Questions and Answers about tartan

  • Single thread in thread count
  • Are Bells a Sept of MacMillan
  • Where can I get Tulsa District Tartan
  • Who gives legal authority for new tartan
  • Is there a Blackwatch Clan
  • Q

    From: cardienb <>
    Subject: Thread count
    Date: 06 February 1998 00:55

    > The Province of Ontario are passing legislation to Authorize a Tartan for
    > the Province. Looking at the thread count I discovered that they have some
    > odd numbers, some only having a count of one. Thinking that an odd number
    > was unusual, I checked my book on District Tartans by Gordon Teall of
    > Teallach and found in the glossary(page 260) under ...ENDS " the thread
    > ends in each colour stripe. The minimum number in each stripe is two.."..In
    > the book Tartan The Highland Textile by James .D.Scarlett (page 67,) One of
    > the Balmoral setts is almost all odd numbers. As I am an amateur weaver I
    > find this a wee bit confusing to say the least!!......HELP!!! ...
    > By the way,maybe you could look at the book by Teall(Page 208) and by
    > Scarlett (page 150) for the Nova Scotia Tartan which show different counts
    > for Blue..Och it's a terrible business right enuff

    > Thanking you, Nancy Cardie.


    Dear Nancy,

    I think you are right. A real tartan must have at least two threads in a stripe. Otherwise the kilt edge (the un-hemmed bottom edge of the kilt that cuts your knee when it gets wet) would have ragged ends or long loops and would look completely wrong. However, there is a possible explanation. The thread count may have been given 'in proportion'. You, the weaver, can decide to multiply by two, or four, depending on the weight of the thread. Silk, for example, might need a factor of eight?

    The Lord Lyon Books were kept in this way, though things have changed more recently.

    The sett, woven for a kilt, should be between five and seven inches. So, if you can weave 80 threads to the inch, the thread count must add up to 400 - 560 in total (5 x 80 - 7 x 80).

    All the best,
    Blair Urquhart
    PS Yukon tartan has a yellow stripe of two threads. This creates a broken line effect which is intended to represent nuggets of gold. You can not multiply this one, but perhaps you could increase the weight of the thread...



    Subject: Are Bells a Sept of the MacMillans?
    Date: 20 March 1998

    The MacMillan situation is very simple, really. There has been a Bell Sept [of Clan MacMillan] for many years, but if you track backward, the origin of the Sept roughly coincides with a Bell group that left the Border, went to Glasgow area and then on to Argyll. There, we have proof of affiliation with the Campbells. As the MacMillan area of Argyll seems to hold many flats and stones with the Bell Coat of Arms, the same as in Border cemeteries, we surmise that part of the group affiliated with the MacMillans. The story which the Rev. Somerled MacMillan (who was a Bell who changed his name to MacMillan and had Bell relatives in Oban) foistered on the public is felt to be incorrect. Possibly there is a tie-in between the story and reality, but in our belief, the Bell Sept of MacMillan are simply demographically, displaced Border Bells. The farcicial story that Bell comes from swallowing the Gaelic ending of MacMillan is so much fluff. We lay no claims to those Bells. The choice was made years ago and stands. It is enough to know (or believe) the history of the situation. The MacMillans are fine people and we hold their Chief in the highest regard.


    PS Bells have a tartan of their own.



    Subject: Tulsa District Tartan

    Hi, Blair! Yes I was the chairman of the three-member committee that designed the Tulsa Distrtict Tartan in 1978. Chinnubbie (sp?) MacIntosh, whose father was once principal chief of the Creek Indian Nation, and Bea Notley served with me on the committee. The idea for creating a Tulsa District Tartan came from Ed Morrison, a Tulsa lawyer and president of the Scottish Club of Tulsa at that time. We worked long, hard hours and days to come up with our design. The colors were meant to represent aspects of the Tulsa (Northeastern Oklahoma) area: red for the red man, Tulsa is in what was known as Indian Territory before statehood (1907); black for the oil that brought economic prospertity to Oklahoma; blue for the rivers and lakes; and green for the lush grasslands. I have since moved from Oklahoma, however, I still call it home. Two of my children and four grandchildren live there, and so does my 90-year-old mother. I will contact others to see whether there is interest other than my own in having some of the tartan woven. In the meantime, let's keep in touch. Thanks for e-mailing me with further information.

    Best regards,
    Dick Crawford



    Subject: Who gives legal authority for new tartan

    Who in Scotland has the legal authority to grant recognition of a new family tartan?

    Dear John,
    The simple answer to your question about 'legal' regonition of a family tartan is no-one. (Editors Note: This changed on 5th February 2009 with the launch of the Scottish Register of Tartans at the National Archive in Edinburgh. This effectively brings the recording activities of the STA to a close, although they still maintain the cloth archive, which the National Archive declined to do.)


    The trade descriptions act (and similar legislation in other counties) would prevent the commercial use of a tartan name in certain circumstances. eg if the MacDonald Burger Chain designed a new tartan and called it MacDonald tartan.

    The Scottish Tartans Society and the Scottish Tartans Authority will both record new family tartans, if the name is not an Armiger (the name of someone with a coat of arms). If the name is associated with a coat of arms, then the Chief (or Head) of the whole name, must authorise the recording of the tartan.

    Realistically, all that is required to gain recognition for a new design, is to publish it in some form with a date. Copyright is then established and you could legally challenge anyone who copied your design.

    There is a grey area between design and manufacture. It could be said that a tartan design does not exist until the threads are actually interwoven, and that it is the act of weaving that creates the legal entity. In this case, a design patent could be taken out to ensure legal recognition of the new tartan. This is the usual procedure for manufacturers who wish to develop new tartans for commercial reasons.

    Blair Urquhart



    Subject: Is there a Blackwatch Clan?

    > From: Rob & Edie Looper 
    > To:
    > Subject: Blackwatch Clan
    > Date: Thursday 18 June 1998
    > I am a police
    > officer here in the Dallas area of Texas; I had a sergeant about 10 years
    > ago tell me that police in the States were made honorary members of the
    > Blackwatch Clan.  Is this correct?  I've never heard anymore about it, ...
    > Thanks for your help.
    > Rob & Edie Looper

    Dear Rob,
    Fraid there is not such thing as the Blackwatch Clan - at least not in Scottish history. I suppose it is possible that a 'Blackwatch Clan' could have been formed in the States, but I do not have any knowledge of it.

    The historical 'Blackwatch' in Scotland was a kind of police force. After the 1715 rebellion, there was a lot of political unrest, caused by the Jacobites and their opponents. The 'Blackwatch' (Black also means secret or hidden in Gaelic) was formed as an 'anti-terrorist' squad around 1724 and became a military regiment in 1739. The tartan, which has no identifying coloured stripes, could be worn by members of any clan. The idea that a police force would show no preference to any tribal group, is still relevant today - so I would say it is a good choice.

    I would be interested to hear, if there is such an organization as the Blackwatch Clan in the States, and whether it has any official recognition.

    Ed Note: There is still no answer in 2009 so I think we can safely say that no such Blackwatch Clan exists.