Commonly associated with Scotland, tartan is a woven cloth consisting of interlacing threads creating a pattern. This pattern is known as the sett.
In addition, tartan is recognised all over the world as a symbol of Scottish Heritage. Used to create traditional Scottish kilts, bagpipes, and fashion items and accessories, it can be seen on the catwalk of high fashion shows or down your local highstreet.
Have you ever wondered how this iconic material is made? We'll take you on it's journey.
It is a lengthy and highly specialised process. It has remained this way for decades, with very few changes adapting the process. Each stage must be completed with the utmost care and attention to detail.
Next time you bundle up in a luxurious Lochcarron of Scotland Cashmere scarf or don your kilt for a spot of ceilidh dancing, try and picture each stage the product has went through before reaching you.
Over 500 variants of tartans are woven right here in the Scottish Borders each year. Working to weave your favourite Scottish tartans, each loom works on a different product that we can later supply to our customer.
Weaving fabric, and especially Tartan, is a painstaking procedure, undertaken by skilled artisans who dedicate their lives to this craft. The knowledge these craftspeople build up over time is passed down the generations, proving that the art of making Tartan is in their blood.
At our mills, there are several key steps that go into creating our fabrics:
To give you an insight into the Tartan making process, we have taken some action shots in our mill and written descriptions of each stage.
Let's take a look at how is it done!
First up is WINDING:
Wound onto flexible cones, the ecru yarn is prepared for the dyeing process.
Then for the DYEING:
We have a vast archive of yarn colour recipes and our experienced staff are adept at maintaining a strong consistency of colours; they can also match colours and create new recipes.
Here is how the dyeing process works:
- The dye colours are put into the water
- The yarn is then placed into a spin dryer for 12-15 mins
- Afterwards, It is transferred to a drying oven
- The temperature is kept at 160 degrees to ensure consistent coverage
We don’t dry the yarn completely, we try to keep around 10% moisture which helps make it more pliable for the next stages of production.
Onto more WINDING:
Similarly, wound from the flexible cones the yarn is wound onto harder ones, the freshly dyed can is one step close to weaving.
Measuring the exact length needed reduces waste in the process. These lengths are either wound onto cones ready for weaving or measured for warping.
Furthermore, each tartan requires different measurements and patterns, so being exact is important to ensure waste is avoided.
Then the WARPING:
Here, we construct the warp yarn pattern of the fabric. These vertical threads become the width of the fabric, with its sett sequence repeated across the full width.
The cones are guided from a bank onto the beam in their correct colour and pattern sequence. Each repeated sequence is knotted into place. This process takes place under tension.
Afterwards, the warp is wound onto a different beam to be transferred into the loom for weaving.
The all important WEAVING:
This is where the fabric comes together.
The vertical warp threads and horizontal weft threads interlace around each other to create a woven fabric.
Individual warp threads are threaded through a loom shaft and reed. These determine the fabrics woven structure and tension.
The loom shafts sit in the middle of the loom and lift the warp threads in a sequence. Once lifted, the weft thread is inserted through the shed. The shed is the gap of the warp threads separating.
Next, comes the reed, which is the part of the loom which pushes the weft yarn together with the warp to form the fabric.
Each warp thread is fitted with a dropper to eliminate as many faults as possible. These are small pins in which the yarn is threaded through at the back of the loom. If the yarn breaks, the dropper drops down and the loom stops.
We use different thicknesses of yarns and, by increasing or decreasing the density of the threads, we can create different widths and thicknesses of fabrics. These different thicknesses and widths enable us to crafts everything from traditional kilts to cashmere scarves.
Almost done, next up is DARNING:
When a new job is inserted into a loom, only a small strip of fabric is woven. This piece is then taken to our darners, to inspected for faults and imperfections.
Colour and thread order is checked, alongside the woven structure. Therefore, no time or material is wasted.
If there are no faults, the rest of the fabric is woven. In other words, this step means that the faults are kept to a minimum. However, if there are faults in the cloth, they must be resolved before the weaving continues. When the fabric is off of the loom, each piece is inspected and quality checked again.
Now onto FINISHING:
After that, off of the loom, the fabric now needs to go through a few different processes to achieve the required finish.
We wash all fabrics to remove any natural lanolin from the wool yarns and to close up the fabric structure; we do this to make it more appropriate for its intended end-use.
In other words, milling, pressing, brushing, or teasing can be carried out before the fabric is dried.
Using a variety of finishing processes, we can create a wide range of fabrics and accessories for many different uses.
Championing Scottish fabric manufacturing, Lochcarron tartans are used and enjoyed all over the world, from kilt to catwalk.