Complex Creations: Lochcarron Tartan

British Fashion Council

With a heritage dating back to 1892, Lochcarron of Scotland is the world’s leading manufacturer of tartan.

LOCHCARRON OF SCOTLAND
With a heritage dating back to 1892, Lochcarron of Scotland is the world’s leading manufacturer of tartan. Proudly Made in Scotland by skilled craftsmen and women who design, dye, warp, weave, mend and tailor Scottish tartans. A truly global brand, Lochcarron of Scotland offers a unique authenticity and showcases the very best of Scottish textiles. From kilt to catwalk, Lochcarron of Scotland champions traditional tartan fabric manufacturing whilst continuing to innovate for international fashion houses.

WHAT IS TARTAN?

Historians believe that tartan originated in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1600’s. People in clans used natural resources to dye the wool including plants and berries. Each different type of tartan would represent a clan from each geographic area.

At its simplest, tartan is a type of design on a woven material made up of vertical and horizontal stripes. However, tartan is much more complex than this, there are hundreds of different combinations of coloured stripes and base colours. So much so that there are roughly 3000 types of tartan on the official register.

Tartan is used to make a variety of traditional Scottish items including the famous traditional Scottish kilt. The pattern is also prevalent in modern day fashion and can be found in many popular high-street shops.

THE ORIGINS OF THE KILT

THE BRAT
The kilt we know today evolved from the brat - a woollen cloak which both Scottish and Irish Gaels used to wear. The design of the brat depended on the wealth of the wearer. Men who could afford to wore tartan and checks, while poorer members of society wore plain wool. Eventually the brat became so big that people began to gather it up and belt it. This in turn led to the invention of the great kilt.

THE GREAT KILT
The great kilt consisted of a length of thick woollen cloth and was worn over a long-sleeved garment called a léine. Wearers used their hands to gather it up into pleats and secured it with a belt.

The upper half was draped over the shoulder and worn as a cloak. It could also be brought up over the shoulders or head in wet weather. The lower half was left hanging below the belt.

THE SMALL KILT
The invention of the kilt we see today is credited to an ironmaster named Thomas Rawlinson. Initially, Rawlinson’s workers wore the great kilt but this proved to be impractical. So, Rawlinson produced a kilt which consisted of the lower half only, with pleats already sewn.

Rawlinson’s kilt is the earliest documented example of a small kilt with sewn-in pleats, which are a distinctive feature of today’s kilt (be sure to wear them at the back!).

ALMOST LOST TO HISTORY

After The Battle of Culloden in 1746, when the uprising of the House of Stuarts was defeated, tartan was banned by the English Crown.

This law, called The Dress Act in 1746, made it a criminal offence to wear tartan. Even bagpipes were considered to be weapons of war. In a direct attempt to destroy the clans of Scotland these laws were strictly enforced.

Even though the Act was repealed in 1782, tartan was lost in history. As weavers died, the older patterns were lost and Highlanders stopped wearing it. It wasn’t until forty years later in 1822, ‘The Great Tartan’ Revival began. Ironically, this was thanks to King George IV, the new King of Great Britain.

The King was invited to Scotland by Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist, who created a tartan display for the King’s visit. The British King encouraged the nobles of Scotland to wear their tartan to official functions and suddenly tartan became fashionable again.

UNCOVERING THE CLAN SYSTEM

The word clan derives from the Gaelic word ‘clann’, meaning children, and is defined as a close knit group of interrelated families.

Established around 1100, the original clans of Scotland were like extended family groups, and the majority of members were blood relatives and descendants of a common ancestor.

Most Highlanders would wear tartan everyday and these simple checks were worn by the Clan members of the area, and therefore became synonymous with that particular clan.

The clan system was all but wiped out by the defeat of the Battle of Culloden and the subsequent Dress Act of 1746. It wasn’t until the tartan revival started in 1822, when King George IV visited Edinburgh and suggested that people attending official functions should wear their tartans, that renewed interest was shown in the clans again.

Today, the memory of the clans is kept alive by Scottish societies and the wearing of tartans.

LOCHCARRON'S HISTORY

1892 - The founder, Peter Anderson was born in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders in 1859. After leaving school at the age of 12 he began working in the woollen mills for which the town was famous. Starting as an apprentice he learned many valuable skills eventually achieving the prestigious position of designer. As an ambitious young man he began his own company in 1892 initially only with three hand looms. His ambition led to success and in 1896 he expanded to new premises and by 1907 had 12 water powered looms.

1917 - Dobcross looms were purchased helping the company grow. Premises expanded with new yarn stores, warehouses and offices. In 1924 a modern water turbine powered the weaving looms, replacing the old mill water wheel and by the end of that decade electric motors boosted weaving capacities as water power was phased out.

1936 - A family company, Peter Anderson’s sons and daughter all became involved in the day to day running of the busy successful weaving mill. Sales men or “Travellers” as they were then known, were employed and they visited towns and cities across Scotland and early trade fares were attended including the Highland Show which in 1936 was held in the town of Melrose where the company displayed the weaving of Royal Stewart tartans on their electric looms. As well as weaving traditional suiting fabrics, the introduction of tartan and rugs expanded the range.

1939 - Adapting to market changes, World War II brought many changes and Peter Anderson like many textile mills switched production to making cloth for uniforms. This created great concern in their newly acquired American markets prompting the company’s agent in the USA to assure their customers through the Daily News Record New York that suiting fabric was still available although substitute designs might have to be accepted.

1945 - Post war, Peter Anderson died in November aged 86. He was succeeded by his two sons Tom and Peter and over the next two decades they continued to grow the business diversifying their range of woven fabrics and accessories.

1960 - New blood and new beginnings, following the death of Tom, his brother Lewis having no heirs decided it was time to sell the business to another local textile entrepreneur. John Morris Buchan had established his own company in the 1940’s and was another well-known and respected textile man.

1962 - John Morris Buchan, focused upon combining the skills, premises and markets of Peter Anderson and his own company. From a Borders family he had trained in textiles in the 1920’s and in the late 1930’s had relocated his family to the north west of Scotland to the village of Lochcarron. Here he began a small weaving mill with local crofters continuing the tradition of spinning their own yarns to supplementing their farming income. So by manufacturing for Lochcarron they helped maintaining the traditions of crofting families across the north of Scotland. Weaving in the small mill established at Lochcarron continued until the late 20th century. Mr Buchan returned to the Borders after World War II, establishing the company in Galashiels.

1950s & 1960s - An astute businessman Morris Buchan chose to specialise in tartan fabrics and accessories. Throughout the 1950’s & 1960’s he established markets not only in Scotland for the tourist trade but also strong links with Canada and America, supplying Scottish tartans and highland outfits across the globe.

His son Alistair joined the company in 1959 after studying at The Scottish College of Textiles and spending time in New York learning of the opportunities for imported textiles fashion markets. New fabric qualities were developed and new markets created for these seasonal collections.

1969 - Waverley Mill, as the company grew in scale several changes of premises were needed to accommodate the growth. Finally settling into Waverley Mill, the premises of Peter Anderson and this became the new home of Lochcarron John Buchan Ltd until the early 21st century. Spread over a number of buildings and two traditional “high mills” the company was eventually the last weaving mill in Galashiels before it relocated to its current home in Selkirk.

2006 - Lochcarron relocates their Headquarters to Selkirk to help streamline the production process. Taking this decision to increase output and minimise delays by collating all of the production processes within one unit.

2011 - The Korean company, E-land purchases Lochcarron of Scotland from the Buchan family. This is a time of reinvestment for the company. Mr Park, the owner and chairman, began his career with one clothing shop on a university campus in Seoul. His company has now achieved multinational status encompassing textiles, clothing, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and construction.

LOCHCARRON'S MANUFACTURING PROCESS

Lochcarron of Scotland's manufacturing process is both time consuming and unchanged for a hundred years. The same stages of production must be followed to create each and every one of its tartans.

Before a tartan product is complete it must travel from design, through to warping, knotting, weaving and drawing, before it can be finally cut and tailored into a finished item of clothing. It is because of this long and complicated production process that Lochcarron tartans are considered the finest in the world.

DYEING

Cones of white yarn are put into a dye pot which is filled with water and heated to 40°C. Chemicals and dye stuffs are added at this point. Temperature is increased gradually to 100°C and the yarn kept in the machine for 30 minutes.

WINDING

The Warper will work out from the production ticket the required number of threads in the pattern and the necessary number and length per colour of each cone. He will give this information to the Winder who will wind the cones accordingly, ready to put on the bank in the order required to create the design. The Winder will also re-wind any yarn left after warping as many designs use the same colour in the weft.

WARPING

Once the cones are put on the warping bank in the required design, the Warper will take a lease before starting to put the sections of yarn on the mill. Once all sections are on the mill he will select the required beam and secure the ends of the threads to the beam before transferring them all on to the beam. Following this process the beam is taken to the drawing department along with the work ticket and passed to the Drawer.

DRAWING

On receiving the beam and ticket, the Drawer will set the beam up on the drawing frame and put rods in the lease. He chooses the number of shafts and the appropriate number of wire heddles to accommodate the design then proceeds to draw each thread through a small hole in the heddle, this can be quite time consuming. Once all the threads are drawn through the heddles he then has to sley the threads through a reed. The beam is now ready to go to the loom.

KNOTTING

Knotting is a similar process to drawing but this is done once the beam has been taken to the loom. Jobs can be knotted together of the same setting in the loom, and therefore save time during preparation.

WEAVING

When the loom has finished weaving the loom is stripped out and prepared for a new setting. A Tuner is like a Mechanic, they set up the loom and put droppers on each thread ready for the new setting. At this stage it is ready to start weaving again. The Weaver checks the picks, draft and colours for the required pattern and weaves a short test strip for approval. After these checks are made the weaving process can begin again. The weft threads are inserted in the correct order and cloth can begin to be created.

DARNING

This process is where the cloth is pulled over a table, knots are raised or in some cases opened and crossed, at this time any fault are marked. This is called burling and marking. After this the Darner goes over the piece again and darns in all the faults. The time varies for this process depending on the thickness of the cloth and the number of faults. Once this process is finished the piece is sent to the Finisher to be washed and pressed.

TAILORING

Once the tartan fabric is finally produced it is then ready to be cut and tailored into finished clothing.

As well as producing it's own clothing, Lochcarron Tartan is supplied to some of the most important and innovative fashion houses in the world who value its tartan for its rich colours and beautiful quality.

TARTAN & FASHION

Lochcarron have collaborated with numerous designers over the years, including a long term partnership with Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Lochcarron of Scotland, in particular Dawn Robson-Bell and Leah Robertson must be thanked for all of their help in creating this exhibit.

All rights belong to Lochcarron of Scotland unless otherwise stated.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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