In celebration of tartan
April 02, 2019
At MacKenzie-Childs, we love patterns, and one of our favorites is the tartan. That’s probably because of the Scottish heritage of our founders, as well as the fact that the tartan is just a terrific pattern that combines color and tradition.
Since our founding 35 years ago, we’ve incorporated tartans into many of our products, starting with our Eiffel Tuffet in 1994, which featured a Gordonstoun tartan. Currently, tartans are found on our Plaiditudes Table, and they accent other furniture pieces as well, including our Barley Twist Table and our Foxtrot Bar Cabinet. Our legacy collection of Highland furniture, which is on display in the library of our historic Farmhouse in Aurora, New York, features a proprietary MacKenzie-Childs tartan, and even more tartans will be included in our designs for fall and holiday 2019.
In celebration of National Tartan Day, which is April 6, we thought it was a good time to explain more about tartans. They’re often confused with plaids and checks, but, according to to-the-trade fabric resource Greenhouse Fabrics, each pattern is distinct.
They’re all made of horizontal and vertical stripes that intersect at 90-degree angles, creating grid-like patterns. With a tartan, the pattern of stripes running vertically is duplicated horizontally, and where the colors overlap, new colors are created. Unlike tartans, plaids have variations in band width, repeat, and color. Finally, checks usually are two alternating colors that form equal-sized squares.
But there’s more to all this than just patterns. In the case of tartans and plaids, there’s a history that overlaps. Tartans have been around for at least 3,000 years and have been discovered by archeologists in western China. They are most closely associated with Scotland, and many Scottish clans have specific tartans.
In Scotland, a plaid has nothing to do with patterns. Pronounced like the word “played,” it is a traveling cloak and made of tartan. The more common pronunciation of “plaid” and the use of that word to indicate a pattern became common when British and American textile manufacturers created fabrics that looked like tartans but without the exacting dimensions and links to Scottish traditions and history.
You might have seen a plaid draped over the shoulder of a bagpiper wearing a traditional Scottish kilt. Linda Walker, one of our visual designers, wears one when she plays the bagpipes with the Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band. Linda has been playing the bagpipes for 13 years and has marched in many parades, including the annual parade in New York City that ties in with National Tartan Day.
It was the bagpipes, in fact, that brought Linda to our attention a few years ago when she played them in some special footage created by cable shopping channel Evine when it visited our Farm. Since then, Linda, who’s a talented artist and designer, has joined our team and creates displays for us. She also decorated the Christmas tree in our Farmhouse parlor last December.
Linda is the quartermaster for the Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band, which has about 40 members. As such, it’s her job to oversee the care and the appearance of the uniforms, which feature a Modern Douglas tartan. Linda also lends her touch to preparing and presenting meals for the band during the summer competition season.
Her work with the band is a labor of love for Linda, who enjoys the bagpipes because the tunes, which tell of the joys and sorrows of Scottish life, truly touch her heart. It’s also cool, she adds, to teach newcomers how to play the pipes and to be among the growing number of women pipers.
Says Linda, “I am very proud to be a piper and to play an instrument that is so steeped in historical tradition and culture.”