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  1. #1
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    The end of traditional tartan - a personal view

    Bit of a provocative heading I know but I was struck by a discussion I had yesterday with a couple of our biggest (Scottish owned) weavers about the commercial pressures on the industry. This is not a new phenomenon and is a result of the commercial need to improve production at the same time when the older looms are reaching the end of their practical life and are increasingly being replaced by modern power looms.

    The main difference in the cloth that these modern looms produce is the ‘so-called’ tuck selvedge which is in fact a misnomer and this type of finish is actually a glued hem. For many people they won’t notice the difference and indeed it will become increasingly difficult for them to do so because I believe that Scottish cloth with a true selvedge (self-edge) is likely to disappear in the next 20 years or so. So what some may ask. Well this means that the ability to recreate old techniques such as herringbone selvedges along with selvedge marks and patterns – see here for an explanation of the differences, will disappear. And that should worry everyone with an interest in the history of tartan. In an age where, conversely, re-enactors and historians are interested in more faithful reproductions of older techniques the commercial pressures mean that these will become harder and harder to find.

    All is not lost of course. There will be older looms in the likes India and China or even in England (there's said to more tartan woven in Yorkshire than the whole of Scotland) that will still be around for years and so you will still be able to get traditional Scottish tartan there.

    Now here’s a thought. Are we partially responsible for this situation by our tendency to want more than one or two kilts? The Nissan verses the Rolls Royce is not a completely accurate comparison but nicely illustrates the differences between mass production and bespoke. So next time you’re thinking about a kilt just give a thought to preserving the past and at least consider asking for cloth with a real selvedge. Even better, support a hand weaver (if you can find one).

    Cuimhnichibh air na daoine o'n d' thainig sibh.


  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by figheadair View Post
    Even better, support a hand weaver (if you can find one).
    This should help: http://www.camillavalleyfarm.com/oth...vingguilds.htm

    As the spouse of an amateur handweaver, I'd say that many handweavers would enjoy the challenge of weaving custom tartan, but the result will be different from the product of a commercial mill. It may take a lot of discussion to be sure that both parties know what to expect in terms of weight, hand, color, selvedge, etc.

  3. #3
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    I'm a little saddened that this thread received such little interest.

    I was dismayed when I found out (not so long ago) that this was the case, and if and when I do eventually get another kilt I will most certainly want it to have a true selvedge. In fact, it sounds like I'd better get a move on or I will be too late.

    It seems to me that too few people are interested in quality and tradition and the internet does not help the situation because so many items are bought without having been seen or touched 'in the flesh' first. Price becomes the dominant force and so the downward spiral begins.

    Personally, I don't need ten kilts, I need one, or at most two. I don't need ten belts, I need one. I don't need ten sporrans, I need two or three. I save up and I buy the best, or at least try to, and take great pleasure in the look, feel, and durability of the quality products that I buy.

    My last kilt, now too small for me, has a true selvedge, from the days not so long ago when that was just what you got. My current kilt has a tuck selvedge, unfortunately. My next kilt will have a true selvedge, if at all possible.

    But, you might say, my current kilt is a high quality 16oz wool kilt, what's wrong with that? Well so it is, but if you look at the pictures I have posted elsewhere on this forum you can actually see the tuck selvedge, and that to me isn't good enough. I'd rather be able to see a herringbone selvedge instead.

    Hmm, maybe a hand weaver is the way to go...

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  5. #4
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    Could a list be "assembled" of weavers who do provide a traditional selvedge, in the interest of edifying the rabble? I, for one, don't plan on buying that many kilts in my lifetime, but I'd prefer to support those who maintain a traditional approach.

    Cheers,

    Cameron
    I can't understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I'm frightened by old ones. John Cage

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  7. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by figheadair View Post
    Cuimhnichibh air na daoine o'n d' thainig sibh.
    'S gu bràth mi dhith cha dhì- chuimhnich

    Quote Originally Posted by Calgacus View Post
    I'm a little saddened that this thread received such little interest.

    I was dismayed when I found out (not so long ago) that this was the case, and if and when I do eventually get another kilt I will most certainly want it to have a true selvedge. In fact, it sounds like I'd better get a move on or I will be too late.

    It seems to me that too few people are interested in quality and tradition and the internet does not help the situation because so many items are bought without having been seen or touched 'in the flesh' first. Price becomes the dominant force and so the downward spiral begins.

    Personally, I don't need ten kilts, I need one, or at most two. I don't need ten belts, I need one. I don't need ten sporrans, I need two or three. I save up and I buy the best, or at least try to, and take great pleasure in the look, feel, and durability of the quality products that I buy.

    My last kilt, now too small for me, has a true selvedge, from the days not so long ago when that was just what you got. My current kilt has a tuck selvedge, unfortunately. My next kilt will have a true selvedge, if at all possible.

    But, you might say, my current kilt is a high quality 16oz wool kilt, what's wrong with that? Well so it is, but if you look at the pictures I have posted elsewhere on this forum you can actually see the tuck selvedge, and that to me isn't good enough. I'd rather be able to see a herringbone selvedge instead.

    Hmm, maybe a hand weaver is the way to go...
    I agree 100% that one doesn't need more than one kilt and I got along just fine with just one for almost 20 years. I now have four, but they are all traditional, hand sewn wool kilts with a proper woven selvedge. (EDIT: or so I thought, now I have to check!)

    I don't see how supporting an industry can lead to its demise.

    I am dismayed to see that this wonderful heritage craft is under threat because of the desire to produce more wool, faster to meet a global demand. I would also note that machine sewn wool kilts are becoming more popular and I know many would rather spend $250 on a wool kilt than $800 considering that you have to get pretty up close and personal to see the top stitching.

    The idea of producing more fabric and garments faster and cheaper is certainly not unique to the tartan industry. This industrialization mentality permeates the entire global textiles industry. The bespoke tartan kilt has been a hold out from a bygone era.

    As a traditionalist, I am truly saddened by the potential for these wonderful arts to be lost. That said, for my parents' generation in Cape Breton, a kilt was something that many people "wished they could afford". A Prince Charlie coatee alone used to cost $1500. The boom in production and lower quality import garments at the low end of the market, along with internet classified ads, have forced the high quality garments to come down from the stratosphere in terms of price since producers no longer benefit from being part of an oligopoly.

    This situation is indeed lamentable in some ways, but perhaps there is an opportunity for the savvy commercial mill that doesn't change over its looms and is able to market itself as "the only commercial weaver of traditional tartan left in Scotland".

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Peter.

    Calgacus: None of my kilts have glued hems as far as I know but I'll photograph the selvedges so someone more knowledgable than I can tell me if they pass muster.
    Last edited by Nathan; 20th May 14 at 07:56 PM.
    Natan Easbaig Mac Dhòmhnaill, FSA Scot
    High Commissioner, Clan Donald Canada
    “Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland, And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides.” - The Canadian Boat Song.

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  9. #6
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    I must have missed this thread when it was first posted. But I fully agree with it.

    Honestly, I think it comes down to education and public knowledge. 99% of kilt wearers have no clue about selvedges, or why they matter. They don't know the difference between a modern loom and a traditional loom. To them, tartan is tartan. People are starting to understand the difference in weights of tartan cloth, but they really haven't been told about the finer points of traditional tartan weaving.

    I believe that there are enough people out there who appreciate tradition to keep traditional tartan weaving going. But they need to be told about it.

    Isn't DC Dalgliesh one of the mills that still does a traditional 'correct' selvedge? As I read their description, it sounds like it. Please let me know if this is true. (I do have a kilt made from their cloth, done in double-width, with several extra yards for future purposes.) I know that the selvedge looks different on this cloth than it does on my kilt made from Lochcarron cloth.

  10. The Following User Says 'Aye' to Tobus For This Useful Post:


  11. #7
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    Hi Tobus,

    Yes, Dalgleish weave a true selvedge whereas Lochcarron is tuck.

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  13. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Calgacus View Post
    Hi Tobus,

    Yes, Dalgleish weave a true selvedge whereas Lochcarron is tuck.
    Correct. I also have a kilt in the Macpherson Hunting (modern colour scheme) tartan from House of Edgar's Old and Rare (Heavyweight) range and it has a traditional selvedge. I have owned kilts made from Lochcarron Strome fabric and you can see the difference in the selvedge versus tartan from D.C. Dalgliesh, as well as House of Edgar.

    House of Edgar


    D.C. Dalgliesh
    Last edited by creagdhubh; 20th May 14 at 06:36 AM.

  14. #9
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    As long as there is still someone, somewhere making 8 yd 16 oz wool tartan kilts.
    Unemployment is not working!

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  16. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCAC View Post
    As long as there is still someone, somewhere making 8 yd 16 oz wool tartan kilts.
    Fair enough!

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