Black Watch Regimental
Clan Campbell Ancient


  Question : Why do some tartans have so many different color effects?
  Major tartan manufacturers have at least three color schemes and these are not necessarily the same from one manufacturer to the next. In general, there will be one color scheme of dark colors, one of lighter colors, and one of muted colors.

Modern permanent synthetic aniline dyes are capable of very dark colors. The Black Watch regimental sample above shows the dark blues and the very dark greens. This makes for a very somber tartan, and recognition may be difficult. A tartan is, after all, an instrument of recognition.

The older fadible vegetable dyes were seldom capable of producing such rich colors. When manufacturers decided to produce lighter color schemes, they called them "ancient" or "old colors." The Clan Campbell sample above shows lighter blues and lighter greens, which are more easily recognizable. The Black Watch and Campbell Ancient tartans have the same sett (pattern) and thread count. They use different colored yarns.

Tartans which have been on display in museums often have a faded, muted, or weathered look. This is due to the action of light and air working on the vegetable dyes over time. In order to reproduce this museum look, manufacturers use faded color schemes, and call them "muted" or "weathered" or "reproduction."

Braveheart Warrior Dress
Braveheart Warrior Hunting
  Dress tartan patterns were developed for evening wear and for competitive dancing. The darker ground colors were replaced by large panels of white. The ancient dress for women was called "airsaid" and the tartans used were mainly white. Modern setts, like the dress example above with added white, are called "airsaid setts."

Hunting tartan patterns were developed so that its wearer would stand out less clearly on the open hillside. The red ground colors were replaced by either brown, blue or green. The desired effect was for camouflage. The concept of hunting was related to the development of highland estates for use by the gentry. The hunting tartans carried class symbolism to a wider market.

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