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When does a Check become a Tartan?

All Tartans are Check patterns, but not all Check patterns are Tartans – why? 

Tartan Patterns can be broadly categorised as Family, District, Corporate, Commemorative.

Examples -

Family – Macpherson 


District – Aberlour Bicentenary 

aberlour tartan bicentenary

 Corporate – An Talla Tartan for Jacobite Cruises Ltd


 jacobite tartan cruises talla

Commemorative – Johnstons of Elgin Bicentennial 

johnstons of elgin bicentennial tartan




The development of Tartan is a living history. New tartan patterns are being designed all the time and can be registered at The Scottish Register of Tartans.


Tartan patterns are formed by a series of vertical (warp) threads laid out in a predetermined pattern or ‘sett’, crossed by horizontal (weft) threads, usually in the same pattern to form a symmetrical design. The selection of colours and sett are often based on existing Tartan Patterns. For example, one Tartan Sett can be made in different colourings; EG Dress, Hunting, Muted, Antique.


While working at Johnstons of Elgin, John designed various ranges of tartan replacing the traditional tartan colours while using the original setts.


Antique – imagining how the original colours made from vegetable dyestuffs would naturally have faded through time




Natural – replacing original colours with different depths of natural shades from ecru to dark brown


Grey – replacing original colours with different depths of grey


Autumnal – using colours inspired by the rural, autumn scenes of Scotland.


Jacobite- changing the traditional colours to a rich palette of burgundy, petrol blue, forest green, and rich tans.


Heather- introducing mixture/melange shades to produce a more rustic look. Tartan meets Tweed!



Check Patterns can follow the same rules but do not necessarily have the affiliation to family names, districts or businesses. Exceptions to this would include Burberry, Daks, and Aquascutum etc.

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