'Before commercialisation spoiled the patterns and the early synthetic
dyes spoiled the colours, tartans were works of abstract art composed by local
weavers using the limited range of colours they could obtain from natural
sources. The patterns were clear and bold and the colours neither gaudy nor
artificially faded and their like are seldom equalled today. To reproduce them
is a worthwhile aim for any weaver.' This is how James D Scarlett, a
recognised international authority on both tartan and handloom weaving,
describes the early days.
The author combines practical
experience with a grasp of Highland social history in this book, which
although aimed specifically at the amateur tartan-weaver, contains much of
which will be of interest to students of either subject.
The weaver is provided with precise hints on the special requirements
of weaving tartan including threadcounts, accompanied by historical notes
for 228 tartans, 142 of them illustrated in glowing colours which seem to
reflect the lakes, sky, hills and valleys of Scotland.
There are concise and informative articles on tartan pattern, colour,
yarn, thread counts, yarn thicknesses and the actual weaving of the cloth.
'The basis of any tartan, as the author points out, is a simple
two-colour check which may be varied by the addition of over-checks, bands
and stripes in contrasting colours so arranged as to give a balanced and
The author's interest in tartan brought him early into contact with the
Scottish Tartans Society and with the late Donald C. Stewart with
whom he collaborated over several years in a serious study of the subject,
collaboration which resulted in the publication of a number of books, most
recently his definitive work Tartan: The
His advice has been sought on the design of new tartans, notably the American
Bicentennial, but his main interest is in the old ones. As one of the
few specialist handweavers of tartan, he concentrated on making facsimiles
and wove a reproduction of a pre-1745 plaid for the National Trust for
Scotland's Centre at Culloden. In 1994 he handed his extensive
archive, covering about one hundred years of serious tartan research, to
the Highland Regional Archive for its preservation and for the
benefit of future students.
He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and lives in
Strathdearn with his Highland wife.