Tartan fabric: What’s in a design?

Following on from the previous Tartan fabric  which questioned the special identity that tartan fabrics possess, here are snippets behind the background of a range of tartans. Some of these tartans are famously recognised and others are blessed with a meaningful context. The semiotics and connotations of especially the colours within a tartan is what really defines the design and makes each one distinct amongst the sea of stripes and squares.

Arbroatblack watch 

This tartan is nicknamed “red litchie” which is the Scottish north east coast meaning of red light. It was declared Arbroath’s tartan in 2012, designed by Steve Patrick Sim who is a Graphic designer and local of the area. It was given the seal of approval that it is unique in its particular pattern. This cloth consists of mostly a red colour which is fitting for the scenery of the sandstone landscape and the red litchie name. It also has other colours interwoven into the design such as a blue resembling the water of the Arbroath coast fishing town.


The Burberry check which was created in the 1920s and used by the well-known fashion design house who soon trademarked it as Burberry’s very own corporate tartan. Often seen used for Burberry handbags, trench coats and scarfs, it is registered as a corporate tartan but is also a fashion cloth. Even though it has no relation to Scottish heritage, it only accentuates the good taste of a well-designed tartan check.

Burberry check fashion shirt
Source: Miss Pool

Black Watch

Known as the government tartan worn by Scottish soldiers and military, it was first worn in the early 18th century by 6 highlander clans who were loyal to king George. These clans were made into companies employed by the King to tackle government rebels as a way of preventing crime and fighting, and to enforce laws. These clans included most notably the Campbell’s as well as the Grant and Fraser clans. The dark colours of the Black Watch seem to merge together, making the thin black lines within the pattern less visible. Black is thought to have been an expression for either the dark colours of the tartan, the tackle against black mail or referring to the ‘black hearts’ of the government companies. Watch is likely to stand for watching over the highlands. You may notice that the early version of the black watch tartan uses lighter shades of the colours compared to the darker shades used now.

Black watch tartan check coat
Source: Tumblr- Crush Cul de Sac


Falkirk is one of the earliest found examples of Scottish cloth. The original cloth (shown below) was found in a pot amongst Roman coins. It is an early form of tartan and as you can see the fabric and yarns are much thicker than they are now, yet it still has a recognisable check pattern. The modern version of this tartan is designed by Jim McGeorge who used various colours to represent the Falkirk area but kept a base brown colour from the colouration of the original cloth.

Falkirk tartan cloth
Source: Blogger: Hobby Hawk Hobbies

Remember the Somme

This is a special kind of tartan for the reason that it was made official in 2014 as one way of paying tribute to the Battle of the Somme 100th anniversary. In the same way that other tartans do, colour is used to symbolise relevant scenery and feelings. For this Remember the Somme tartan, the dark blue colour is for peace, the green for hope and the red symbolises the poppies in the fields. The battle of the Somme was one of the cruelest battles. Fought in world war one, it lasted 5 months and over 1 million were killed.

Remember the Somme tartan anniversary
Source: Tartan Register


Balmoral is known as the official royal tartan designed by queen Victoria’s husband (Prince Albert) in 1853 and is named after her highland home, the Balmoral castle, in Scotland. Under Queen Victoria’s rein, traditional Scottish culture became very fashionable. Classed as a restricted tartan, today Balmoral can still only be worn with the queen’s permission, therefore you won’t find it for sale on the market as it is only allowed to be worn by the queen and those who she approves.

Balmoral royal tartan check
Source: The Royal Post

Find all Tartan fabric here

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