Monday, September 7, 2009

I was mesmerized with this portrait of a tartan clad lady posted by
Pamela last week. We chatted a bit about her and I asked as to the
background on the painting. Although she didn't know the identity of
the woman or the artist, Pamela mentioned the fact that the portrait
reminded her of me. I'll have to admit there is a haunting similarity.

We are all about tartans here at the manor. And as the zesty fall
weather approaches, I am anxious to bring out the soft wool tartans
and tweeds. The autumn and winter wardrobe is always so much
more snuggly and interesting. Last year for Christmas, I gave hand
made family tartan wool hats as gifts; a cap for WT and a tam for
my daughter. WT is known to don his kilt on holidays and special
occasions and puff out a tune or two on his bagpipes. Two songs are
just about the limit inside the manor.

The notion of belonging to a tribe, for me conjures feelings of warm
pride and connectedness. The word "clan", in its original sense
referred to a kindred group. The origins of the distinctive tartan
patterns are shrouded in controversy. To the Gael it was breacan
feile, speckled cloth, but the word tartan appears to come from the
French word tirtaine, implying a European origin.

The earliest written references to tartan occur in the accounts of the
treasurer of James III in 1471 and descriptions of the multicolored
cloth appear in Lowland Scots, my ancestors, by the 1570s. The
"sett" or pattern varied from place to place, so a person might
identify the origins of the wearer from the colors of his cloth. It
appears the earliest tartans were territorial rather than clan-based,
although in many cases the two would have been synonymous. One
of the earliest examples of tartan is a Falkirk sett, a small piece of
cloth used as a stopper in an earthenware pot. The sett was in six
colors, with an intricate pattern and was dated as being made some
time between 250 and 325 AD.

A few years back, I met an elderly distant cousin online, while doing
some genealogical research. She was so kind as to mail me a piece of
my family tartan. It's such a treasure, since all the tartans around
the manor are those of WT's family. I've been pondering what
exactly to do with the fabric. I think I'll just finish the edges, and
with DNA tingling pride, wear it as a scarf. Now, I'll have to keep
my eyes peeled for the perfect vintage Celtic brooch.

Did you know, in order to prevent fictitious tartan patterns, family
tartans are now standardized and must be registered with the Court
of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh? The Scottish Tartans Society,
established in 1963, is now the world authority on Highland dress.
There's also serious tartan protocol. The Lord Lyon states that a
clan tartan should only be worn by those who profess allegiance to
the clan's chief. (Heavens to murgatroyd!) I promise I'll wear my
tartan with all due proper respect and loyalty. Gee, wonder what
happens if you wear an erroneous tartan?


  1. Does the tartan in the painting look familiar to anyone? I couldn't conclusively identify it with my tartan book.

  2. Don't recognise it but I am no expert. The only time I have ever seen the Burnett tartan was on the back of a tin of shortbread biscuits.

  3. A beautiful, mysterious woman in the portrait. The tartan's a mystery to me as well.

    Wear the wrong tartan? Maybe they cut off your sporran.

  4. My Mum was Scottish (my Dad was Polish hence my Polish Surname) Perhaps we share the same clan/tartan? :)

  5. Very interesting; love tartan and have loads of colourful scarves.

    BTW, saw Johnny D. in a French movie I'd taped. He was only in it for a few minutes quarter of the way into it and at the end. English translation, 'They lived happily ever after'. You're much prettier!

  6. I actually thought the woman in the painting was you before going on to read that it wasn't.

    As a non-Scot living in a Scottish tourist town I get a bit sick of Tartan but I love yours, great clean colours.

  7. I know from experience that the Scots are "Scots" or "Scottish," which doesn't stop me winding a couple of friends up by calling them "Scotch." (-;

    My ancestry's extremely mixed but I'm distantly-entitled to wear the Shaw tartan which is not unlike the one in your picture but without the straw-yellow bands.

  8. Great write-up on tartans. As a musician, I like bagpipe music, but I do realize there's a reason bagpipes are usually played outdoors! Pretty impressed WT plays them--they're a notoriously challenging instrument.

  9. I've hear that plaids are in this year. Lovely painting. It does look a little like you. My ancesters were Campbells of Argyl. I've heard that they were an agressive bunch. A very different tartan though.

  10. Once when driving through the Highlands in Scotland my family came upon our clans headquarters. Big sign with our Gaelic name. Brakes were hit, quick u-turn, and back to the museum we went. It was fascinating. But when I returned for a visit on my own many years later I couldn't find it. I'm now convinced my ancestors came from Brigadoon and we were just lucky to come upon the place during that brief time it was visible.

  11. My son got married in Scotland the end of May and several men wore their kilts to the wedding. Then we went on to Edinburgh for a few days and saw kilts and tartan often. They are very very proud of their tartan plaids.

  12. Maybe that portrait is from one of your past lives.

  13. my college color was plaid or tartan...and boy do i love the bag pipes!

  14. When I was in scotland a couple years ago I bought the Murray tartan, my maiden name, only to find out that I should have bought the tartan belonging to my paternal grandmothers clan (or something to that effect). Unfortunately I never did find it, but I still wear the Murray tartan (in the form of a scarf) with pride. I'm not going to be thrown in Wentworth prison or anything, am I??

  15. Pamela, she does look great here at the manor. Thanks for letting me borrow her!

  16. Tattered, I think some of my illusive ancestors were Brigadoon and that's why I'm having a hard time tracing them!

  17. Hey! I didn't know about the tartans being territorial( I assumed they were clan based ). I stand corrected and updated. Thanks Willow! And you're right, there is a distinct resemblence...

  18. Lovely portrait! And i do see the likeness. I don't know the tartan ... I'm Stuart of Bute. But I love all of the tartans.

    Thank you for the wonderful history, Willow!

  19. The-Man-Of-The-House has both Macleod & Fraser tartans at his ancestral disposal Willow. Never one to make a decision he wants a half & half kilt to cover all bases. However your comment about swearing allegiance to only one Clan will put a stop to that. You are lucky that WT is proficient on the bagpipes - as MOTH can only play the piano accordion, the sight of all 6'7" of him roaming our property in his kilt, tinkling the accordion ivories & scaring the poor koalas right out of their trees, doesn't bear thinking about!
    Millie ^_^

  20. Wow, that picture really does look like you! I, on the other hand, look more like the woman in your last posting. I loved reading about the Tartans. My husbands ancestors - Dunbar- have a family tartan. I love everything Scot, but have none of the blood myself.

  21. major stuff these tartans - I'll pay more attention now that you've given such wonderful information on them - very interesting - thanks Willow :)

  22. Though Lockridge is a Scottish name, I have yet to find a tartan associated. Not to be completely at a loss, I have the destinction of being a U.S. Army veteran. The Army has a tartan, and by virtue of that I do as well.

    Should I have the courage to wear a kilt I would probably go with a utilikilt. The courage would be to face my wife, who does not find the idea appealing. Utilikilts are a bit more affordable than a seven yard, and much less formal.


  23. That's spooky Willow! She does look a lot like you! What a romantic looking woman! Don't you feel tempted to write her story out? xx

  24. Lovely bit of tartan history.

    The portrait is more than hauntingly similar to your profile picture.

    Your tartan fabric will be beautiful as a shawl.

    Clan? Ooooh, much fodder here... Clan memory moments, those fleeting times when we BELONG in a group, when the individuals don't matter, when stinky or sweet, we are a clan. Now that is a subject of interest to me!

  25. I loved your post. When I was child we played with tartans (italian carnival). It's in my heart :D

  26. What a fascinating post. I love tartans. And I would wear mine with pride and the Scottish way, no knickers on! :-D

    That blue tartan is a beautiful and it would look magnificent as a scarf.

    Great post.

    Greetings from London.

  27. The painting certainly does have a mesmerising quality about it, doesn't it? A rather mesmerising development from it, too, I thought.

  28. She does look remarkably familiar - oh! Yes! You two have very similar bone structure - and the same lovely smile.

    I know nothing of tartans, only that my heritage includes McGillicuty bloodlines.

    Wonderful and informative post, as per usual :)

    I also love the painting in your previous post. Is it contemporary? I don't recognize it, though it reminds me of Childe Hassam or Berthe Morisot.

  29. "Gee, wonder what
    happens if you wear an erroneous tartan?"

    I can answer that one. A man wearing a kilt and green tights with house slippers, reeking of onions, drunk as a lord at 8:00 a.m. on the Tube will get in your face and read you the riot act while your fellow commuters dive deep into their newspapers and pretend not to notice.

  30. Willow,
    Traditionally, a woman wears her tartan as a sash across a white dress. Men wear a kilt. Women aren't supposed to wear kilts. Only the very loyal traditionalists still cling to this old Scottish custom. Do you know where this picture of this woman wearing this tartan originated? Pamela had no reference on her blog site. It looks like a picture that might have come out of the Ladies Home Journal or something. The tartan looks like a more modern tartan in its lines and colour tones. Older tartans tend to have closer thinner lines and more vivid, true colours. Having said this, the best match I could make was to the "Flower of Scotland" tartan named after the song. There are companies in Scotland now creating new tartan designs inspired by traditional clan tartans and there was even a tartan designed specifically for a movie presented at Cannes this past spring, 2009. This is a lovely portrait, the lady does look like you, could she be Grandma Depp? . When I pull myself away from this mesmerizing blog, I will find my stored away tartans to wear this fall. Thank you and Pamela for sharing.

  31. I think making it into scarf is a lovely idea! Until then, it looks great on your dress form!

  32. wonderful post!

    when I first saw the photo of the painting I though it was you....or at least of some artist friend who did a rendering of you in some bygone era.

    have you read alexander mccall smith's scotland books? I believe it was in the last scotland street book (or maybe it was the isabel book) there was a character who had his (or her) panties in a bunch when someone was wearing a tartan not of his clan.... was a minor bit, so don't remember much other than chuckling which I do throughout the scotland books - especially the scotland street series!

  33. your tartan is very pretty. i too love winter clothes the best. they seem so much more substantial, you get "more' for the money.

    Are the bloggers a clan? Can we design a blogger tartan. or would we be arrested for faking it?

  34. Suki, I think a blogger clan tartan is a great idea!!!

  35. All three, you, the lady plus tartan are very pretty! :)

    I am impressed that you noticed me joining with all those followers you have.

    Thanks for that!

  36. Interesting willow because today, quite unsolicited I had a brochure through the post full of tartan kilts, trousers, waistcoats etc. absolutely lovely they were too - it must be very much in fashion for the coming winter.

  37. There are some 800 year old fragments of woolen fabrics in plaid patterns. And wool twill fabrics in plaid designs in blue dyes and dating to 720 B.C. were found on mummies in China's Tarim Basin.(The oldest cashmere fabric was found with these mummies.) These fabrics are documented in Elizabeth Barber's books. Interesting info about these and other fabrics and Barber's books is easy to find on-line.

  38. I am not an expert on tartans. Is it a sin to call these patterns "plaid?" I got some of those.

  39. i see the resemblance between you and the lady in the painting, willow. i actually expected this post to be about a relative of yours when i first saw the photo.

    my maternal great grandfather was scottish, surname mclear. i must confess that i know nothing about his clan or tartan, though.

  40. Wow, Willow this is so traditionally cool. Good for you for maintaining clan affiliations and researching your ancestry.

  41. Last year I snuggled up with the wrong tartan. And the Plaid Police showed up. Almost as strict as the Spanish Inquisition!

  42. The tartan in the painting reminds me of my Catholic high school uniform! I loved the colors in it. I remember the first kilt I made with wool, and it sounded so easy, but I had to match all those plaids...yikes. It took me forever, but it was beautiful when it was done. Wonder what the heck ever happened to that darned thing...

  43. Watch out, Abe! Lyn says the Plaid Police might nab ya!!

  44. "The notion of belonging to a tribe, for me conjures feelings of warm pride and connectedness. The word "clan", in its original sense
    referred to a kindred group."

    love this and this definition could apply to so many different groups besides family - interesting to know this def.

  45. I love that you have a tartan book, Willow.

    That painting really does belong to the spirit/style of your blog.

  46. well, dear willow, you have definitely found your spiritsister - the image of you!!!

    wonderful wonderful post - very near and dear to my little tartan heritage!

  47. What happens if you wear a tartan you have no right to? Simple. The clan represented by that tartan come and raze your land and start a feud that continues to this very day.
    Thanks for the history lesson!

  48. Why Willow, you'd be tossed into the deepest dungeon if you wore the wrong tartan! I'll check a book we have to see if I can identify it but some patterns are not real tartans. It is amazing how many variations can be produced just by varying the order of the same colours.

  49. Lovely tartan but don;t recognize it. My family has a fantastic tartan, I have to say. It's gorgeous. I never wear it though. I'd love to have a snugly warm blanket of it though--perfect for Xmas.

    If you don't don allegiance, you don't don clothes at all! And in Scotland no less--very harsh indeed! :)

  50. What a wonderful post and such a lovely painting...My English ancestor, William Justice, came to America in the 1600's. His family came from Clan Buchanan and his wife was Mary Moore from Ireland. My mother's family hails from Ireland, England, Wales, and France.. Ah, the Celt in me is loving all the wonderful bloggy tributes to tartans, tweeds, and scarves:->Welcome Autumn, indeed!

  51. i love the j.s.sargeant portrait on the wall by the tartan plaid.


  52. The tartan is McLeod of Harris, and it has been suggested at that the lady is Joan Walter, youngest daughter of the late Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod and grandmother of the present MacLeod clan Chief. If this is indeed who it is, she was certainly well-connected for such a regal bearing: Queen Elizabeth II attended her son's coming-of-age party.

    Clearly, the portrait captured the imagination of some of the XMTS participants there as much as it did you and your patrons here.

  53. Rex, thank you very much for identifying our lovely tartaned mystery lady. Very interesting, indeed!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)