Tartan has a colourful history.
Tartan from other epochs has been found inside the ancient funereal works of Chinese Turkestan in the northern provinces of the Tarim basin at Hami in the 1200BC burials of a red haired proto-Celtic people, [Barber, EW, 2000AD]. In Scotland, however, evidence of tartan twill weavers can be traced back to the 3rd century AD, the earliest sample found in an earthenware jar full of coins near the Roman, Antonine Wall.
This tartan is called the Falkirk Sett.
It was a simple design, taking its colours from the variety of natural brown and white colourings from the wool of the indigenous Soay sheep.
The word tartan itself probably derives from the French word tiretaine that refers to a coarse blend of wool and linen, and not to the colourful Assyrian General Tartan mentioned in Isaiah XX, 1.
The Gaelic reality, however, in Scotland is that ‘tuar’ means colour and ‘tan’ means district, and despite the culture of French imports in aristocratic personnel and exotic wines, ‘tuartan’ seems a reasonable description of the regionalisations that tartan actually represented.
The pattern of an individual tartan is usually called a ‘sett’.
The name sett refers to its structure that was originally defined by the measurement of the width of each stripe.
More recently precisely counting the threads and creating a numerical index have replaced this method.
Most setts are symmetrical. Each series of stripes is reversed around a central stripe, known as a pivot. The blocks of pattern are then regularly repeated throughout the entire design. Sometimes asymmetrical tartans are produced and, also, the sequence of stripes on the loom’s warp threads (lengthwise) and weft (cross threads) can be different and this also affects the symmetrical appearance of the design.
Additionally, tartan colours can be ‘ancient’ i.e. muted and mellow from natural vegetable dyes, or ‘modern’ using chemical dyes available from the 1860’s AD.
Tartan wearing Scots have been found reposing in Bronze Age funereal works from about 1200 BC in Northern China, but that does seem to suggest for men of good taste, that the infamous Scottish diet hasn’t improved over the millennia. It appears though that they were heading east from Hallstadtt, Austria, whilst picking up some condiments from the local salt mines.
Although China does seem a rather long way to go for some good cuisine.
Although ‘bought and sold for English gold’ because there was; ‘sic a parcel O rogues in the Nation’: the Scots flew their colours into battle with the sentiments; ‘lay the proud usurper low, tyrants fall in every foe, liberty’s in every blow, let us do or die’ [Burns, R].
Ultimately betrayed by greed and driven off to battle as cannon fodder for their overlords in over three centuries of shepherding the Scots today generally still don’t make NCO when they take the King’s Shilling … that’s another ‘changeless’ tradition.
Tartan therefore has a provenance in Scotland steeped in the ‘Romance’ of endless warfare and bloodshed and was used to signify one’s roots.
It was that splash of individualistic colour that gave the Scots their unique display of pride and made them such a thorn in the side of so many contenders.
Tartan is however, part of the landscape, part of the mountains and glens, part of the waterfalls and the ferns, the bracken and the heather, the deer and the eagle, the salmon and the herring gulls, the spirit of the sea and the solan goose.
The flurry of tartan is like the crash of waves on the shores, an endless song and a whirling reel, an ageless statement from the grandeur of Earth.
Tartan is a resistance to banned surnames such as Macgregor, it is a resistance to banned bagpipes and banned tartan, it is a resistance to oppression, it is a statement of unique identity and a commitment to a family and a commune, it is a social statement, its wearing is to be the custodian of history and heritage, it is of the provenance of protector of the family and the weak.
The ‘children of the mist’ as the outlawed clan Macgregor were then referred to are like everyone who knows how it feels to be oppressed by overwhelming numbers and resources.
The people with no name, the dispossessed the resilient.
Having said that, the MacDonald’s got their revenge after the massacre of Glencoe by the Campbell’s of Argyll because once they were all eventually cleared out to make way for the sheep – they went over to America and invented the Big Mac.
Imperial cuisine has never been the same after that.
Very few younger people today would pass up a Big Mac for a plate of Campbell’s soup.
After the unpopular Act of Union with England in 1707AD which forbade there to be taxes levied unequally in any part of the Union, there was a great ‘wearing of the tartan’ as an act of protest, even in Edinburgh, but by the time Margaret Thatcher had introduced the ‘poll tax’ only in Scotland in the 1980’s, there was only late opening and Tartan Special lager in the National ‘unconsciousness’.
There just never seemed to be any need to take Independent charge of all that oil and wealth in Scottish National waters despite the shortages in hospitals and industry.
Although in the 21st Century Tartan seems to have lost its glamour in Scotland mainly due to the social, political and cultural liquidiser or blender of the new ecumenical world order – in the rest of the world it has risen beyond and perhaps surpassed the fire of its origins.
From hundreds of Highland Games in North America, and National tartan day in the States, and from; Taiwan and South Korea, Japan, to Australia and New Zealand, the glamour and romance of Tartan is alive. e.g. in India, a popular Sikh design, the Singh tartan, was commissioned in 1999 AD.
Not since the days of the writing of the highly controversial Vestiarium Scoticum (full title, Vestiarium Scoticum: from the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay. With an Introduction and Notes, by John Sobieski Stuart) which was first published by William Tait of Edinburgh in a limited edition in 1842 – where even this alleged fraud of tartan setts has largely passed into officaldom has there been such a proliferation of highly regulated and officially registered global tartan invention.
In these new tartan fusions, there are elements of geography and culture and their components and a celebration of our local origins. These ingredients go to make the act of creating a tartan a display of cultural strength and unity.
e.g. the New York City Tartan took pale blue from the Hudson River, azure from Scotland’s saltire, green to represent the countryside, red for a local charity and black for the 9.11 victims.
Mankind therefore was at perfect liberty to successfully; rationalise, compile, register and present new tartans for a whole new era and global vision of Scotland and mankind.
‘For a’ that and a’ that’, despite the reservations of Dynastic considerations and its attendant ‘dignities and a’ that’, man to man the world o’er could be wearing their own tartans for a’ that …
Traditional Tartan can be many colours, shades, colour palettes and designs. It can be woven of many fabrics.
It can also be made into colourful patchwork and artistically integrated with other textures and textiles in clothing. Traditionally, there have been some very beautiful examples of that from Clothing and Costume Designers.
As a fabric though Tartan tends to be box-like or grid-like and as such it either fits into our feeling of formality or regularity with its colourful building blocks and girders or not.
The weave of a tartan with its criss-cross and ratios [Sett] of colourful lines give it its traditional multicoloured square effect.
What if instead, however, this interweave of colourful lines still took place, but in an irregular manner that integrated a greater element of design ? Perhaps Tartan can be given a more informal appeal.
Tartan has a healthy and proven global market and in this context Stella tartan or Startan is a revolutionary and new idea.
There are limitless combinations of tartan setts within limitlessly interacting geometric shapes.
The idea to do this with Traditional Scottish Tartan Setts is the idea of myself, Andrew Hennessey in [October 10th 2007].
Stella Tartan, or ‘Startan’ can be defined as;
‘An asymmetric interweave of the multicoloured stripes of a Tartan Sett. These Sett colours radiate, thicken and expand in proportion from some point or origin within various geometric many sided (polygonal) objects as they reach the circumference of the design object. When overlapped with other similar or different polygonal design objects these overlap areas form a tartan criss-cross comprised of irregularly shaped coloured polygons and design structures. i.e. A variously obtuse and irregular or [non-Traditional/ ‘non-square’ or ‘non-rectangular’], symmetrical or asymmetrical tartan weave.
The limitless combinations or recombinations of tartan setts within limitlessly overlapping and interacting geometric shapes is named Stella Tartan or Startan [acronym].
Suppose that from a central point in a for example; circular, triangular, hexagonal, stellate, crescent or other geometric design, regular or irregular; the colourful threads of the tartan Sett could radiate as if the rays of the sun to merge and interweave and overlap with other rays from other ‘starbursts’ at irregular angles.
The overlap areas, i.e. the Startan areas, of these design objects could be highly designed to be any shape.
The physical weaving of it can be simplified for example if the area where the cluster of threads that would be radiating from a central point were to be occupied in the design by a shape such as star or circle. Some of the patterns themselves though would have to be excluded from anything but complex weaving technology. Indeed we can see from e.g. The Complex Weavers Journal, a US based group that complex weaving uses e.g. Jacquard loom technology and e.g. Jacquard computer aided design CAD software by Scotweave that can calculate and construct the complex loom instructions.
The Jacquard loom of Joseph Marie Jacquard produces elaborately patterned weaves of the kind produced in Startan composition. In terms of weaving this is a mechanism which when attached to a loom gives control over the selection of the warp threads thereby enabling complex patterns to be produced. Associated with punched cards used for patterning. It is a system of weaving which, because of a pattern-making mechanism of great versatility, permits the production of very ornate, complex woven designs.
Thus, fabrics of almost any type or complexity can be made e.g. tapestry, figured necktie and dress fabric, Brocade and damask and figured patterns on knit goods (sweaters).
The overall Startan itself becomes a combination of radiating and overlapping design objects, and their outreaching coloured tartan Sett threads.
Within the overlap areas; which could be highly designed to be any shape whatsoever would be the asymmetric tartan or ‘Startan’
If the lengths of the overlapping and outreaching and intertwining asymmetric sunburst threads were themselves designed to form e.g. polygonal blocks of asymmetric tartan, or indeed other design shapes, with careful colour palette co-ordination tartan design could progress into a more informal idiom.
The busy-ness of such a design could be controlled.
By omission of some Sett colours from some of the non-overlapping areas of the design objects the end product does not have to look like a riot of radiating lines. Startan areas in design object overlaps could be carefully sculpted and blended into a bigger less busy pattern. Also the choice of scale and shape of the polygon objects is important in determining the number and complexities of the overlaps.
The sense of busy-ness can also be reduced by the choice of muted colour tartan Setts e.g. Roxburgh Ancient
The central suns of those sunbursts do not necessarily have to espouse some cultural logo or inclusion but could merely be islands of blending plain colour from the same overall palette as the tartan threads themselves.
The colour ratios of the threads or traditional Setts in these Startans however are intrinsically preserved.
There are three aspects of any Startan Pattern
1. the Monad – the unique repeated building block
2. the Shell – is one fully iterated/unfolded monad with all aspects of its symmetry assembled and displayed
3. the Net – is the ‘big picture’ – the repeating pattern of shells.
Monads are derived from traditional tartan Setts, but the choice of simple or complex multicolour traditional tartan Setts has an impact on the busy-ness and complexity of the final Startan design.
An important consideration of monad design in Startans is the way that shapes overlap.
A design strategy for monads can include an interlaced composition where all the design components are directly interpenetrated e.g. the Scythian pattern or the fragmented composition of the Blacksmith pattern.
Startan is really a modernist child of the Information Technology Age as its designs can be easily created within Computer Aided Design environments and then digitally produced and realised using widely available technologies that were unavailable to artists in Scotland 100 years ago.
Startan as a new artform and clothing idea can be seen as a complement to the more traditional and regular tartan designs.
Has the formal Staid in a Plaid world of the traditionally dour and rigid Scotsman finally taken a softer approach to textiles for the whole family in the 21st Century ?
Will a Stella tartan of the future be ladies choice for an informal night out without style gridlock ?
Stella tartan presents Traditional tartan ‘Setts’ or color ratios in a more informal, fluid and designed way.
This gives everybody the opportunity to wear Tartan without feeling that they have to be in a regimented frame of mind.
Startan patterns can have the same design complexities as those of the traditional rug designs of Persia and Asia Minor and the Far East and some Startans can take on a complex geometric paradigm e.g. the Blacksmith pattern or the Scythian pattern.
The traditional Scottish patriarch may well disagree with the design virtues of Stella tartan … but then after centuries of opportunity to produce his own informal revisions – he still doesn’t seem to appreciate the gentle side of disorder. The box girder approach to fashion and social design is maybe good for the many male engineers that Scotland is so proud of – but then women don’t always want to look like they are wearing the draft design for one of the many block houses that Scottish architects regularly turn out.
Stella tartan provides a new vehicle for a more Universal use of tartan in every kind of fashion setting.
Startan was invented on the 10th of October, 2007AD by Andrew
Hennessey of Outshore Multimedia, Edinburgh and builds on the tradition in Scottish Arts for the use of bold colour and design.
From around the start of the 20th Century, movements incorporating strong colours and geometric designs included the Celtic revival paintings of Dundee artist John Duncan 1945 and Phoebe Anna Traquair 1912 [derived from the Book of Kells] and also the interior designs and art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1928.
MacIntosh was a modernist. The main concept of the Modernist movement was to develop innovative ideas and new technology: design concerned with the present and the future, rather than with history and tradition. There were also the works of the Scottish Colourists that comprised part of this Scottish romance with colour at the start of the 20th Century.
The Scottish Colourists were four Scottish painters who in the period c.1900-14 who combined their training in France and the work of French Impressionists and Fauvists, such as Monet, Matisse and Cezanne, and applied it to the painting traditions of Scotland, creating a distinctive Scottish idiom.
They were strongly influenced by the rich colours and bold handling of recent French painting, notably Fauvism. Their work was not very highly regarded when it was first exhibited in the 1920s and 1930s, but in the late 20th Century it came to have a formative influence on contemporary Scottish art.
The Scottish Colourists leading figure was John Duncan Fergusson, who visited Paris regularly from the 1890s on and then lived there from 1907 until 1914. Other Scottish Colourists were Francis Cadell, Samuel Peploe and Leslie Hunter.
In that cultural setting therefore, there are historic precedents for the use of bold colour and design in innovative and modern ways in Scotland. Stella Tartan or Startan continues in that tradition.
THE STARTAN DESIGNS
1. The Scythian Pattern is named to commemorate the Middle Eastern origins of the Scottish people mentioned in the Declaration of Arbroath that asserted Scottish independence on April 6th, 1320, at Arbroath Abbey.
This was to convince Pope John XXII, resident in Avignon, France to acknowledge Scotland as an independent nation.
‘Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous.’
The Scythian pattern created from the Royal Stuart Sett is of the geometric idiom of many of the native rug designs of Persia and Asia Minor.
2. The Blacksmith Pattern is intended to help reclaim a historically fallen art.
Its ancient provenance is mentioned as one of the arts of artifice taught to man by Fallen Angels in Josephus Flavius, History of the Jews. Flavius was a Jewish historian born in Jerusalem in AD37
There are many North West European pagan traditions surrounding the Forge, the Smiddy and the Anvil and the Iron Age in general was a cauldron of human conflict and disease.
The association of the forge with war and disease though is one that could be revised and this new Scottish Startan revision attempts to borrow from what is good about the need to create and recreate in civilisation, celebrating our social birthright and the evolution of its tools.
3. The Cross Pattern was created from the traditional Clan MacDonald Sett and commemorates the suffering and the pilgrimage that all sons of men must take to progress beyond the boundaries of tyranny on their way to the Kingdom of Christ.
4. The Rigg Pattern named after the pattern of adjacent small fields used in native agriculture in Scotland through the Dark Ages and Medieval times is presented in the Kennedy of Lochaber (Jacobite) Sett as proclaimed at the time of the Jacobite Rising of 1745AD. Although for many in Scotland the seeds of freedom fell on stoney or acidic ground, the ongoing struggle for the harvests of freedom and plenty occupied many in Scotland and indeed still does.
5. The Battle Axe – Lochaber pattern is named after the Scottish instrument of contest during the Dark Ages. Often with out the iron and gold to make or buy swords the Scot could be very inventive. The Scottish Lochaber Axe had a long reach – and was renowned for ‘laying proud usurpers low’ in the words of Robert Burns. With its gothic and curved appearance, almost fan-like, however, something beautiful can come out of such old things in the 21st Century
This article and many colorful Startan examples can be purchased as a hard back photobook from the following URL