THE SCOTTISH REGISTER OF TARTANS – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Q - What is tartan?
A - For the purposes of the Register, the definition of 'tartan' is that contained within the Scottish Register of Tartans Act (2008) Section 2: 'A tartan is a design which is capable of being woven consisting of two or more alternating coloured stripes which combine vertically and horizontally to form a repeated chequered pattern.' The tartan pattern is traditionally known as the sett of the tartan.
James D Scarlett, tartan historian and designer, described tartan as 'an art form in which the artist-weaver manipulates a limited range of colours to produce designs of squares and rectangles.' (James D Scarlett 'Tartan the Highland Textile' 1990)
The basis of any tartan is a simple two-colour check to which the designer adds over-checks, bands and stripes in contrasting colours. These should be arranged to result in a balanced and harmonious pattern. Where two stripes of the same colour cross, a block of solid colour is formed. Where different colours cross, the two colours are mixed in equal proportions to create a new colour. Ideally, neither colour should 'swamp' the other; the two together should make a new intermediate shade.
A tartan pattern is a geometric design, made up of blocks of solid colour which join on the diagonal, radiating across the fabric like spokes, and with each block of solid colour surrounded by blocks of mixed colours.
Historically tartan was the everyday wear of Highlanders, spun, dyed, woven and fashioned locally. Wealthy families were able to afford brighter fabrics coloured with imported dyes and fashionably tailored.
In the eighteenth century the association of tartan with the Jacobites (considered outlaws and rebels by the British government) led to its proscription in the Highlands from 1747 to 1782. During this period tartan was worn in the lowlands of Scotland, often as a political statement. It was also popularised across the world as the uniform of the Highland regiments.
The end of proscription and the new romantic re-interpretation of Scottish history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries led to the popularisation of ‘Highland Dress’, as worn by King George IV during his visit to Scotland in 1822 and promoted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Nowadays tartan is worn all over the world (not just by Scots), and is regularly seen on catwalks and in designer collections.
Q - How do I identify a specific tartan?
A - For further information about the identification of a specific tartan, please contact the Scottish Tartans Authority via their website Scottish Tartans Authority website
Q – Is there a specific tartan for my name?
A – There is not a tartan for every name, even though that name may be Scottish. There are tartans for the Scottish Clans and their septs (associated families), for some lowland families and for geographical districts.
Q – Which tartan should I wear?
A – Traditionally people wear the tartan (if any) which relates to their surname. If there is no appropriate name tartan, look for a district tartan connected to the area where your ancestors lived. There are also a number of tartans which have been designed for anyone to wear – ask your outfitter to show you the range.
Please note that the Scottish Register of Tartans does not hold a list of kilt hire companies.
Search the Tartan Register for your surname, using the quick tartan search box on the homepage . If there are no results for your name, think about alternative spellings and search for those. If you are still unsuccessful then there may not be a tartan for your name.
There are no laws about which tartan you may wear, just traditions, so choose a design that you like and wear it with pride!
For further information about the history of tartan, please visit the Scottish Tartans Authority website
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Q – Where can I buy a particular tartan or tartan products?
A – The Scottish Register of Tartans does not produce or retail any tartan or tartan products and we cannot recommend any supplier or retailer.
Please visit the links to Scottish Designers, many of which also retail tartan.
If you are searching for a particular tartan, you may wish to contact the Scottish Tartans Authority which maintains a database of which companies produce which designs.
Q – Who can help me design my own tartan?
A – There are lots of designers in Scotland who will be very happy to help you design your tartan. Some Scottish companies are listed on the Tartan Register on the links page
Q – Where can I get my tartan woven?
A – There are lots of weavers in Scotland who will be very happy to weave your tartan for you.
We suggest that you search the internet for suitable companies or contact the Scottish Tartans Authority
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Q – How do I register a tartan?
A – Specific guidance on registering a tartan is available on the Scottish Register of Tartans website on the Guidance pages
You will need to set up a user-account with the Scottish Register of Tartans before starting. In order to complete the application form, you will need to have the threadcount for your tartan, a colour photograph or image of it and a proposed name.
The fee for applying to register a tartan is £70. This fee is not subject to VAT and is not refundable.
Q – What do I call my tartan?
A – The name of your tartan has to be unique to the Scottish Register of Tartans – you can search the Register online to check whether your proposed name has already been used.
You need to choose a name that you have the authority to use i.e. it needs to be your name and not someone else’s name. If you are using a corporate or institutional name or someone else’s personal name, then you will be asked to provide evidence that they have agreed to the application.
If you choose a name that is likely to give the impression that the tartan is connected in some way to the Scottish administration, Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom or any local or international authority or Government, then you will be asked to provide evidence that they have agreed to the application. Evidence can be provided by a signed letter on headed notepaper or official email.
A new clan tartan must be approved by the clan chief.
If we have any questions about the name of your proposed tartan, we will contact you.
Further guidance on naming your tartan can be found on the Tartan name guidance page
Q – How do I know that my design is unique?
A – When you submit your application to register your tartan design you will be asked to supply a threadcount which will be compared against the threadcounts of designs already registered on the Scottish Register of Tartans. The threadcount must be unique and also sufficiently different to any other design on the Register that it cannot be easily confused.
You can compare your design before submitting an application by using the compare designs facility on the Tartan Register website on the Search Designs page.
Please note that it is very difficult to 'teach' a computer how to identify tartans which are too similar to each other. Therefore, although we encourage you to use the 'compare designs' facility before submitting the application to register your tartan, we may still find that your design is not 'sufficiently different' to all others already recorded when processing your application.
If your design appears to be too similar to a tartan already registered, we will contact you to discuss how it might be changed.
Further guidance on what makes a tartan design unique and “sufficiently different” is available on the Tartan Register website on the Unique and 'sufficiently different' designs guidance page
Q – What is a threadcount?
The threadcount indicates the number of stripes of the warp and weft in sequence and the number of threads in each stripe. It has been described as the DNA of a tartan.
The threadcount is usually provided as a series of capital letters and numbers. Each capital letter represents a colour and the number beside each letter dictates the precise number of threads required so that the weaver can set up the loom accurately.
The designer of your tartan should be able to provide you with a threadcount or a weaver’s ticket. A threadcount can also be taken from a woven sample, providing it is large enough to show the full pattern.
Your application must include the threadcount for your tartan otherwise it will be refused.
Further information on the threadcount can be found on the Threadcount guidance page
Q – What is the rationale/description of a tartan?
A – Many new tartans are designed for a particular purpose and use colours that are meaningful to the designer in some way. The rationale or description explains the reason for the design, the choice of colours and what they represent (if anything).
Q – If I am not the designer of a tartan, what should I do?
A – If you are not the designer of the tartan, you must provide the Keeper with evidence that he/she is happy for their name to appear on the Register as the designer of the tartan.
Q – Does registration of my tartan provide copyright protection?
A – Copyright is not devolved to Scotland and therefore, inclusion of your tartan on the Tartan Register does not protect your intellectual property rights.
For information on copyright and design right or to register a design right, please visit the UK Intellectual Property Office
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Q – Which clan does my surname belong to?
A – The Clan/Family category is reserved for historic Scottish clans and families as recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Your tartan can only be registered as a Clan/Family tartan if it recognised in such a way.
Q – Can you advise me about my Scottish family history?
A – If you query relates to Scottish family history, you should contact Scotlands People
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