What is Tartan?

Commonly referred to as “plaid,” a tartan is a unique design of colored stripes running in both the warp and weft (vertical and horizontal) of the cloth, to create a pleasing pattern of both solid colors and “half tones” where two colors cross.  Tartan designs have long been a traditional part of Scottish Highland clothing.  Over the past two centuries, tartans have been used symbolically, with named tartans being worn to show affiliation with a particular family, group, or place.  Most people are aware of clan tartans, worn to show your descent from one of the great Scottish clans, such as MacDonald, MacGregor, Stewart, Wallace, Murray or MacLeod (to name but a few).  However, tartans have also been named for places.

Some of these district tartans are older even than the well known clan tartans.  The tartan for the city of Aberdeen, for instance, can be documented to 1794.  People wear district tartans to show where they are from, where they currently reside, or their ancestral place of origin.  There are district tartans for many cities, shires, and regions in Scotland, but with the mass migration of Scots abroad, the tradition of district tartans has spread across the Atlantic.  Every a Canadian Province has a tartan affiliated with it. 

Designed in 1981, the Carolina tartan was the second state tartan to be designed following Maine.  Today, over half of the states in the US have tartans that have been officially adopted by their state’s government.

The Carolina tartan is the official tartan for the states of North and South Carolina.  Both states have passed legislation formally adopting this tartan as a state symbol, NC in 1991 & SC in 2002.

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