Fabric Shopping

Scottish Tartans

What do you do after visiting Linton Mills? Head north into Scotland in search of authentic Scottish tartans. Our destination was Lochcarron in Selkirk, Scotland. After a detour to the Barbour outlet in South Shields, we (actually hubby) drove for hours through the Scottish countryside. These places aren’t exactly located in the most metropolitan areas.

Lochcarron weaves their tartans at their own mill and stocks hundreds of tartan patterns in all weights. It is one of the few remaining mills to keep production local rather than outsourcing. The factory shop isn’t the easiest to locate, even with GPS help, so we were thrilled to finally see the Lochcarron shop. A near disaster ensued! I had emailed the shop prior to our trip but somehow the “closing for inventory” day was missed.

My husband is not one to be put off by a “CLOSED” sign, pleaded our case of flying all the way from the US, driving for hours and persuaded the staff to open the doors. What a wonderful experience! Jill and her staff couldn’t have been more accommodating. I was shown book after book of samples. The various weights of tartans explained and we browsed through a wonderful selection of goods. I finally selected three pieces of Reiver (the lightweight):

Locharren Tartans

The top fabric is a black tartan. The weave is formed by alternating stain with plain stitches and then the piece is dyed black. It results in a subtle plaid. I have seen it referred to as Dark Island; Lochcarron calls it Dark Douglas. The middle piece I haven’t yet decided what to do with. The bottom tartan will be made in some variation of an Alexander McQueen design from his Widows of Culloden Collection.

I’ve done variations of other McQueen designs. Some need to be modified to be wearable.



Some combination of the plaid cut bias with black lace.

Tartan Drape
Vintage looms are still in use.

After a very long day of driving, shopping and more driving we finally arrived at the West Plein House, a delightful B&B just outside Stirling. Our hosts, Moira and Tony, greeted us with tea and a comfortable room. Next morning, haggis was served at breakfast. If you want the recipe, I’ve included a link. Haggis is best eaten after you’ve consumed sufficient whiskey! I tasted a bit but preferred Moira’s eggs and oatmeal.

The remainder of our trip was filled with the sights of Stirling (Stirling Castle, Bannockburn) and Edinburgh complete with watching a rugby match in the pub.

16 thoughts on “Scottish Tartans”

  1. Lochcarron Mills is where we got or tartan custom woven, as ours has never been a production pattern. We got our first batch, heavyweight, 15 years ago and they made it into a kilt for my husband. He was invited to toast his tartan coming off in whisky (no e in our whisky!) Last year we bought a run of medium weight for a skirt for Helen, among others. We are the only holders of our tartan and boy we have a lot as you need to buy a full run.
    Before I retired, I worked in South Shields, for many years. I didn’t often visit the Barbour factory shop, don’t they say what’s on your doorstep… Did you get any good bargains?

    1. Doesn’t Lochcarron make the most beautiful fabric! I had a chance to examine some of the custom made kilts at Lochcarron. They certainly are weighty and beautifully constructed. I did some research on kilt making and there are numerous techniques and tricks unique to kilts. Any plans for future projects with your tartans? I had hoped to have time to meet while in South Shields but the drive to Selkirk was lengthy and we wanted to reach Stirling before night. I did get my 2 daughter-in-laws jackets in Barbour. They are both equestrians and were thrilled with their gifts.
      How are your wedding projects progressing? I hope smoothly and with little frustration.

  2. This sounds so exciting! I am a bit envious of your adventures 🙂 Having said that, I’ll spend the Easter weekent on the isle of Arran in Scotland, meaning there will be lots of whiskeys, but probably not so much fabric shopping.
    The Dark Douglas is gorgeous. Have you already decided what to sew with it?

    1. Enjoy your trip. I would love to return someday and visit the northern islands of Scotland. I did a whisky tasting tour while in Edinburgh and got quite educated as to the different regions and tastes. Maybe yarn shopping in Aran?
      The Dark Douglas will be done as a short dress with pleated ribbon trim inset into a deep V-neckline. I have some pics from a Valentino suit which used box-pleated grosgrain ribbon and tucked a Swarovski crystal drop in each pleat. I’ll probably do a variation of that trim.

    1. Thank you Stina. The fabric is lovely and has a wonderful drape. It should be fun to work with. I’m enjoying the Dior workroom video you linked in your post. So inspiring!

  3. Good for your husband! Crisis averted and woolens purchased! What is it about tartans that is so appealing? The three you selected are so lovely, but how did you ever decide?

    1. Crisis definitely averted. It would have been terribly disappointing to have traveled so far and have the shop unexpectedly closed. The staff was so welcoming, assigned me a salesperson, and said to take all the time I liked. How to close from hundreds and hundreds of patterns? I already knew I wanted something similar to the McQueen fabric; the Dark Douglas was intriguing, and the other was woven with softer colors ( the antique color palate). They do mail order so I can always get more!

  4. What an adventure. I am so pleased that the banging on the door was effective – imagine if they had hidden behind the shutters and pretended to have gone home! I am fascinated by the black tartan since I saw Sarah Sheehan’s YSL wedding dress. I also remember a Scottish vicar wearing what he said was ecclesiastical tartan (black and white). The Widows of Culloden bias cut outfits are amazing and so hard to make with all the bias cutting and pattern matching. What a complex and fascinating project. Karen Fifty Dresses asks an interesting question – why is tartan so appealing? For me it is the combination of geometry, pattern and colour.

    1. The tartan fabrics were truly amazing. They are made in three weights and the lightest is perfect for dressmaking. The heavier versions were better for kilts and an 8 yard kilt weighs a lot! So many patterns and some non traditional such as the black and white you describe.
      I’m fascinated by McQueen’s designs from that collection. It will be a challenging project with the bias cut, draping and pattern matching. Probably not unlike Vionnet in some respects.

  5. Love your choices & the retelling of your adventure.
    Your “Black Douglas” will make up into something lovely and it reminds me of the “McQueen Mourning Tartan” (a mourning variant of the Macqueen tartan made to honor his passing)!!! Gorgeous w/ black, greys, purples, & denim.
    The McQueen exhibition at the Met several years ago is still one of my favorite Met Costume exhibits of all time & his “Widows of Culloden” collection in my top 3 fav McQueen groups.
    If you haven’t seen it, more inspiration for you at pattern vault http://blog.pattern-vault.com/2015/05/15/alexander-mcqueen-fabric-part-2-tartan/

    1. I will check out the “Mourning Tartan.” Thanks for the reference. I have the book from the Met exibition and it was one of favorite exhibits also. Not only are the designs from the Widows of Culloden collection amazing, it encourages you to delve deeper into the history of England and Scotland. McQueen is one of my all time favorite designers; not only was he immensely creative, but well trained in all aspects of design and construction. I’ve read most of pattern vault’s posts and she has wonderful documentation of McQueen’s early designs. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Ah… tartan. And fresh off spending the day at a Highland Gathering for me too, so it seems so apropos! And oh… that Alexander McQueen red tartan *swoon*. Lovely scores!

Leave a Reply