symbolic roles. Many clans have museums and cultural centers dedicated to educating people about their history.
What else is in this post?
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - A Wee Bit of History on Scottish Clans
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Shopping for Tartans on the Royal Mile
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Visiting Tartan Weavers to See Looms in Action
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Customizing Your Own Clan Tartan Kilt or Scarf
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Pairing Tartans for a Coordinated Look
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Tartan Trends: Modern Takes on Tradition
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Tartans Beyond Kilts: Bags, Jewelry and Home Goods
- Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Edinburgh Shops Specializing in Tartans
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Shopping for Tartans on the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is undoubtedly the best place in Edinburgh to find authentic Scottish tartans. This famous thoroughfare runs from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Along the way, you'll discover a treasure trove of merchants selling tartans and Highland wares. Visitors should allow ample time to meander down the Mile, popping into its many unique shops.
At Kinloch Anderson on the Canongate stretch of the Mile, you can watch weavers using historical wooden looms to create modern clan tartans. The shop has an unparalleled selection of ties, scarves, blankets and fabric. Be sure to chat with the shop assistants here—their knowledge of Scottish clans and tartan history is impressive.
The Scotch House near Parliament Square carries a wide assortment of clan-related gifts and apparel featuring customized tartans. You can find items like wallets, hip flasks, quilts, and baby clothes emblazoned with specific clan patterns. They will even help you track down your family tartan if you don't already know it.
No trip along the Royal Mile is complete without a visit to Edinburgh Woollen Mill on the High Street section. This multi-level shop houses aisle after aisle of fine woolen goods, with an entire section dedicated to tartan items. You'll find scarves, shawls, throws, robes, skirts, and fabric. Don't miss their exclusive Prince Charles Edward Stuart tartan, inspired by Bonnie Prince Charlie of the '45 Jacobite rebellion.
At Hector Russell on the Mound, you can view a family tree of Scottish clans before selecting a high-quality kilt from their expansive collection. Be sure to ask for assistance—their team is happy to provide information on how to properly put on and tie your kilt. You can also customize your kilt by choosing your clan tartan and opting to add sections of different tartans along the trim.
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Visiting Tartan Weavers to See Looms in Action
For a truly immersive experience into the world of tartans, visiting one of Scotland's working tartan weavers allows you a glimpse into how these iconic patterns come to life. Several such studios are open to the public along the Royal Mile and just outside Edinburgh where you can watch master weavers practice their centuries-old craft in action.
At Kinloch Anderson, located on the Canongate stretch of the Mile, visitors can observe weavers operating traditional wooden Hattersley looms that date back over 100 years. Kinloch Anderson has been weaving since 1868, when founder Donald Anderson set up his first shop. They have an unbroken lineage serving Scottish clans since that time.
Watching the weavers here is an education in precision and skill. The weavers work the pedals and levers in perfect rhythm, sending the shuttlecock zipping smoothly across the warp threads. The end result is beautifully crafted wool tartan fabric ready to be made into ties, scarves, blankets and clothing. Visiting weavers like Kinloch Anderson allows you to appreciate how much meticulous labor goes into each yard of tartan produced.
Just outside the city center, Begg Scotland is another working mill with visitor access to its weaving floor. Established in 1866, Begg has been crafting custom tartans for over 150 years. Their signature small sett, fine worsted wool designs are used by many Scottish clans today. At Begg, you can chat with weavers as they operate industrial Dornier looms that simultaneously weave multiple tartan fabric lengths.
Watching Begg's weavers, you gain insight into how tartan patterns are translated into woven cloth. The weavers must closely follow intricate design charts, known as drafts, to set up the loom. They determine the order and angles in which the colored yarn threads are interlaced. It takes great concentration and attention to detail to avoid making any mistakes given the complicated sequencing involved.
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Customizing Your Own Clan Tartan Kilt or Scarf
One of the most memorable parts of a trip to Scotland is customizing your own clan tartan kilt or scarf. Though historically clan tartans were regionally based, the fashion for customized family tartans emerged in the Victorian era. Today, choosing personal tartan elements brings deeper meaning to these iconic garments.
"Having a tartan kilt made just for you makes a statement about celebrating your Scottish heritage," says Jamie McDougall, kiltmaker at Macnaughtons on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. McDougall, who has designed customized kilts for celebrities like Robbie Williams and Ewan McGregor, explains that personalization options are plentiful.
The most common route is selecting a tartan that reflects your surname or family ancestry. Companies like ScotClans and The Scottish Register of Tartans maintain databases to help match surnames to registered clan tartans. McDougall notes that if your surname doesn't align with an existing clan, you can register a new Family Tartan. This personalized design gets officially recorded in the Scottish Register of Tartans.
For a more unique approach, McDougall helps clients combine elements of different regional, military and commemorative tartans. "I recently made a kilt for a Canadian fellow with Scottish roots, so we incorporated lines of the Nova Scotia tartan along with his ancestral MacDonald hunting tartan," he says. These hybrid designs often use intersecting stripes of varying widths, known as overchecks.
Scarves offer more flexibility for DIY mixing and matching. At Tartan Weaving Mill in Edinburgh, clients can select base tartans for each end—such as Mackenzie and Fraser—and request a personalized overcheck pattern in the center. Alternating stripe orientations is key to making overcheck scarves visually striking.
Beyond fabric, customization options include kilt accessories like sporrans (pouches) and sgian dubhs (small knives), which can bear family crests or initials. Metal kilt pins can also feature personalized engraved messages.
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Pairing Tartans for a Coordinated Look
Mixing and matching tartans may seem intimidating at first glance. But don’t let the dizzying array of colors and lines overwhelm you. With some fundamental tips, you’ll be expertly pairing tartans for a pulled-together Scottish look.
“Many people stick to wearing one single tartan item, like a kilt or scarf. But pairing tartans together shows creativity and confidence,” says Catriona McBean, personal stylist and owner of McBean Image Consulting in Edinburgh. McBean advises starting simply with just two complementary tartan pieces.
When deciding which tartans work well together, consider the background color of the patterns first. “Choose tartans with similar toned backgrounds rather than jarring color clashes,” recommends McBean. “For example, pair a red-based clan tartan kilt with a green-based tartan scarf. This creates visual cohesion.”
Next, look at the stripe sizes. “Tartans with similar stripe widths and sett sizes tend have a harmonious look when combined,” says McBean. Mixing a large plaid with an extremely fine plaid risks looking disjointed.
Beyond background color and stripe size, overlapping shared colors connects tartans. “If both patterns have some yellow lines, blue lines and black lines, this consistency helps,” explains McBean. “Just avoid pairing two tartans with exactly the same color scheme—that’s when they start to compete.”
When it comes to proportion, McBean suggests choosing one bold tartan statement piece, like a kilt or jacket, then complementing with smaller accessories in a different tartan. “Let your kilt or cape take center stage. Use scarves, ties, sashes and rosettes as your supporting tartan elements,” she advises. Also consider texture and pattern scale—pair a big, bold wool tartan with smaller, lighter silk tartans for contrast.
According to Iain MacLeod, co-owner of Macnaughton Lord Kiltmakers, even bandana-sized flashes of a secondary tartan add interest when attached to hats or handbags. Small embellishments like embroidered thistle motifs on jackets allow more ways to coordinate tartans.
Pushing tartan pairings even further, MacLeod says, “I applaud clients who request multi-tartan kilts or capes. Asymmetrical designs with panels of varying clan tartans make wonderfully dynamic statements.” Just retain balance so as not to appear haphazard.
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Tartan Trends: Modern Takes on Tradition
While tartans hold centuries of history, they continue to feel fresh and relevant in modern fashion. Creative designers are finding new ways to reinvent these iconic patterns while staying true to their heritage. Tartans have moved far beyond kilts and upholstery into exciting new realms.
"The revival of tartans over the past few years has been remarkable. Tartans feel so relevant across eras and styles," says Edinburgh-based designer Fiona McIntosh. McIntosh's eponymous brand brings a contemporary spin to tartans in women's apparel. She executes oversized tartan prints on linen dresses and bold plaid motorcycle jackets with punky metal studs and zippers.
McIntosh explains, "I mix traditional clan tartans with more abstract, artistic variations. Tartans instantly add that coveted 'cool girl' edge, but they still make a connection back to Scotland." Her innovative use of tartans in separates rather than expected kilted garments has attracted much attention.
Mhairi McNicol also experiments with unusual tartan creations at her Edinburgh atelier. McNicol translates antique clan tartans into sculptural cocktail hats, a fresh take on tradition. Whimsical feathers and veils provide feminine flair. McNicol's work transcends costume into wearable art that commands attention.
She says, "I love resurrecting these old patterns in new, unexpected ways. There's something magical about tartans that feels bold and delicate at the same time." McNicol's inventive millinery collection hinting at Highland heritage has earned acclaim worldwide.
Even major global brands like Timberland have launched tartan designs in recent collections, reworking the patterns on boots and outdoor apparel. The company's product developer, Cameron Duncan, says their new elements-resistant Black Watch tartan series "marries functionality with iconic Scottish style.”
Not just apparel, tartans have broken into tech accessories too. Casetify's smartphone and laptop cases feature customizable laser-engraved clan tartans. Users can select that perfect accent plaid to personalize their device covers. Casetify's global PR director says their Scottish-inspired collection "puts a fresh face on an age-old tradition."
The popular gaming platform Xbox also debuted special edition tartan consoles and controllers featuring festive red McFarlane and green Buchanan patterns. Gamers seeking to display Scottish flair can surround themselves with modernized tartan tech.
While designers reinvent tartans in clothing, accessories, and products, traditional kiltmakers also offer modern options. Kinloch Anderson recently launched contemporary kilt styles tailored for women. Their new designs cater to female forms through adjusted pleating and lighter fabrics. It updates authentic clan plaids into a more progressive product.
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Tartans Beyond Kilts: Bags, Jewelry and Home Goods
Tartans lend a bold, yet classic, Scottish flair when incorporated into accessories and home decor. While kilts may first come to mind when you think of these iconic criss-crossed patterns, tartans find fresh new expression in jewelry, handbags, furnishings and more.
"Tartans are extremely versatile design elements that add an instant sense of heritage," explains Edinburgh stylist Fiona Fotheringham. "Plaids don’t need to be limited solely to apparel." Fotheringham works extensively with clients to incorporate customized tartans into their lifestyles through savvy pairings with modern pieces.
For statement jewelry that nods to your Scottish roots, Fotheringham suggests looking for pieces accented with touches of tartan. Examples she loves include multi-stone rings with thin strips of plaid wrapping around the band. Tartan ribbon chokers studded with charms also bridge past and present. Woven wool bracelets in family tartan patterns make meaningful gifts.
Handbags and small leather goods offer another prime opportunity to personalize with tartan flair. According to Fotheringham, customized silk tartan lining instantly elevates a handbag interior. Exteriors can feature tartan flap fabric or be accented with customized buckles or ties in heritage patterns. For gentlemen, a mini leather sporran pouch in your clan's colors adds personality to any ensemble.
Incorporate a pop of your family's distinctive tartan into your living space through throw pillows, blankets or upholstered furniture. Fotheringham finds that tartan accent chairs or footstools balance more modern furnishings beautifully. Area rugs in custom sett sizes also make stunning statements.
For small doses of plaid, Fotheringham suggests tartan tea towels or napkins in dining areas. Coasters printed with your clan's colors protect surfaces while displaying Scottish pride. She recommends Reid Liddell's "Bespoke Bar" products, like hip flasks and ice buckets wrapped in personalized heritage patterns, for fun entertaining essentials.
Christopher Kane's eponymous fashion house takes tartans in some unexpectedly whimsical directions for the home. Kane's collections include artful jacquard woven throw blankets, as well as bone china mugs and trinket boxes splashed with abstract tartan prints. The items blend tradition with Kane's cutting-edge creativity.
Beyond apparel and decor, custom tartan also appears in beauty and grooming accents. Edinburgh perfumer Flora Napier produces luxurious, Scottish-inspired scents like Highland Fern and Heather in packaging bearing custom clan tartans. Beardbrand's beard oils for gents come in heritage plaid designs that decorate the bottles.
For canine companions, Isle of Dogs' plaid dog leads allow Scottish dog lovers to coordinate with their faithful friends. Custom tartan wedding bands and engagement rings for couples wanting to permanently link their heritage round out the myriad ways to incorporate plaid into daily life.
"Any product can be elevated by adding custom Scottish fabric,” says Fotheringham, who helps clients realize interior design visions and curate wardrobes seamlessly enhanced with meaningful tartans. “Infusing your personal style with colors and patterns passed down through generations brings immense pride.”
Kilts and Quilts: Finding Your Clan Tartan on a Personal Shopping Tour in Edinburgh - Edinburgh Shops Specializing in Tartans
With over 150 tartan shops and kiltmakers concentrated within its compact medieval Old Town, Edinburgh stands as the epicenter for all things Scottish plaid. Venture down the Royal Mile’s labyrinth of closes and wynds to uncover troves of merchants dedicated to providing customized tartan wares.
Passionate about preserving heritage while catering to contemporary tastes, Edinburgh’s tartan experts curate an unrivaled selection of quality products. Customers seek out these specialists for their intimate knowledge of clan history and unparalleled skill in translating lineage into fabric.
“We guide each client through selecting personalized elements that hold special meaning for them,” explains Duncan MacAskill of MacAskill Kiltmakers on Cockburn Street. MacAskill’s bespoke approach has outfitted nobles and celebrities over four generations.
At MacAskill’s cozy shop, you can review swatchbooks containing over 7,000 available tartan patterns. Consultations involve pinpointing links between surnames and ancestral lands to select appropriate sett sizes and color combinations.
Besides apparel, Edinburgh’s shops ingeniously incorporate tartans into items like setts of bagpipes or highball glasses. Celtic Croft’s Royal Mile location brims with piping-, dancewear and formal Highland dress featuring customized plaids. Their staff tutors customers on properly accessorizing ensembles for events.