How to Design Your Own Tartan

DUNDEE, Scotland — Most people associate tartans with the kilts and plaid sashes of Scottish clans, but you don’t have to be a clan member to wear authentic tartan. You don’t even have to be Scottish.

And you can design your own.

Several traditional kiltmakers in Scotland offer a service, for a range of fees, to help individuals, groups or companies design a bespoke tartan, typically using computer-aided design software. And a design created with a kiltmaker usually is woven at mills operated by Scottish companies such as the House of Edgar in Perth or Lochcarron of Scotland in Selkirk. (Both also offer their own bespoke design services.)

Most weaving mills require a minimum order of 10 meters, or nearly 11 yards, for a bespoke tartan woven from 13-ounce medium-weight wool. The width may vary, but 145 centimeters, or a little more than 4.7 feet, is standard for a custom weave.

A tartan design may be added to the Scottish Register of Tartans, established by the Scottish Parliament in 2008 as an electronic repository for the preservation of tartans — provided it meets certain criteria detailed on the S.R.T. website. For example, it must be a design capable of being woven and having at least two alternating colored stripes that form a repeated checked pattern; be “a new design, unique to the Register”; and have “a clear link between the person registering the tartan and the proposed tartan name.”

While design services will register your tartan, you also can do it yourself. (The registry’s fees start at 70 pounds, or $86.)

Jo Kinloch Anderson, head of marketing for the Edinburgh-based company Kinloch Anderson, wrote in an email that “a tartan design and registration costs from £600 and can be purchased as a gift from our website. The cost for a personal customer to have a tartan designed, registered, 10 meters of cloth woven and a kilt made would be from around £2,500.”

A typical bespoke tartan kilt, she wrote, requires 3.7 meters of the wide cloth, and a customer may keep the remnants or have them made into matching accessories.

Subtle personal meanings are often woven into bespoke tartans.

Brian Halley, managing director of Slanj Kilts in Glasgow, designed the Obama Family tartan and made it into a kilt and trews (a type of trouser) commissioned by a charity and presented to Barack Obama during a 2017 golfing trip to St. Andrews. The colors were inspired by flags from locations significant to the Obamas: red, sky blue and white for Chicago; navy for Hawaii; green for Kenya.

The actor Alan Cumming turned to Prickly Thistle, a mill north of Inverness, to create a tartan in 2021 as a surprise for Miriam Margolyes, his co-star in the television series “Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland.”

“I chose all these different types of colors, and the lines were all to do with dates that were relevant to Miriam and I,” he said in a voice message. The result was the Aliam, a combination of their names, which incorporated thread counts referring to their birth years in a primarily pink and blue design shot through with lines of yellow and turmeric.

But Mr. Cumming said his favorite tartan outfit was “a really loud, bold suit” in a bespoke pattern based on the Scottish cartoon character Oor Wullie. “He’s a little boy, he’s got spiky blond hair, he wears overalls, he sits on a bucket, he’s mischievous and he’s been a part of everybody’s life in Scotland for generations,” he said.

Designed for the cartoon’s Dundee-based publisher, DC Thomson, the white, red and black tartan suit has a silk lining printed with Oor Wullie cartoons. Mr. Cumming said he recently “got it out for ‘The Traitors’ reunion show.”

To my surprise, the registry lists one Fowler tartan from 2008, a grid of royal blue, red, black and gray, a woven sample of which “has been received by the Scottish Register of Tartans for permanent preservation in the National Records of Scotland.”

The entry includes a note saying it is a “personal tartan designed by David Fowler, who is quite happy for all of the name to weave/wear.”

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