Just in case you have been living
under a rock, a shirt
is a cloth garment for the upper body. There are many different types of
shirts in existence. One of which would be a
plaid shirt. A
plaid shirt is often made of flannel fabric and worn during the winter.
However, plaids can also be made in other fabrications. A good example
would be a madras plaid. Madras is a lightweight cotton fabric with
typically patterned texture and plaid design, used primarily for summer clothing
such as pants, shorts, dresses, jackets and obviously shirts. The fabric takes
its name from the former name of the city of Chennai in India. Madras
today is available as plaid patterns
in regular cotton, seersucker and as patchwork madras, meaning cutting several
madras plaid fabrics into squares or rectangles and sewing them back together to
form a mixed pattern of various plaids.
In North America the word
plaid is a synonym for tartan.
Using the term “tartan plaid" is rather redundant.
Although tartan is often called
plaid in North America, in Scotland the word plaid has a different meaning. A
plaid in Scotland
is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder
as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a
Because Apparel Search is based in the USA, we will be
using the word “Tartan" and “Plaid" interchangeably on this page.
Plaid is a pattern consisting of
criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. This type of
fabric originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials.
Cotton flannel plaids are very popular in
loungewear in the United States and
other locations around the world. You may want to view our
page as well.
Tartan is made with alternating
bands of colored (pre-dyed) threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles
to each other. The weft is woven in a simple twill, two over and two under the
warp, advancing one thread at each pass. This forms visible diagonal lines where
different colors cross, which give the appearance of new colors blended from the
original ones. The resulting blocks of color repeat vertically and horizontally
in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a
full plaid is a long
cloth made with a tartan pattern wrapped around the waist and cast over the
shoulder and fastened at the front. Traditionally worn as part of a full
highland dress uniform. It usually matches the tartan of the kilt.
Although it goes over the shoulder, this is not what we are talking about
when we talk about a plaid shirt.
Learn more about plaid fabric and how it is created:
First of all, plaid fabric is typically a woven fabric.
However, plaid patterns can be “printed" onto fabrics that are woven or knit.
But that would not technically be a woven plaid. In this section we are
talking about woven plaids, NOT printed plaid designs. Woven fabric only
stretches diagonally on the bias directions (between the warp and weft
directions), unless the threads used are elastic. Woven fabric cloth
usually frays at the edges, unless techniques are used to counter it, such as
the use of pinking shears or hemming. Traditional plaid flannel shirts are
made from woven fabrics.
Before reading further, let us explain that the “warp"
means vertical and “weft" is horizontal. That may be helpful when reading
the following explanation. Each thread in the warp crosses each thread in
the weft at right angles. Where a thread in the warp crosses a thread of the
same color in the weft they produce a solid color on the tartan, while a thread
crossing another of a different color produces an equal mixture of the two
colors. Thus, a sett of two base colors produces three different colors
including one mixture. The total number of colors, including mixtures, increases
quadratically with the number of base colors so a sett of six base colors
produces fifteen mixtures and a total of twenty-one different colors. This means
that the more stripes and colors used, the more blurred and subdued the tartan's
The sequence of threads, known as the sett, starts at an
edge and either repeats or reverses on what are called pivot points. In diagram
A, the sett reverses at the first pivot, then repeats, then reverses at the next
pivot, and will carry on in this manner horizontally. In diagram B, the sett
reverses and repeats in the same way as the warp, and also carries on in the
same manner vertically. The diagrams left illustrate the construction of a
"symmetrical" tartan. However, on an "asymmetrical" tartan, the sett does not
reverse at the pivots, it just repeats at the pivots. Also, some tartans (very
few) do not have exactly the same sett for the warp and weft. This means the
warp and weft will have alternate thread counts.
Tartan is recorded by counting the threads of each color
that appear in the sett. The thread count not only describes the width of the
stripes on a sett, but also the colors used. For example, the thread count "K4
R24 K24 Y4" corresponds to 4 black threads, 24 red threads, 24 black threads, 4
yellow threads. The first and last threads of the thread count are the pivot
points. Though thread counts are indeed quite specific, they can be modified in
certain circumstances, depending on the desired size of the tartan. For example,
the sett of a tartan (about 6 inches) may be too large to fit upon the face of a
necktie. In this case the thread count has to be reduced in proportion (about 3
The sequence of threads, known as the sett, starts at an
edge and either repeats or reverses on what are called pivot points.
the tartan. The combining of the warp and weft.
Sewing cut parts of a shirt during the shirt
When manufacturing plaid shirts some companies will try
to match the plaid lines from the body of the shirt to the sleeves. They
will also try to match the plaid pattern for the sewn on pockets. Other
manufacturers will not try to match the pattern from one sewn part to the next.
It is more costly to try and match the plaid pattern from one sewn part to
another. It effects the fabric consumption used to make the garment which
has a negative effect on
Here is an example of a pocket sewn onto a short with out
the plaid pattern being cut & sewn to match the proper direction of the plaid on
the body of the shirt.
Color and Shades of Plaid:
The shades of color in plaid can be altered to produce
variations of the same plaid. The resulting variations are termed: modern,
ancient, and muted. These terms refer to color only. Modern represents a tartan
that is colored using chemical dye, as opposed to natural dye. In the mid-19th
century natural dyes began to be replaced by chemical dyes which were easier to
use and were more economic for the booming tartan industry. Chemical dyes
tended to produce a very strong, dark color compared to the natural dyes. In
modern colors, setts made up of blue, black and green tend to be obscured.
Ancient refers to a lighter shade of tartan. These shades are meant to represent
the colors that would result from fabric aging over time. Muted refers to tartan
which is shade between modern and ancient. This type of tartan is very modern,
dating only from the early 1970s. This shade is said to be the closest match to
the shades attained by natural dyes used before the mid-19th century.
The idea that the various colors used in plaid have a
specific meaning is purely a modern one. One such myth is that red tartans were
"battle tartans", designed so they would not show blood. It is only certain
recently created tartans, such as Canadian provincial and territorial tartans
and American state tartans, that are designed with certain symbolic meaning for
the colors being used for the fabric. For example, the color green sometimes
symbolizes prairies or forests, blue can symbolize lakes and rivers, and the
color yellow is sometimes used to symbolize various crops.
What is the origin of the word plaid?
The word plaid, derived from the
Scottish Gaelic plaide,
meaning "blanket", was first used of any rectangular garment, sometimes made up
of tartan, particularly that which preceded the modern kilt. In time, plaid was
used to describe blankets themselves.
Do lumberjacks really wear plaid shirts?
Lumberjacks are workers in the
logging industry who perform the initial harvesting and transport of trees for
ultimate processing into forest products. The term usually refers to a bygone
era (before 1945 in the United States) when hand tools were used in harvesting
trees. Because of its historical ties, the term lumberjack has become ingrained
in popular culture through folklore, mass media and spectator sports. The actual
work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and primitive in living
conditions, but the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength,
masculinity, confrontation with danger, and resistance to modernization.
In popular culture, the stereotypical lumberjack is a strong, burly, usually
bearded man who lives to brave the natural environment. He is depicted wearing
suspenders, a long-sleeved plaid flannel shirt,
and heavy caulk boots, and is often characterized as having an enormous appetite
for flapjacks (pancakes). He works by cutting down trees with either an axe or
with the help of another lumberjack and a crosscut saw, as opposed to the modern
chainsaw. So yes, they often wear plaid flannel shirts, but they don’t
History of plaid:
Plaid is particularly associated with Scotland, but is
utilized around the world.
Today tartan may be mostly associated with Scotland;
however, the earliest evidence of tartan is found far afield from the British
Isles. According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Hallstatt
culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and
flourished between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, produced tartan-like textiles.
Some of them were discovered in 2004, remarkably preserved, in the Hallstatt
salt mines near Salzburg, Austria. Textile analysis of fabric from the Tarim
mummies in Western China has also shown it to be similar to that of the Iron Age
Hallstatt culture. Tartan-like leggings were found on the "Cherchen Man", a
3,000-year-old mummy found in the Taklamakan Desert. Similar finds have been
made in central Europe and Scandinavia. The earliest documented tartan in
Britain, known as the "Falkirk" tartan, dates from the 3rd century AD. It was
uncovered at Falkirk in Stirlingshire, Scotland, about 400 metres north-west of
the Antonine Wall. The fragment was stuffed into the mouth of an earthenware pot
containing almost 2,000 Roman coins. The Falkirk tartan has a simple check
design, of natural light and dark wool. Early forms of tartan like this are
thought to have been invented in pre-Roman times, and would have been popular
among the inhabitants of the northern Roman provinces as well as in other parts
of Northern Europe such as Jutland, where the same pattern was prevalent.
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, tartan-clad garments
featured in fashion catalogues. By then, tartan had shifted from being mainly a
component of men's clothing to become an important part of women's fashion. In
consequence of its association with the British aristocracy and military, tartan
developed an air of dignity and exclusivity. Because of this, tartan has made
reappearances in the world of fashion several times. For instance, tartan made a
resurgence in its use in punk fashion. In the late 1970s, punk music was a way
for youth in the British Isles to voice their discontent with the ruling class.
The unorthodox use of plaid, which had long been associated with authority and
gentility, was then seen as the expression of discontent against modern society.
In this way tartan, worn unconventionally, became an anti-establishment symbol.
Tartan etiquette and design ownership
Since the Victorian era, authorities on tartan have
stated that there is an etiquette to wearing tartan, specifically tartan
attributed to clans or families. This concept of the entitlement to certain
tartans has led to the term of universal tartan, or free tartan, which describes
tartan which can be worn by anyone. Traditional examples of such are the Black
Watch (also known as Government, Universal, and Campbell), Caledonian, Hunting
Stewart, and Jacobite tartans.
Depending upon how "different tartan" is defined, it has
been estimated that there are thousands upon thousands of different plaids in
existence. With four ways of presenting the hues in the tartan — "modern",
"ancient", "weathered", and "muted" colors it greatly increases the number of
recognized tartan variations from which to choose.
Until the late 20th century,
instead of a central, official tartan registry, several independent
organizations located in Scotland, Canada, and the United States documented and
recorded tartan. In the 1960s, a Scottish society called the Scottish Tartans
Society (now defunct) was created to record and preserve all known tartan
designs. The society's register, the Register of All Publicly Known Tartans
(RAPKT), contains about 2,700 different designs of tartan. The society,
however, ran into financial troubles in about the year 2000, and folded. Former
members of the society then formed two new Scottish-based organizations — the
Scottish Tartans Authority (STA) and the
Scottish Tartans World Register (STWR).
Both of these societies initially based their databases on the RAPKT. Both
organizations are registered Scottish charities and record new tartans.
Scottish Register of Tartans
(SRT) is Scotland's official tartan register.
The SRT is maintained and administrated by the
National Archives of Scotland (NAS), a
statutory body based in Edinburgh. The aim of the Register is to provide a
definitive and accessible resource to promote and preserve tartan. It also aims
to be the definitive source for the registration of new tartans (that pass NAS
criteria for inclusion). The register itself is made up of the existing
registers of the STA and the STWR as they were at the time of the SRT's launch,
and new registrations from 5 February 2009 onward. On the Register's website
users can register new tartans (for a fee), search for and request the
threadcounts of existing tartans and receive notifications of newly registered
tartans. One criticism of the SRT and NAS's management of it is that its
exclusivity, in both cost and criteria, necessarily means that it cannot
actually achieve its goals of definiteness, preservation and open access. The
current version of the STA's ITI, for example, already contains a large number
of tartans that do not appear in the SRT, and the gulf will only widen under
Scottish Register of Tartans
Scottish Tartans Authority - The only organization dedicated to the
preservation and promotion of Tartan
Even if plaid did not begin in Scotland, it is certainly
fair for the Scottish people to be known as the ones that have utilized it the
most predominantly over the years. When Apparel Search thinks about
Tartan, we will continue to think about Scotland as its primary home.
Many cultures in the past,
present and future enjoy wearing plaid shirts. Street
punk fashion commonly sported multi-coloured Mohawk hair, heavily
studded vests, leather jackets, and shirts in various
punk plaid shirts. Grunge fashion
also was known for flannel plaid shirts.
Learn more about
You may also want to learn about
striped shirts as an alternative option.
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