Hot Skirt

tartanI don’t know what it is about tartan, but it holds an enduring appeal for me.

It is probably something to do with the associations, good and bad, that the criss crossing patterns have become inextricably linked with.

There is no doubt that it has become almost the national textile of Scotland – put a tartan pattern on something and it instantly conjures up Braveheart, bagpipes and, of course the British Monarchy.

The fact that it is a myth that a particular pattern signified belonging to a particular family or community,(Clan if you will) is well documented, but it would seem that this piece of 19th Century spin still resonates today, and indeed the acceptance of this idea can be evidenced by the Royal Stewart Tartan –  “It is appropriate for all subjects of Elizabeth II to wear the Royal Stewart tartan in much the same way that clansmen may wear the tartan of their clan chief.” 

In fact the idea of ownership of a particular sett  has become so embedded that there are even regulations for the wearing of Military” tartans in line with other regimental emblems – whether anyone would insist in the removal of a kilt in public, especially if it was being worn in true Scottish style is yet to be tested I suspect!

My first experience of wearing a kilt came when I stayed in New York some years ago.  Not being one who wears shorts I had only jeans in my backpack and NY was sweltering, making my choice of attire somewhat uncomfortable.  Rooting around in a Vintage clothing shop I found a mens Black Watch kilt and instantly purchased a most versatile garment.  That first kilt became essential for my summer wardrobe that year, at least until events in the Southern Alps of New Zealand

Along with a coach load of other backpackers I found myself stranded at Arthurs Pass due to a landslide that had blocked the road ahead. The tour organisers swiftly arranged for accommodation at a nearby campsite and , as we were stuck there for the foreseeable future, we settled down to a night of revelry. The rain was falling heavily as I made my way back from the communal hall, and by the time I reached the chalet I was soaked. Slightly inebriated, I sat down in front of the fire to dry myself. Some time later I was awoken abruptly by one of my roommates, a Spanish girl who was  shaking me.

“Your skirt” she said urgently in broken English “she is hot!”

Being disturbed from my slumber, and being groggy from the alcohol, it was not immediately apparent what had prompted this outburst  until my nostrils caught a singeing odour – the damp wool of my kilt was smouldering where it faced the electric bar fire!

In my drunken state, rather than crawl into my bed, I had curled up with my back to the fire and fallen asleep. Had I been wearing some shorts of a man made fabric no doubt I would be scarred today, but I simply patted the area down to be left with a slightly charred circle on the rear of the kilt.

That kilt stayed with me all through the duration of my backpacking but upon my return to the UK it became apparent that it was now past its best, Playing along with that 19th century piece of marketing i traced my “Clan” tartan ( allegedly my father’s ancestors were a branch of the McCarthy’s) an ordered a replacement “family” kiilt.  I wore it extensively for many years, and still do so on special occasions today.

Flying Koala Tartan inspired by BOAC livery

Judging by the number of related articles below it would seem that once again tartan is set for a revival. But before you go vainly trying to trace your celtic heritage to put (false) claim to your family sett, you might want to take a look into Scotwebs tartan designer – you can design your own individual pattern, and it may work out to be not much more than buying one off the peg if you choose to order a garment made with it. Failing that, the Designer app is quite cool for producing tileable patterns that you could perhaps use in a design that requires a tartan motif.

I leave it up to you as to whether you want to invent your own family myth about the tartan!

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