I’m back on familiar ground now after a run of difficulties with recent experiments. I’m back to using English Paper Piecing, this time for a series of small quilts with a Scottish theme.
I only work with 100% cotton and finding cotton tartan is becoming increasingly difficult. The few online shops I have come across prefer to sell in metre lengths which is crazy when I use less than a quarter of a metre of each fabric and need to buy a range of fabrics for each quilt. Moreover, cotton tartans are limited to about half a dozen different patterns for some reason, which is so disappointing. How many Dress Stuart or Blackwatch tartan quilts would you want to make?
What about plaids or faux tartans? What’s the difference between them? All tartans are in fact plaid, though not all plaids are tartan. Both are a mix of stripes woven in a criss crossing and overlapping pattern of stripes, meeting at 90 degree angles. However, tartans have an identical pattern of stripes running vertically and horizontally, resulting in overlapping square grids, while the stripes in plaids may vary in direction colour, size, and pattern.In Scotland, the word “plaid” comes from the Gaelic word for blanket, which refers to the long piece of fabric worn over the shoulder as part of the Highland costume, rather than to any pattern in the fabric.
So, using checkered plaid, or faux tartan fabric, isn’t authentic and therefore not quite right for Scotland but what if you don’t like tartan much? Not everyone does. The patterns are often obtrusive and rarely work well with each other. I wondered if using plaids with a Scottish theme could create a more modern look and appeal to people who feel traditional tartans have a limited use or are not for them.
So, as an experiment, I have made a start on a series of mini quilts, one with a touch of tartan, two with faux tartan, two with plaid, two using true tartans and one that simply reflects the kind of landscape that surrounds me, using no tartan at all. None of them are finished. They are all pinned, tacked and works in progress for now.
In addition to using plaids, I had the idea that it might also be fun to adapt a traditional American quilting block for my Scottish theme. To begin with I took the old quilting block ‘West Wind’ (shown on the right, here)
and removed three of the triangles to make a quilted picture that I have called ‘The Wind in the West’.
In my new version, the three black/purple triangles represent the fierce winds, that we experience from time to time here in the west of Scotland, buffeting a small cottage on farmland. I have used black, white and grey patterned fabrics with Celtic crosses, raindrops and windblown plants.
It is still to be quilted and I may add some surface embroidery and appliqué. It measures about 8 inches square.
The second block I have begun is a traditional ‘Sawtooth Star’ block but I have used it to represent the twilight time in Scotland that we call ‘The Gloaming.’ The quilt uses faux tartan and two different patterns featuring Celtic crosses, all in shades of blue, to suggest that bluish/mauve light that softens the landscape as the sun sinks in the west. I remember my father singing, “Roaming in the Gloaming, wi a lassie by my side”, when we lived far away on the other side of the globe.
My third experiment has no tartan. It uses an adaptation of a traditional pinwheel block to suggest a remote glen (narrow valley) in Scotland. A cottage sits among the hills and windblown leaves, while hares run around untroubled by traffic.
I may add some appliquéd trees or quilt it with tree shapes. I’m still thinking about what might would be best.
What my fourth project represents, I am going to keep a secret for now, though if you know anything about old Scottish traditions, you may be able to guess. As I add to it, it will become clearer.
In a future post I will describe the remaining projects in this series, two of which will use true tartans and the last a mix of plaid and embroidery. We’ll see how they go.
What do you think about using plaids and faux tartans? Does it feel completely wrong for a Scottish theme?
Until next time……
4 thoughts on “Tartan or Plaid? What’s the Difference?”
These are wonderful. I’ll look forward to seeing them develop 🙂
How lovely of you to say so (especially when you make such lovely things yourself), thank you. xx
These new pieces are all wonderful – beautiful and so nicely crafted! You’re a true artist. As for the mystery quilt, I have to say my Scots-Irish ancestry doesn’t give me much help, but I do see the heart, of course (and think of Braveheart), and what I think might be heather and/or thistle…I look forward to hearing your answer in the future!
Thanks Molly xx. Actually it wasn’t something I knew about until I found something among my mother’s belongings after she died. I hope to reveal all very soon!
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