Tartan is a word that means “a patterned cloth consisting of criss=crossed, horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors”. Tartans were first made of woven wool, but are made of several other materials. Tartan is the traditional, regional dress of the Highlands and Isles of Scotland. However, it was not always so. Weavers in villages made clothes for the people with whatever wool was available. The ancient Highland dress was a loose garment made up of about 18 feet of double tartan. The old Highland looms could only weave a maximum width of 25 to 30 inches. The first mention of tartan in Scotland was in 1538. There was no connection to clans or districts.
In the beginning, Highlanders used only the natural shades of sheep’s wool –black, brown, or white in the design of tartan cloth. Later, they used a range of leaves, berries, bark, and lichens as natural dyes to develop cloth patterns.
By the 13th century the clans had grown from roots in the Highlands of Scotland. A Scottish clan is a kinship group among Scottish people who had allegiance to one chief. Clans give a sense of shared identity and descent to members. In modern times, clans have an official structure recognized by the Court of Lord Lyon, which regulates Scottish heraldry and coat of arms.The clans lived off the land with cattle being their main source of wealth.
There were border disputes which led to inter-clan unrest. The oldest clan in Scotland is Clan Donnachaidh, also known as Clan Robertson dating back to the Royal House of Atholl. Members of this House held the Scottish throne during the 11th and 12th centuries. The oldest known tartan design is a black and white check, the Northumbria or Border tartan. The highlight of tartan was highlighted by a visit of George IV to Edinburgh. All were encouraged to dress in their tartans.
The Highlands of Scotland include the northwestern mainland counties of Sutherland, Ross, Cromarty, Inverness, and Argyll. The main island groups are the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides in the west of Scotland and Orkney and Shetland to the north.