Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)
- Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)
- How can I get cloth or a kilt in this tartan?
- Why a tartan? Why kilts?
- Isn’t a recently created tartan “inauthentic”?
- What bodies recognize the McCandlish/McCandless tartans?
- Are these tartans copyrighted?
- Why do these tartans have two hues of the same colour in them? Etc.
- What makes these the McCandlish tartans?
- What are some alternatives to these tartans?
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 twill-woven worsted wool in a narrow range of weights). Probably any reputable kiltmaker can special-order McCandlish tartan, including a custom palette like “muted” or an extra-dark “modern”, if you supply an illustration and/or sample yarn colours, along with the thread count information.
The information below is very general and not updated frequently (nor does it recommend any individual kiltmakers). For more current “intel” on tartan-weaving sources and costs, and kiltmaker recommendations, see our “Tartans and Kilts” forum section.
Most kiltmakers (in the UK, the US, or anywhere else) will already have experience ordering custom tartan from woollen mills, and may have pre-existing arrangements with one or more weavers, such as D.C. Dalgliesh or Lochcarron. Start with your chosen kiltmaker before embarking on a quest to order the material yourself, unless you have a large project in mind like kitting out an entire family (in such a case, you’d be better off negotiating a discount bulk order with a weaver).
Tartan cloth being woven at Lochcarron:
In most cases, the weavers will likely be a company in Scotland named D.C. Dalgliesh, who are one of the few weavers who will do high-quality custom tartans in in lengths less than a bolt. DCD have already previously produced some of the red sett of the McCandlish/McCandless tartan. DCD only deals with “the trade”, so you have to go through a retail kiltmaker.
There are other options, including Marton Mills (which some kiltmakers seem not to like), and Lochcarron of Scotland. A Canadian company, GK Textiles (formerly Fraser & Kirkbright), can produce lighter-weight material, with a 30-yard minimum order (3–7 kilts depending on type). In custom orders, you do generally have to go with the more expensive and higher-quality kilt material, as D.C. Dalgliesh won’t make the lower-quality gents’ kilt cloth; Lochcarron offers two weights. For Scots, heavy cloth is probably well and proper. For some Americans and Australians who live in desert climes, Lochcarron’s or GK’s lighter weight might be more appropriate, as the heavier weight cloth can be rather toasty in hot weather. However (as of 2023, anyway) ordering from Lochcarron may involve much longer wait time. Update, 2023-09: Now that is also true of D.C. Dalgliesh, due to labour issues. The pandemic has really made a mess of the tartan-weaving industry.
Because of minimum orders, costs can be quite significant. As of 2023, a 15-meter, double-width minimum order from D.C. Dalgliesh (enough for 4 traditional kilts) runs around US$1500 (before any retail markup which some kiltmakers may impose). A 12-meter double-width min. order from Lochcarron costs about the same, for less cloth. These prices (which are subject to frequent variability) do not include the kilt-tailoring labour costs. Be prepared to do something with the extra material like make a fly plaid or ladies’ sash, or sell the extra cloth on to a cousin for a kilt. Make sure the kiltmaker knows you want the left-over material, even small pieces, for crafts projects, or they may discard it all.
Be aware of import tarrifs (customs duties). Depending on where you live and where you ordered the cloth from, you may have to pay a significant import duty. E.g., in 2015 this was about 25% on woollen imports from the UK to the US, though US Customs only sometimes applied the charge, making it a bit of a “crap shoot”. Such a surcharge would most likely only be applied to a full-bolt order, since the customs authorities would probably assume that quantity was for commercial purposes.
Another good resource for asking about such matters is the X Marks the Scot forum. They have a page of advice about custom tartan, though it dates to 2015. There are probably newer discussion theads about the topic at that site.
If you just want a long span of the cloth (without hiring someone to do tailoring), e.g. for a wrap, for crafts, or for a féileadh mór (”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, per kilt, to order a full bolt (100 yards, enough for at least 10 kilts and accessories, or 20+ kilts if it is double-width). 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, and import duty. 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, mirrored in all directions”;
- a colour-adjusted print-out that pretty accurately represents the colours you expect in your sett;
- woollen 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 in the “modern” palette. 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 the smaller, pocket-sized issue from Lang Syne/Gardner’s Press; it is a heavily abridged edition missing about 75% 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.
History crash course: Tartans, in the sense of general checkered patterns of woollen (and in continental Europe, probably also flaxen/linen) cloth, date back to ancient times; the earliest surviving European samples date to around 1,200 BC in Hallstatt, Austria, essentially the centre of ancient Celtic culture. The ancient Romans refered to continental Celts (Gauls) as wearing striped or checkered cloth (Latin didn’t have different words for the two concepts). The earliest surviving simple tartan cloth of Scotland is the “Falkirk tartan” of Roman Britain, ca. 3rd century AD. The oldest surviving complex tartan cloth is the “Glen Affic tartan”, dated to the 16th century. Distinctive tartans identifiable as to region of origin (what we today call “district tartans”) developed in Scotland by the early 18th century, regimental uniform tartans by the mid-18th, and clan tartans during the early to mid-19th (despite a persistent folk belief that they are much older). The kilt as we know it today seems to date to the early 18th century or perhaps the mid-to-late 17th (its invention is disputed), but the belted plaid or great kilt (breacan an fhéilidh) was well-attested by the 16th century, and similar garments seem to be depicted in ancient Pictish carvings, though they are somewhat difficult to interpret (scholars have long debated about them). The Picts also definitely wore tartan trews (trousers). However, the Gaelic (not Pictish) Scots of the west originaly wore clothing essentially indistinguishable from that of the medieval Irish (which makes sense, since they had invaded Scotland from Ireland); this usually consisted of the long, belted saffron shirt (lèine croich, literally ‘hanging shirt’), a cloak or mantle (brat, which may have been ancestral to the belted plaid and the ladies’ arisaid), and sometimes a coat (greatcoat, còta mòr, or smaller coat, còta-goirid); the Irish Gaelic terms are the same but with the accent marks going the other direction. For a great deal of detail on the history of Highland dress, see: Old Irish and Highland Dress and That of the Isle of Man, 2nd ed., by H. F. McClintock (look for the recent reprint by On Military Matters, of Hopewell, New Jersey, which puts both now-scarce original 1950 volumes in a single paperback); and The History of Highland Dress by John Telfer Dunbar (the original 1962 edition is better than the 1979 reprint, having the same text but more colour plates).
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 increasingly obsolete and even comical costume, like German Lederhosen. May that never happen to the kilt!
A salient quotation from Hugh Cheape, curator of Scottish collections at the National Museum of Scotland:
For the descendants of Highland families now dispersed all over the world the old style of kinship is no longer tangible, but the need for identity survives. This reality focuses on tartan as the symbol of the old relationship, through a simple equation of tartan and surname…. Unfortunately, surname is never an accurate indication of either a common ancestor or blood relationship. Clan identity has been fostered by clan societies, which began to be founded in the 1880s. The fact that they are still flourishing today is a reflection of the need for roots and a sense of belonging. A link with ancestry, tradition and history still conveys a strong emotional message.
(from Hugh Cheape, Tartan, 1991, Edinburgh: National Museums Scotland.)
As you will see in the History section of this site, a direct familial link between everyone with a Cuindlis-derived surname is not provable, but we can still come together for genealogical research and other purposes with a sense of kinship. That’s ultimately what the tartan is about, along with the loose plan to create a family association.
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 nearly as old as many have been led to believe by marketing, 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. Various chief-approved official clan tartans are of very recent date, e.g. MacTavish red (1906), MacGregor dance burgundy and green (1975), Mar main clan tartan (1978), MacLeod red (1982), Mar dress/red (1992), MacTavish/Thompson dress (1998), MacGregor dance red (2005), MacDowall main clan tartan (2007), Cochrane hunting (2008), etc.
Clan tartans did not exist until the 1800s (a single exception is purported to go back to 1618, but is not a tartan that actually survived to the present). Many date to the 20th century, 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 Vestiarium 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. Some others date to later 19th-century sources. Clan chieftainships sometimes date to the modern era as well, e.g. that of Clan Shaw in 1970, the MacDonalds of Keppoch in 2006, and Buchanan in 2022. One clan, Armstrong, went defunct and was “revived” in 1969, and a similar re-establishment of Clan Bell is underway as of 2023. The major families of the Lowlands only designated themselves as clans at all after ca. 1822. 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 British woollen mills, during the mid-to-late 19th century, and many popular and accepted tartans date to the 20th century (see examples above), 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, James “Ossian” Macpherson and Lady Augusta Gregory – a movement within the Romantic era, which had more patience for spirit and enthusiasm than for historical accuracy. As Sir Thomas Innes of Learney put it in 1939, speaking of all the Lowland tartans (Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland, 1971 ed., p. 12):
It is merely snobbery to jeer at certain tartans because they cannot be proved to be old. The only ground for derision would be if it were attempted to suggest they are older than they can be proved to be.
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 patrimony. 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). The Scottish Tartans Society “inherited” them when they absorbed IATS/TECA around the year 2000.
They were next actively registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority (which also absorbed the databases of IATS/TECA and the Scottish Tartans Society, both now defunct). Two thread-count errors existed in the STA 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 SRT, and have been checked as of 2020 (and 2022, and 2023) 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.)
Q) Are these tartans copyrighted?
A) No, not any longer. A copyright was asserted by the designer from 1992 to early 2023, but the tartans have now been granted to the public domain. Nor are they encumbered by trademark restrictions. They are free for personal or even commercial use, without asking permission first.
The purpose of the original copyright was to prevent the usurpation of the designs to represent some other family or organization. With the advent of the official Scottish Register of Tartans (and the textile industry taking it seriously), this is no longer a potential issue.
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:
A) As more and more tartans are created (there are over 7,000 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 (though not unique), and helps this one stand out in the crowd, including from other setts based loosely on Black Watch. The creator of these tartans also simply 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., MacBean also has two reds in it; Chisolm Colonial has two blues, as does the tartan of the US Air Force Reserve Pipe Band; the Isle of Skye district tartan has three hues of green). McCandlish is not even the only family or clan tartan to use two hues of the same colour as the dominant colours (the under-check) in the tartan; the Balmoral tartan of the British royal family (dating to 1853) is predominantly light and dark grey. See also Galloway district green/hunting, which uses two tones of green as the under-check. That last is, incidentally, another great tartan for [Mc]Candlishes, who were historically concentrated in Galloway (Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire).
The tartan is also unusual, at least among those based on Black Watch, in having “tram tracks” (the thin black over-check lines) of differing widths. It also uses five colours, while Black Watch only uses 3 (some clan/family tartans use even more).
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 the main or “camel” MacTavish tartan, 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?
A) 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, are listed in all the major tartan databases, and are starting to appear in reference books such as Tartan for Me (which recommends these tartans for McCandlish, McCandless, and other spellings since at least the 8th edition in 2006, with Candlish added in the 9th). Smith, Philip D., Jr.; Tartan for Me!: Suggested Tartans for Scottish, Scotch-Irish, Irish, and North American Surnames with Lists of Clan, Family and District Tartans; Expanded 9th Ed.; Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books; 2011; ISBN: 9780788452703; pp. 68, 136.
Q) What are some alternatives to these tartans?
A) For anyone who isn’t particularly taken with the McCandlish tartan designs, any of the Galloway (Wigtownshire and Kirkudbrightshire) district tartans would also be appropriate for McCandlish and other Scottish spellings. Those can be found here (though mixed in with some tartans for the surname Galloway). These designs date from 1939 to 1980. If you know your branch is from somewhere outside Galloway (the most common historical place for McCandlishes), there is probably a district tartan for it, e.g. Ayrshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lanarkshire, Renrewshire, Dundee, etc. (again, these tartan database search results are mixed in a bit with ones for specific surnames and organisations in these locations, but the district ones should be obvious).
Irish county and province tartans have also been created. (Though they were just made up by the weaving industry, 1956–2000s, without consultation with communities or official bodies in these locations, some people like them, and lots of the now-official clan tartans were just invented originally by the industry, too. “Tradition” is very relative!) A few of potential interest to McCandlesses, Canlisses, etc. of the north of Ireland: Ulster, Antrim, Down, Derry/Londonderry, Armagh, Donegal, Leitrim. Meanwhile, any Conlisks, Cundlesses, Quinlishes, etc. of west-central Ireland who have an interest in tartan might like: Connacht (Connaught), Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Munster, Tipperary, Limerick, Leinster, Offaly (as above, there are some false-positives mixed in with these search results).
There are also a variety of national Scottish tartans, and ones considered generally usable by anyone. Some of their names include Caledonia, royal Stewart and hunting Stewart (also claimed by Clan Stewart specifically), Jacobite, Black Watch (also claimed by several clans), Braveheart, Clansman, European Union, Highlander, Independence, Pride of Scotland, Rainbow, Scotland 2000, Scotland the Brave, Scottish National, Scottish Parliament, Spirit of Scotland, Stone of Destiny, and Twenty First Century (all easily found at the The Scottish Register of Tartans). However, some of these are copyrighted/trademarked and are only available from particular vendors.
Since around the 1950s onward, tartans have also been devised (often officially) for US states, Canadian provinces and territories, Australian states, countries like New Zealand and South Africa, and even many major cities, as well as sometimes for specific institutions like military branches, particular universities, and so on. The Scottish Register of Tartans is easy to search for tartan ideas.
Last modified 2023-09-26 by SMcCandlish.