Ok, so there is this business called the Welsh Tartan Centre in Cardiff. They are designing and producing tartans for various Welsh families. "Tartans for Welsh families?" you might say. "I thought tartans were for Scottish families." And you'd be right.
Not that tartans must only be for Scottish things, mind you. Many US states, all the Canadian provinces, and other places like Ireland, Australia, even Japan have tartans. But these are, of course, all more modern than the traditional Scottish tartans most of us are familiar with.
So what about these Welsh tartans? People have asked me for my opinion and I say they are fine. They look a little non-traditional (the warp is a completely different design from the weft in most cases), but this is probably done to distinguish them from the Scottish tartans. I tell people these are fashion tartans, designed by this business, and have no official standing with any of the Welsh families whose names they bear. In that regard they are merely fashion designs that have been named for those families. If that doesn't both you, then go ahead and wear them. No problem.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Irish County tartans that were designed in the mid-90s by the House of Edgar woolen mill likewise are merely fashion tartans with no official standing. They have proven quite popular among Irish ex-pats.
But someone showed me today an article from the Welsh Tartan Centre's page, giving the "history" of Welsh tartans. Boy, oh boy... There are some doozies there, and while I don't object to people designing new tartans, I strongly object to people fabricating a false history for them in order to mislead the consumer and sell more products. Here is what I'm talking about:
The Welsh wore fashion akin to kilts two thousand years ago, probably with a form of leather trousers or leggings...
Er... excuse me, but no. What these people are most likely referring to is a simple knee-length tunic that was common to just about all Celtic peoples (as well as Norse, Germans, you name it) during that time period. A kilt, by definition, is a masculine style of skirt, a pleated garment worn from the waist to the knee. A tunic is a shirt, and by no stretch of the imagination can be called a kilt -- worn knee length or not.
This form of dress remained a feature of Welsh society confirmed by the discovery of a 9th Century stone carving depicting a man wearing a kilt. This evolved through the centuries into the woollen garment we are familiar with today. Initially this would have been made from raw coarse wool and undyed.
Since they don't tell us what stone carving they are talking about here, it is impossible for anyone to take a look at it to see if, in fact, it does show a man wearing a kilt, but I would feel most confidant in saying that it does not. People have attempted to make the same claim regarding early stone carvings found in Scotland and Ireland. Inevitably what the carving actually shows is a man wearing either a tunic belted at the waist, or an acton (a type of quilted shirt worn as armor) that extended to the knee.
The fact of the matter is that the kilt developed, quite organically, in Scotland. The first type of kilted-garment we have is the belted plaid, first found described in the late sixteenth century, that seemingly developed from the large mantle worn as an outer garment in the Gaelic Scottish Highlands. From this evolved the feileadh-beag (the lower half of the belted plaid, or feileadh-mhor), and from this was born (at the end of the eighteenth century) the tailored kilt. But to suggest that the kilt evolved in Wales and has its origins some 2000 years ago is patently absurd! Where they get the idea that the original kilts were undyed is anyone's guess.
The clan designs of Scottish Tartans have a long traditional history, but there is little historic evidence of clan named tartans in Wales.
Finally, some truth! Or is it really... the very next sentence reads:
Wales did however have regional tartans.
Argh! Again, where this information comes from is beyond me. And it is beyond frustrating! People have attempted to show that tartan identity in Scotland was first regional and second familial. But the reality of it is that "district" tartans and "clan" tartans seem to have developed side by side in Scotland. But in Wales? Absolutely not, there is no evidence of this. In fact, the first Welsh tartan on record anywhere is the "Welsh National Tartan" designed in 1967 by D. M. Richards, using the colors of the Welsh flag.
They make some amusing comments regarding a "Welsh sporran" as well, which I will get to in a moment. I'm being paged as we speak. More anon!