Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)

Q) How can I get cloth or a kilt in this tartan?

A) This tartan is not yet, and may never be, available from major suppliers of stock tartan cloth, who mostly eschew less common (i.e., less saleable) names. It must thus be special-ordered through a kiltmaker or a weaver who specializes in kilt cloth (which is a very particular kind of tight-woven worsted wool in a narrow range of weights). Probably any reputable kiltmaker can special-order McCandlish tartan, including a custom sett like “muted” or an extra-dark “modern”, if you supply an illustration and/or sample yarn colours, along with the thread count information.

In the UK, Celtic Craft Centre Kiltmaker (Edinburgh) and Geoffrey (Tailor) Kiltmakers (Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Galashiels) can have a kilt-length of this tartan woven. The author got his first kilt through CCCK, back when they also had a US shop in San Francisco. Their prices are competitive in Scotland. If you get your kilt through them there is no extra charge for the weaving (as of this writing).

In the US, this author can personally vouch for Kathy Lare Kiltmaker, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the only American graduate of the Keith Kilt School of Scotland, and is a member of the Traditional Kiltmaker’s Guild. I have purchased work from her before. However, you can talk to any kiltmaker at a Highland games event in North America about getting a kilt made and see what they tell you about getting “custom” tartan.

In all these cases, the weavers will likely be a company in Scotland named DC Dalgliesh, who are one of the few weavers who will do high-quality custom tartans in single kilt lengths. DCD should already have the red sett of the McCandlish/McCandless tartan on file. DCD only deals with “the trade”, so you have to go through a retail kiltmaker. Some will charge extra for custom tartan and some will not. You do have to go with the more expensive and higher-quality kilt material, as DC Dalgliesh apparently won’t make the lower-quality gents’ kilt cloth. For Scots, this is probably well and proper. For some Americans and Australians who live in desert climes, this may be slighly disappointing, as the heavier weight cloth can be rather toasty in hot weather.

There are other options, including Marton Mills, and Lochcarron of Scotland. A Canadian company, GK Textiles (formerly Fraser & Kirkbright), can produce lighter-weight material, with a 30-yard minimum order (3-4 kilts).

A great resource for asking about such matters is the X Marks the Scot forum. If you just want a kilt length or more of the cloth, e.g. for a wrap, for crafts, or for a breacan feile (a “great kilt”), any of these weavers can probably supply it, though some, like DCD, only through a retailer.

If you think you have enough family members together to get a large quantity of kilt cloth, it will be cheaper to order a full bolt (100 yards, enough for at least 10 kilts and accessories). Many weavers, besides DCD, will happily produce a bolt of whatever tartan you give them a thread count for. If you do not live in the UK, keep in mind ocean freight cost and time, however. It will cost a lot up front, so perhaps take up a collection from family members. You could then take the cloth to a kiltmaker to do a bunch of kilts in a group order (presumably at a sharp discount, since you’re providing the material). Or you may be able to negotiate a discounted full-bolt order of kilts from the kiltmaker and have them handle ordering the cloth.

Regardless where you order from and in what quantity, be prepared to wait quite a while – weaving takes time – and possibly to wrestle with the weavers over the colours. In mine, the dark red came out a little grapey, and that was after we traded yarn samples. Be flexible in your expectations. It is actually perfectly fine for the colours to not be exactly what you see on your computer screen (e.g. the light blue might lean a little toward teal, etc.)

Strong recommendation based on experience, to save time and avoid problems: Provide your kiltmaker or weaver all of the following:

  • the thread count, and the information that it is “half-sett with full count at the pivots”;
  • a colour-adjusted print-out that pretty accurately represents the colours you expect in your sett;
  • woolen yarn samples that more closely represent the colours you expect.

This will require a small investment in 5 spools of yarn from a good crafts store, but you can use the left-overs for crafts projects like making toories, etc.

It’s also worth mentioning that the green version of the tartan can be more garish than one would like. I would highly recommend going with either faded “ancient”, “antique”, “muted” or “reproduction” tones, or selecting a very dark Black-Watch-style green as the dark green and a still fairly dark green as the “light” green, if you prefer deeper tones. Then again, if you’ve always admired the bright-yellow “loud McLeod”, you’ll probably love a more attention-getting green McCandlish tartan.

Q) Why a tartan? Why kilts?

A) Tartans are a way of showing a respect for heritage, a sense of kinship, a feeling for history (even if clan tartans don’t go back as far as most people imagine). Tartans are in a sense totemic, and can act as symbols or standards for a family or clan. As our family did not have a tartan yet, and is not recognized as a sept or cadet branch of a clan that has a tartan, it was necessary to create one.

Several months of research went into the design (or sett in tartan terms), along with detailed correspondence with tartan experts, including IATS/TECA, and the late J. Charles “Scotty” Thompson, a Scottish Tartans Society Fellow. It may well have been the last tartan design Thompson contributed to.

As for the kilt, there is an misconception (largely an American one) that it is a costume, or an obsolete antiqutity. The kilt is in fact simply a form of clothing, worn by thousands of people today, just as it was centuries ago. Though most common in Scotland and in the Nova Scotia/Prince Edward Island/Newfoundland area of Canada, kilts are seeing a resurgence in popularity in the US, too. I wear mine quite frequently, in the US, both to the office, and for a night out on the town. Except for a few surly, ignorant twits (who are usually wearing ridiculous pants so baggy the crotch is at the knees and their underwear is showing), everyone seems to love it, and I get many compliments.

Note that it is important to get a good kilt, though, and to learn how to wear it properly. See above for how to get a kilt in this tartan. For proper Highland dress, what you need is J. Charles Thompson’s So You’re Going to Wear the Kilt. The best is the 3rd edition, but the 2nd will also do. Avoid flashy-covered issues from Lang Syne/Gardner’s Press; these are heavily abridged editions missing about 90% of the content.

Kilts need a few accessories, such as a sporran (a kind of fancy belt-pouch – important, as kilts do not have pockets), a wide belt and buckle, a properly cut jacket, and perhaps a kilt pin.

Tartans, in the sense of general checkered or striped patterns of woolen (and in continental Europe, probably flaxen) cloth, as well as kilts in one form or another, appear to date back at least as far as the 10th century, possibly even earlier: The ancient Romans refered to continental Celts (Gauls) as wearing striped or checkered cloth (Latin didn’t have different words for the two concepts).

According to one theory, the kilt itself is the Celts’ adaptation of the Roman military tunic. The ancient Britons had ample opportunity to observe this style, during the Roman occupation of much of Britain. Arthurian scholars frequently suggest that the upper eschelons of Celtic culture adopted many “Romanisms” after the Romans left and the Dark Age descended, bringing waves of invaders and a renewed desire and need for inter-tribal leadership among the Britons. It seems likely that such a tradition as the wearing of Romanesque clothing would have transferred from the native Cumbrian and Pictish chieftains to their Scoti successors after the Dalriadic invasions that turned Pictland into present day Scotland – especially if recent theories are correct in placing the seat of pre-Anglo-Saxon British power in Stirlingshire, Scotland (formerly the Cumbric kingdom of Strathclyde).

So, there is actual history and tradition behind Highland dress, even if it is mingled with a bit of more recent creative energy since the “Celtic Twilight” revival beginning in the 19th century. One supposes that this admixture couldn’t really be any other way – if the wearers of a form of clothing, in the modern world, do not use their imaginations, adapt to modern needs, and allow their fashion to evolve over time to keep things interesting and suit the needs and wants of the wearers, their clothing becomes a rigidly defined but comical costume. May that never happen to the kilt!

Q) Is a recently created tartan “inauthentic”?

A) There is nothing unusual or “bad” about recent tartans, especially for names that previously didn’t have one. The established clan tartans aren’t very old, and came about in exactly the same way – someone devised a pattern, or found one, and promulgated it as the family tartan. Even the British royal family (of mostly German stock) have their own tartans, after all.

Clan tartans did not exist until the 1700s (a single exception is known from 1618.) Setts being adopted by chiefs as official clan tartans has only happened since the 1820s or later in almost all cases. Many date to the 20th century (e.g. MacTavish Red in 1906), and some few have been created after the year 2000 (mostly “side” tartans, like a clan’s official dancing-competition sett). Some from the early period were adopted from an alleged 15th-century manuscript called Vestiarum Scoticum, which we now know to have been an 1842 forgery by the so-called Sobieski-Stuarts. These tartans are not nearly as old as was claimed, but remain accepted and “traditional” today. Clan chieftainships sometimes date to the modern era as well, e.g. that of the MacDonalds of Keppoch in 2006, and Buchanan in 2022. One clan, Armstrong, went defunct and was “revived” in 1969. Some “clan” associations are not clans in the historical sense, just modern non-profit organizations. Various Highland clans and families are actually of Anglo-Norman origin not Gaelic/Pictish Scottish (including Stewart/Stuart, Bruce, Fraser, Grant, Menzies, Riddel, and others), while some are of Norse extraction (MacIver, MacSween, MacAulay, MacLeod). In short, tradition is a living, growing thing; it does not require an early-medieval pedigree nor a genetic test for something to be authentic, only acceptance by those to whom it matters.

Many clan tartans were invented out of whole cloth (pun intended) by English tailors, during the mid-to-late 1800s, and many popular and accepted tartans date to the 20th century, as do most of the regional or district tartans. Family and clan tartans were mostly created during and after the “Celtic Twighlight” period of Walter Scott and Robert Burns, William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory – a movement within the Romantic era, which had more patience for spirit and enthusiasm than for historical accuracy. Though they do not represent ancient clan traditions, tartans were enthusiastically adopted by clans and families, regardless of the particular tartan’s origin, and today certainly represent both established current traditions and renewed interest on the part of the Scots and the Scottish diaspora in their own unique cultural history. Tartan has indeed become something of a symbol for Scottishness.

Q) What bodies recognize the McCandlish/McCandless tartans?

A) They were first recorded with the International Association of Tartan Studies and Tartan Educational & Cultural Association (IATS/TECA) in 1992, and appear in their TartanArt database and graphics generator, and have since been added to other databases used in the trade (though not always with correct thread counts; see the “Tartans” page for precise ones).

They were next registered with the nonprofit Scottish Tartans Authority (which absorbed the databases of IATS/TECA and the Scottish Tartans Society, both now defunct). Two thread-count errors existed in those records for a while, but have since been corrected.

In 2009, the British government created a new department, the official Scottish Register of Tartans (TartanRegister.gov.uk). The McCandlish setts have been formally registered with it, and have been checked as of 2020 (and 2022) that they are correctly recorded.

The purposes of listing the tartans with these organizations are firstly to make it easier for more people to know about the tartans, and secondly to keep them from becoming lost, or co-opted. There really aren’t any legal issues at stake here. (Which segues nicely to the next Q&A.)

A) Yes, they are (though the copyright is not registered. I don’t see any particular reason to register the copyright, as the extra legal protection afforded by doing so doesn’t appear to be necessary here).

The purpose of the copyright is very straightforward: To prevent the usurpation of the designs by a tartan woolen mill that liked the pattern but wanted to sell it to a more numerous family and thus make more money. Use of the tartans by Cuindlis-descended folks, or honest merchants for that matter, is in no way restricted. Incidentally, I have never heard of a demonstrated case of woolen mills “stealing” tartans, just rumours that it has happened. As such, I do not besmirch their reputation, I am simply taking precautions against an unlikely but theoretically possible scenario.

While the tartans’ setts (visual designs) and their thread-count specifications are covered by copyright, they are released under a very permissive license that permits all use, for free, without requesting permission or giving attribution; the sole restriction is that a McCandlish tartan cannot be misrepresented as the tartan of another family or organization.

Again, use of these tartans as a [Mc]Candlish (or any other Cuindlis-variant) family tartan, for whatever end purpose, is not under any restriction. You are free to wear and display one of these tartans, sell items made with it, etc. You do not have to seek permission to do this or pay any royalty, for either personal or commercial uses. It simply can’t be labeled as something else. I.e., it’s fine if you make blankets with the tartan and sell them as McCanliss tartan blankents, but not as MacVie or North Uist tartan blankets. If you just like the pattern and use it but don’t name it anything at all, that’s fine too.

Legal eagles may want to note that both the designs, as visual works, and the thread counts, as textual specifications, are copyright-protected works. No particular pieces of cloth are claimed as copyright-protected, as copyright law in most places, including the US and the UK, does not apply to actual textiles, the way it applies, for example, to a specific copy of a book as well as to the non-physical information it contains, or to a recording of a song as well as to the score and the lyrics. That is, the copyrights are protecting the intellectual property, not any physical property, as the laws don’t cover textile physical property.

Q) Why do these tartans have two hues of the same colour in them? Etc.

Black Watch or Old Campbell,
the “ancestor” of McCandlish tartan:
[Image:Classic tartan in dark blue and black on dark green]
A) As more and more tartans are created (there are over 5,000 now), there is a bewildering array of them, many so similar as to be difficult to tell apart. The doubled colour scheme is very distinctive, and helps this one stand out in the crowd (including from other setts based loosely on Black Watch). Additionally, the creator of these tartans found the effect pleasant, and less garish than many tartans. At any rate, the tartans follow all the “rules” of tartan design, and use no colours that are not already in well-established family tartans (this will, incidentally, help ensure that these setts can be woven by any tartan mill willing to do it, since they should have the colours in stock.) And, yes, there are other tartans with two different hues of the same basic colour, though not many (e.g., Chisolm Colonial has two blues in it, as does the tartan of the US Air Force Reserve Pipe Band; the Isle Of Skye district tartan has three hues of green). McCandlish may be the only family or clan tartan to use two hues of the same colour as the dominant colours (the over-check) in the tartan. A district tartan that does is Galloway green/hunting, which uses two tones of green as the over-check.

The tartan is also unusual, at least among those based on Black Watch, in having “tram tracks” (the thin black under-check lines) of differing widths, and in using more than three colours (five).

Sometimes people wonder why the hunting/green and dress/grey versions of the tartan are colour-changed variants of the red one instead of being totally different. Various clans and families that adopted different tartans at different times often have tartans that do not match in any way. Often they are based on what is shown in old portraits of clan chiefs, or were just devised later by different people with different design ideas. There is no “rule” that hunting or dress tartans be markedly different from everyday tartans. For example, MacTavish/Thompson dress grey is just a colour-shifted variant of MacTavish/Thompson camel, while MacTavish dress blue, MacTavish of Dunadry, and MacTavish hunting are just colour variants of MacTavish red. Another example is the Galloway district tartan; the green/hunting version is based directly on the red/dress version, having the same proportions in different colours.

Q) What makes these the McCandlish tartans?

There’s no clan chief issuing formal declarations. These are “the” McCandlish tartans by virtue of the fact that they’re the only ones for this name. You could create another – though there are already six, and that is surely enough. These have 30 years of imprimatur and are listed in all the major tartan databases. If you’d like an alternative anyway, try one of the Galloway district tartans.

Last modified 2022-06-06 by SMcCandlish.