Sett – refers to the number of yarns of each colour used, the sett is the identifying sequence of each individual tartan pattern. The simplest setts are for the Macgregor tartan- also known as the Rob Roy which features equal bands of red and black. This is in stark contrast to the Ogillvie of Airlie tartan which has 182 colour changes. Early tartan production Items such as blankets, shawls and wraps were hand -made, woven by women in their homes. Those who had the means would occasionally make use of travelling weavers who would take on specific commissions. In such instances those commissioning the order would provide their own wool which they had dyed themselves. The old handlooms used by weavers produced cloth of around three feet, to achieve the desired length sections were then sewn together to produce larger section of cloth. Up until the eighteenth century wool from a now extinct variety of sheep was used, these sheep shed their wool which could then be gathered and spun. During the reign of Queen Victoria the monarch instituted the importation of softer Saxony wool as she felt traditional wool would make tartan which was too rough for use of Highland regiments – she was of course interested in stronger trading relationships with Germany. Today much of the wool used in the production of tartan comes from varieties of sheep originally from New Zealand and Australia The waulking of the cloth is a process that has received much attention as it captures a different style of life and community. Once the cloth had been woven it was soaked in an alkaline solution and beaten by the local women using their hands and feet. Around ten women would participate and during the proves to keep the momentum going the women sung special waulking songs, these had different tempos slow and fast depending on the stage of the process.


The Act of proscription – The Disarming Act of 1746 is the most significant event to take place in the history of tartan. Under the act the wearing of tartan was banned. Following the lifting of the ban in 1782 and the reintroduction of tartan was transformed. It changes from being a poor man’s cloth worn in the Highlands to a sought after ad fashionable material which became popular throughout Scotland. At the dame time its manufacture changes from hand made to manufactured in the newly established factories – which helped to keep up with demand. Early tartan colours were created using locally available materials such as vegetable skins, plants and minerals – popular were bracken, heather, onion skins and myrtle. Iron and copper were then used to fix the dye. From the end of the seventeenth century, particularly wealthier members of society natural dyes were supplemented by the use of imported dyes from India and the Americas. These were used particularly when creating blues and reds which were particularly hard to achieve using natural materials.