Textile Spotlight: Tartan

By Kate Riley November 19, 2013

I thought I’d start a periodic series spotlighting textile patterns since fabric design is so much on my mind right now. Let’s begin with tartan since it’s trending again. It’s a cloth that has been around for centuries, but these iconic patterns are showing up everywhere from home decor to fashion.

Classic tartan is made with alternating bands of dyed thread woven together to form diagonal lines where the colors cross over and resulting in blocks of color in distinctive squares. Originating in Scotland, the woven patterns were at first regional and then later representative of clans, and by the 17th and 18th century, tartan was characteristic of Scottish Highland dress.

tartan throw

Recent press releases from American design houses declare new lines of tartan are being released since the woven pattern is returning to popularity, but classic tastemakers like Ralph Lauren have always carried it here in the States. The word “plaid” is used interchangeably with “tartan” so in retail so you’ll often find the tartan weave labeled as plaid.

I love tartan on upholstered accent chairs or as accent pillows, the rich colorful prints bring a masculine touch and the traditional pattern adds a sense of comfort.

tartan chair house beautiful

allesandra schumacher

house beautiful / quintessence


Tartans and plaids will always be classic, they’re impactful when allowed to take the spotlight, from bedding to window treatments.

tartan bedding tobi fairley

tartan window panels

tartan window panels sitting room

tartan plaid throw elle decor

 tobi fairley / burnham design / elle decor / hudson interior design


Tartan feels right at home in mountain or country style homes and cabin spaces.

tartan sofa

tartan window treatments

tartan chairs

rill architects / crisp architects / midwest living


The pattern adds a preppy feel and traditional touch to contemporary spaces.

tartan pillows

tartan tile floor

james thomas / andrea may interiors


As winter approaches, wool tartan accents cozy up the home, don’t you think?

tartan throw on porch

viva terra

Pretty Kate has stepped out in a few tartan coats – she was given several titles when she wed William, one of them the Scottish title Countess of Strathearn.

kate middleton tartan

Wear tartan this winter ladies with these style picks!  tartan plaid coats

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Make tartan prints part of your holiday decor to embrace the classic Christmas color.

tartan christmas wrap

tartan holiday decor

gift wrap / table runner / bird ornament


With red such a hot color in fashion this season, bold red tartan fits right in to your home and wardrobe. Did you know to be the real deal, a tartan must be officially registered in this database? And for all of you interested in textile history I found this article on Scottish tartan fascinating.

Are you a fan of these iconic patterns?




  1. Funnily enough…I am not generally a fan of tartan…although I do like it, in the winter months…I think I associate tartan with the cold!


    Jess. x

  2. I absolutely love that this cozy traditional fabric is making a comeback! Abranca’s application in the N.Y. show house is perfect and modern. That tartan tile floor makes me swoon!

  3. Kate,
    Wonderful eye candy and inspiration. I have a few friends that are using plaids for Christmas I will be sure and tell them about this wonderful post you have posted.

  4. They’re not prints. As you said at the beginning of the post, they’re woven with yarn of different colors.

  5. I love tartan but it really does scream cold weather to me. I can’t imagine having tartan drapes in my room year round — it would create a little bit of cognitive dissonance for me in the warmer seasons. I do gravitate toward it in the winter. I probably wouldn’t drop a lot of cash on a piece but I would try to pick up inexpensive throws and accessories to bring out in the colder months!

  6. I’ve been shopping for tartan bedding for my son’s room and I can’t wait to pull it all together. I’m hoping for cozy and comfortable to give him a nice place to rest when he’s home on leave from his Naval assignment in San Diego. Thanks for the added inspiration!
    Angie in Tennessee

  7. This is so funny. I just recently saw a picture of a plaid wrapped picture and the light bulb went on over my head. Here I am married with the surname Stewart and they are from Scottish background. Wouldn’t it be nice to find some of the Stewart tartan and use it as accents in my home decorating. So now I will be on a quest to find the correct tartan plaid – I think I’m being redundant in my usage. Anyway, I love the Ralph Lauren look although it would be totally inappropriate for our small ranch. Good post – I always enjoy learning and being pointed in the right direction. :-)

  8. Not a big fan. Too masculine looking for me. Also, I’m from the Great White North and in my opinion we see far too much of this as it is.

  9. As an alumna of the parochial school system, I have to admit that tartan plaids remind me of the strict uniform code to which I was reluctantly committed for so many years. While I am very grateful to my parents and to the dedicated nuns who enforced the code, I hope never to wear a tartan plaid skirt (just below the knee) again! That said, I love the British Isles, and Scotland in particular is one of the most stunning places on this planet, so perhaps a throw or a pillow is in my family room’s future. But only when the wild winter winds are howling like the banshees.

    • Ha Virginia Mom, I went to Catholic school too! We had tartan plaid skirts in junior high, so I feel your pain! Thankfully the uniforms in high school were just navy and white, whew, but I hear ya! I do love tartan scarves and jackets, seriously thinking about the cute red tartan peacoat!

  10. I’ve always loved Tartans. BUT LADIES PLEASE!! When you buy anything in a plaid, CHECK the lines to ensure they meet-up! There is nothing worse looking than a poorly (cheap looking) put- together plaid skirt or jacket; makes the eyes go wonky!

  11. I love tartan! I may be biased as my mother is from Scotland, as were my father’s parents. In my opinion, tartan works best in small doses – one statement piece is more than enough. I find it brings warmth to a room and a smile to my face.

  12. Virginia Mom, I have the same feeling. A red plaid jumper grades 1 – 6, plaid skirt 7 & 8. I always associate plaid with the peculiar odor of dried, spilled milk because by the end of the week our uniforms inevitably smelled that way. And knee socks. In our town we have a bagpipe band, so my new plaid association is kilts. Still with knee socks.

  13. I love a good tartan! One thing that’s really cool about tartans is how you can incorporate pieces of your family heritage into your decor if you happen to have any Scottish heritage. Part of my family is from the Clan Macfie (like Nanny MacPhee, just an alternate spelling), and another from Clan MacQuarrie. Each clan has several variations of their Tartan and can be purchased by the yard in 11oz or 13-16oz weights (wool) from one of the Scottish mills that make the iconic fabrics. This is great if you want to use your family Tartan (or any Tartan) for personal projects.

    We actually took it to the next level and I have a full kilt in my family’s Tartan. It’s a whole lot of fun to wear to semi-formal and formal Christmas events since the fabric is primarily red and green (with some white and yellow).

    And if you’re Irish there are actually regional Tartans that apply based on where you’re from, so it’s not only limited to the Scotts.

  14. Being married to a Scot and having lived there for nearly a decade, I love tartan things. There are many muted heather like tartans that can be incorporated into your decor without feeling like it should be winter or Christmas. Since I am from California, I am with the reader who said that I don’t think I could bear tartan curtains in the summer here. However, on a cold winter night in Scotland, tartan curtains and richly painted walls make a cozy dining room setting for a dinner party.
    There is a business based on the Black Isle north of Inverness called Anta (anta.co.uk). They have beautiful muted color tartan textiles, rugs, pottery etc. If you happen to be in Edinburgh, they also have a store there. It is worth a look if you love the order tartan brings to a room but not the cold weather feel.

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