Sunday, January 24, 2016

What's in a Name? Plaid versus Tartan

Mad for Plaid

I recently read an article written by Leanne Italie for the Associated Press entitled “For the Love of Plaid”.  In her article, Italie describes the focusing of this pattern not only for apparel and footwear, but also as a newly emerging design trend for home furnishings.

This has led me to address several questions I had received regarding the distinction between the designation “plaid” and “tartan”, following my blog “Tartan, Plaid By Any Other Name”, Mar, 15 2015.

So I have gathered my dictionary and textile encyclopedias in an effort to resolve this issue.  The results were not at all definitive. 

1.  Webster’s New World Dictionary:    Plaid: (gallic plaide) : a long piece of twilled woolen cloth with a checkered or crossbar pattern worn over the shoulder by Scottish highlanders.                                                                                           Tartan: a woolen cloth with a woven pattern of straightlines with different colors and widths crossing at right angles, worn in the Scottish highlands.

2. Callaway Textile Dictionary:   Plaid: a pattern consisting of colored stripes or bars crossing each other at right angles, similar to a Scottish  tartan.
                                                       Tartan;  a kind of woolen cloth with a 2/2 twill in checks of various colors, worn chiefly by Scottish highlanders.

3. Encyclopedia of Textiles, Judith Jerde :  Plaid:  the word plaid is used to describe a particular pattern, but in actuality it does not refer to a pattern at all but rather, to a type of highland Scottish dress.
                                                                  Tartan : a plaid fabric that originated in the Scottish highlands, derived from the Gaelic “tarstin ot tarsiun” meaning across, describing the cross stripe pattern.

4. Textile Designs, Meller and Elffers: Plaid: a box layout of stripes, usually horizontal and vertical and almost always crossing at right angles.  This reference was certainly the most thorough as there were entries for many varieties of plaid, including printed fabrics of various fibers, different colorways including black and white printed fabrics and plaid prints used for men’s shirtings.

One final definition that appeared was the definition of the word ”check”.  It seems the check pattern is applied to similar plaid patterns of fewer colors on a smaller scale.  Meller says” squared off, a plaid becomes a check”.

My opinion, and I’m sticking to this, is that the word “tartan’ can be correctly applied to woven, woolen cloth of various colorways in a pattern of intersecting stripes of varying widths.  And we musn’t forget about those Scottish highlanders.  “Plaid”, in our times, is used to refer to the pattern crated by the stripes and can be woven or printed fabric of various fiber content.  

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