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Monday, October 20, 2008

More on MacGregor tartans

Way back in May of 2006, I did a post about the MacGregor tartans. I had received in my email a copy of a letter written by Sir Malcom MacGregor of MacGregor, clarifying just what was and was not an officially approved MacGregor tartan. I praised the letter at that time with the words, "it is always nice to know the wishes of the chief of a clan as to his own clan tartan or tartans, and now we know, straight from the source, the 'skinny' on the MacGregor tartans. Thanks to Sir Malcolm!"

It would seem that the letter was occasioned by the recording of tartans such as "Trade MacGregor" and "MacGregor of Balquidder," etc., by groups such as the Scottish Tartans Society, Scottish Tartans Authority, and Scottish Tartans World Register. These (and others Sir Malcolm mentioned) have never been approved MacGregor tartans, and he was simply dealing with the confusion and setting the record straight as far as what is and what is not a true MacGregor clan tartan.

Speaking of the multiplicity of "MacGregor" tartans, he wrote in that letter, "I am sure that many families, in the same vein as estate tweeds are used today, had tartans woven with a distinctive variation from the main clan tartan, being woven once and not repeated."

I followed that statement with my own comment in my blog post, "Like the 'Black MacGregor' tartan that I had woven as a personal tartan for my friend Ronan MacGregor, who simply does not like red tartans! This is a personal tartan, not a clan tartan, and there is nothing wrong with wearing a custom personal tartan, so long as erroneous claims are not made about it."

And all is right with the world, at least as far as MacGregor tartans are concerned, right? Well, almost...

This past weekend when conversing with Sir Malcolm at the Stone Mountain Highland Games (see my most recent blog post), he commented that he had done some further research into his clan's tartans and made some additional comments which were subsequently posted on the clan's web site. So this evening I took the opportunity to take a look. You can see "Part Two" of Sir Malcolm's article on the Clan Gregor web site, here:
http://www.clangregor.org/article-ourtartans2.html

Like the first one he wrote, this is a very helpful article in cutting through the confusion and getting right down to what the real story is behind the MacGregor clan tartans. The new article makes reference to "dialog" about the tartans on the Clan Gregor Society web site. Sir Malcolm references the STA database, and even myself in his introduction! And, I was delighted to note, he also references the Black MacGregor tartan that I am partly responsible for.

My curiosity getting the better of me, I took a look through the Clan Gregor Society web site archives. I found a few posts from last summer that mention my name. Four in particular are relevant here. They represent a discussion between a Mr. Dennis Bowers and Mr. Wesley Walker (whom I have had the pleasure of making a box pleated kilt for in the weathered MacGregor tartan).

The first post by Mr. Bowers is on June 5, 2008. He writes of the Scottish Tartans Authority and says:
"It has been many months since I looked at this page. It seems, once again, that some 'new' unsanctioned tartans, that are not officially endorsed by our Chief have sprung up thanks to Matthew Newsome of the Tartan Authority... I realize it comes down to money for these retailers but, there seems to be a false sense of what is accepted by our Chief and what is being called a MacGregor tartan... say someone was a 'newbie' at a MacGregor gathering, for an example, and they are wearing one of those 'MacGregor Black' tartans, which is actually green and dark grey with a little red....and everyone else is wearing the accepted tartans. Would that person not feel a little out of place?I know that I had sent the letter from our Chief to Matthew Newsome about a year ago. I see he has removed some of the tartans which were in question but added new ones in their place.Sorry for the rant. It seems that somewhere the line of communication lacks or there is a lack of consideration and respect."

Mr. Bower seems to be rather confused on more than one issue, I am afraid. First of all, though I am a life member of the Scottish Tartans Authority (by virtue of my acceptance into the Guild of Tartan Scholars), I am not employed by them, I am not on their board, and so describing me as "of the Tartan Authority" is a bit misleading. (By the way, there should be an "s" on the end of "tartan" in "Scottish Tartans Authority." It is plural -- there is more than one tartan, after all!).

I confess that I do not recall who sent me the initial email containing Sir Malcolm's letter, but it very well may have been Mr. Bowers. My response was to write my initial blog post, to help spread the word. I certainly have no control over what gets included on the Scottish Tartans Authority web site -- he seems to have me confused with Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority.

And, by the way, the Black MacGregor tartan he references is most definitely black, dark green, red and white. There is no grey in the tartan at all. As I have made the only kilt ever made in that tartan, I think I'm in a position to know the colors in it.

But moving on... I was pleased to see Mr. Walker come to my defense a bit in his reply. He wrote, in part, "in my dealings and discussions with Mr Newsome, I have found that he is quite competent, not to mention well-read, on the subject of Tartan and its documented history as well as its legal status."

Regarding the STA, he pointed out, "they do distinguish between 'clan' tartans and 'personal' tartans... In other words, it appears to me that the Tartan Authority is distinguishing those tartans that are 'sanctioned' by the chief as 'clan' tartans." This is actually a very good point, and the STA has in fact recently introduced another classification -- "name" tartans. A "clan" tartan would be one approved by a clan chief or some other person or body authorized to represent that family or clan. A "personal" tartan is just that, a private design for personal use. A "name" tartan would be a tartan designed for use by all of the name, where there is no authority who is capable of determining a tartan for that name. Previously this latter category has also been labelled "clan" which has led to confusion.

Back to our discussion of the MacGregor tartans, Mr. Bowers was apparently not impressed by Mr. Walker's reply. He wrote, "In regards to Matt Newsome and your defense of him. Just for your personal information, it took some doing and a letter from Our Chief to correct what he had listed on his page. He wasn't quite as willing to be educated ,as your said, or understand until that information crossed his palms."

Again, he seems to have me confused with Brian Wilton. I'm honestly not quite sure where this confusion comes from. He's much better looking than I am. :-) That, and he lives in Scotland, while I am in North Carolina. And he's director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, and responsible for what gets in their International Tartan Index and what goes on their web site -- and I am not.

But I digress. One way or another Sir Malcolm got wind of the debate about the tartans listed on the Scottish Tartans Authority site and the "Black MacGregor" tartan in particular, and revised his article on the clan tartans. His conclusions really do cut to the heart of the matter. For example, of the STA (which he correctly understands to be run out of Scotland and not from my home in North Carolina!), he writes, "I have recently been in liaison with the STA in Crieff who have been most helpful in understanding the general predicament. Consequently, the MacGregor section of their website is helpful and accurate."

Regarding myself, he writes, "The discussion group made reference to Mr. Newsome from North Carolina, who has written some interesting articles on the subject. His history of recording tartan really is helpful in trying to understand something of the evolution of tartans and is well worth reading."

To this I say a very humble, "Thank you." I take his compliments as truly high praise indeed.

Regarding the Black MacGregor tartan, he includes this under "Miscellaneous Tartans" in his article and he simply states, "This is not a clan tartan. It was designed by a Mr. Ronan Macgregor from North Carolina for his own use and should not be worn by anyone else. He has paid for it and designed it. Individuals have been designing their own tartans for many years perfectly legitimately, but they should not be registered or promoted as clan tartans. The STA use the words ‘personal’ within its categorisation."

This is, of course, all very true, except the caveat that "it should not be worn by anyone else." This implies that Ronan MacGregor, the originator of the tartan, wishes to restrict its use. He does not. I work with him at the Scottish Tartans Museum and know for a fact that he doesn't mind if anyone else wants to wear the tartan. But he does not pretend that it is a clan tartan, and makes no claims for it to be one.

Since this has become the subject of some debate, which I was until recently not aware of, I wanted to take the time in this blog post to give the story of the "Black MacGregor" tartan, such as it is.

In early 2005, Ronan MacGregor, who is my assistant at the Scottish Tartans Museum, wanted to have a kilt made for himself. He favors dark colors. The MacGregor tartans are, for the most part, mainly red and he simply does not fancy red tartans. But he wanted something that would be evocative of his MacGregor name.

In speaking to him about this, I mentioned the common practice in earlier centuries of having a variation of a preexisting tartan custom woven for personal use. For instance, people would write to the mills as request a particular tartan with an additional yellow stripe, or with red changed to blue, etc. This was once much more common than it is today. But there is no reason one should not feel free to come up with custom variations for personal wear. In The Kilt and How to Wear It, c. 1901, the author speaks of designing tartans in seasonal colors to wear, speaking fondly of "hill checks" and the like.

So I suggested to Ronan that if he wanted a dark tartan, why not come up with a variation of the MacGregor clan tartan that was based in black, not in red. He and I sat down together and came up with three or four possibilities, and in the end settled on the design which he called "Black MacGregor." We had just enough fabric woven for his kilt, which I made for him. A sample piece was sent to the Scottish Tartans Authority for their records -- remember, the STA includes all woven tartans in their Index, not just clan tartans. It was added to their database and properly classed as a "personal" tartan.

We did not copyright it nor have we attempted to restrict the design in any way. Anyone who wants to have it woven is free to do so. However, they should be aware that it is not a clan MacGregor tartan.

Why is it called "MacGregor" if it is not a clan MacGregor tartan? Because it is an obvious variation of the MacGregor design. It is a tartan in the MacGregor "family" of tartans, even if it is not an approved clan tartan. It maintains the MacGregor motif. I suppose a good name for it would have been the "Ronan MacGregor" tartan, but the intent was not for him to have his own personal tartan that no one else could use, as if he had some entitlement to such. He just wanted a kilt in a black version of the MacGregor tartan for his own wear.

And this is not a unique case. There is another tartan recorded by the STA as a black version of the MacGregor tartan that replaced the green with black. It was woven special for the mother of actor Ewan MacGregor, for the same reason as Ronan had his woven -- to cater to his own personal taste.

But I want to point out here in no uncertain terms that neither he nor I have ever made the claim -- nor would we -- that this is meant to anything other than a personal tartan designed for his own use. It most certainly is not a clan tartan and should not be regarded as such. That was not and is not the intent.

And this was most certainly not a money-making scheme, as Mr. Bowers implied in his June posting to the CGS forum (note the reference to "retailers"). To our knowledge, only one length of this cloth was ever woven and it was for Ronan MacGregor's personal kilt. Neither he nor I have made a dime off of the creation of this tartan.

If anyone has any questions or needs any more clarification on the above, they would do well to contact either myself or Ronan MacGregor at the Scottish Tartans Museum, as we designed the tartan; Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, who is the final authority on what is a sanctioned tartan for the clan; or the Scottish Tartans Authority whose business it is to collect and dissimate information on tartan -- and with over 7000 of them in the International Tartan Index, that is not an easy task.

Making assumptions and posting misinformation on Internet forums without having all the facts, though, only adds to the confusion. And there is already more than enough of that out there in the world of tartan.

11 comments:

Jakob said...
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Jakob said...

Mr. Newsome-
In your quoting me some time back, you grossly underestimated and perverted my thoughts and words to the negative. This, I take personally and with disrespect! All I was trying to understand was WHY.. retailers... in general do what they do. I was NOT by any means attempting to just isolate you alone! However, this IS how you perceived it and made it look like I was attacking you. I WROTE you the email AFTER our Chief, Sir Malcolm had INDEED written our Clan website in reference to his information and corrections! How dare you Sir make me to look like the bad guy and liar!
I hope you have the honesty and fortitude to leave my comment on here for others to review for themselves!
Gravely,
Dennis Bowers

Jakob said...

I might also add Mr. Newsome, it was in a private email that you and I had in reference to the spirited discussion between Mr.Walker and I were having on the MacGregor site. YOU, basically were steadfast in your thoughts and opinions. That was until you had the information sent to you AND confirmed through our Chief!!! Don't state you didn't understand where the confusion was! I stand with our Chief in his decisions and preferences. Make no mistake of that! Perhaps if your going to attempt to quote someone and take everything out of context, you better write the WHOLE discussion and NOT just parts that you pick and choose to satisfy your own purpose!
Dennis Bowers

Jakob said...

This is what happens when comments, questions and concerns get spun in a different manner than what they stated or asked. Mr. Newsome should be ashamed of himself for taking the info he sought out and turn it completely around in a different direction. SHAME ON YOU MATTHEW NEWSOME!

Matthew Newsome, FSA Scot, GTS said...

Dennis,

I'll gladly leave up your ultiple comments, if only to illustrate just how "hot under the collar" some people can get when it comes to tartan.

Though I did not quote the entire conversation that occurred regarding this subject on the MacGregor clan web site, I do believe I quote enough to give context to the remarks. In any case, the entire contents of your postings, and those of Mr. Walker, are there on the Clan MacGregor site for anyone to read, should they choose to do so.

The fact of the matter remains that you seem to have been upset with me regarding the contents of the Scottish Tartans Authority web site, over which I have no control.

You also seem to have been confused over the provenance of the "Black MacGregor" tartan, which is why I posted this recent blog entry -- for clarification. It is a personal tartan; no more, no less. (And most definitelt not a retail venture. As I did not even charge Ronan when I made his kilt, I can safely say I have not made a dime off of this tartan!)

I admit to not remembering just who sent me Sir Malcolm's letter back in May 2006. It very well may have been yourself. But I certainly do not recall any lengthy exchange on the subject.

And I don't really know what there would have been to debate. I respect Sir Malcolm's judgment regarding his clan tartans, and agree with him. As do you. So where is the argument?

Pa`druig MacGriogair said...
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Pa`druig MacGriogair said...

There you go again Mr.Newsome! Twisting the intention and questions to make yourself feel better now that you were caught. Absolutely no one is "hot under the collar" about Tartan. My Chief has done a SUPERB job of answering and clearing up any concerns any of us MacGregors may have!
Again, you admit to cherry picking a discussion on the Clan MacGregor website to your purpose and liking.
In your third paragraph you use the word "seem" to express YOUR feelings as to the issue. Here again, your wrong! There had been several discussions over our board and many had asked Sir Malcolm if he'd intercede with his voice to correct and update what MANY of us were seeing on numerous Kilt making websites, yours included. So Sir Malcolm wrote about our Tartan Part One.Once I had seen this, this is when I had contacted you and had asked some questions in regards to..what you had labeled as the Rob Roy and I told you at that time that it was incorrectly named so. You were stubborn Sir and did not change the name UNTIL A}I had sent you the remarks from our Chief and B)when someone else must have contacted you or were told from our Chief as of recent.I also believe Chief, Sir Malcolm answered further in Tartan: part Two in regards to personal tartan and his feelings as well. Many of us echo his words and feel as he does!
So you ASSUME....and what I learned in law enforcement academy..the word ASSUME means..to make an ASS out of U and ME;...me to be "upset" That was NOT the case at all. Thought I will tell you I had private emails as well that confirmed that many retailers will darn near anything for the money they make off of a kilt and will call it whatever they wish and tell the buyer it is sanctioned or this is approved by a Chief when, it is the opposite! Can you deny that fact Mr. NEwsome? What ticks me off is when someone, like yourself takes words and phrases out of contexts because you "feel" or "seem" to have an idea what the person on the other side is try to convey. You are AND were sadly mistaken. Emails do not give voice inflections and facial expressions hence, you can NEVER be 100 percent sure of the tone or meaning of any given conversation. Here, you took it over and beyond and I would hope you would have the courtesy to apologize to me for the infraction and disrespect. I've already wrote a comment on CGS board to clarify what you had done. As far as the Black Tartan goes, I have 0 problem with it. Great! Terrific! However, at the time, you had NONE of these stipulation or origin of this written anywhere to designate the why,how and what for!!! You or who ever do NOT state it was for a single individual and for that person only! Had you done this, there would have been NO questions at all! Again, Sir Malcolm has done a superb job with his comments in Tartan: Part Two on his feelings in reference to personalized tartan for Clan Gregor.
But again Mr. Newsome,you've attempted to wiggle around the true nature of this subject and what meant when questions were asked. You Sir, did not change your thought process specifically on any tartan of MacGregor until you had my email and then the words of our Chief correcting and updating the reflections of our Chief!
SIncerely,
Dennis Bowers
P.S. I feel this subject is now closed as our Chief has spoken and I AM aliened with him!

Matthew Newsome, FSA Scot, GTS said...

Yes, Dennis, you are correct; one cannot hear voice inflections or see facial expressions in emails or internet postings. But on the other hand, people have managed to communicate via the written word for centuries and seem to get by somehow. And based solely on what you have written, I still maintain that you are confusing me with someone else.

You keep making references to some listing of tartans I supposedly maintain. For example you write, "I had contacted you and had asked some questions in regards to..what you had labeled as the Rob Roy and I told you at that time that it was incorrectly named so. You were stubborn Sir and did not change the name..."

Point in fact is that nowhere in my writings do I deal with the MacGregor clan tartans before my May 2006 blog post. And that post simply reiterated the statements of your clan chief.

Again, you write, "You Sir, did not change your thought process specifically on any tartan of MacGregor until you had my email and then the words of our Chief..."

But since there is nothing on my web site about the MacGregor tartans until the above referenced blog post, I really don't know what "thought process" you are referring to!

If I made any erroneous statements about any of the MacGregor clan tartans prior to May of 2006 I do humbly apologize. However, I simply cannot recall dealing with the topic of MacGregor tartans before that point. I certainly don't maintain a list of MacGregor tartans on my web site that would need changing or renaming, as you suggest.

I really think you have me confused with someone else. I humbly suggest that you may be thinking of the web site of the Scottish Tartans Authority, or possible the web site of the Scottish Tartans World Register, both of which maintain tartan listing.

So please, before you reply again, consider that I may not truly be the subject of your ire. I have left the comments you have made thus far intact, but they continue along this line, I really see no point in perpetuating them.

I will close by dealing specifically with one charge you make regarding the Black MacGregor tartan. You write, "However, at the time, you had NONE of these stipulation or origin of this written anywhere to designate the why,how and what for!!! You or who ever do NOT state it was for a single individual and for that person only! Had you done this, there would have been NO questions at all!"

Truth be told, when I sent the details of the Black MacGregor tartan to Brian Wilton of the STA for inclusion in the International Tartan Index, I sent all the information about the tartan, including the fact that it was a personal tartan designed for Mr. Ronan MacGregor of North Carolina. When it was added to their web site shortly thereafter, it was correctly listed as a personal tartan. All information that I submitted with the tartan was included in the notes for that tartan. STA members have access to the full notes on each tartan on their web site. If you are not a member, perhaps you did not have access to that data. However, I assure you it was there from the beginning.

Pa`druig MacGriogair said...
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Pa`druig MacGriogair said...

Mr. Newsome…
Why do you persist in your struggle? Point of the matter is, you got caught and unexpectedly so! I will take your assertions one at a time.
“And based solely on what you have written, I still maintain that you are confusing me with someone else.”
No..I certainly am NOT confused with anyone else nor have I heard these other names you speak of! You’re the one and only individual I have ever written besides CG website! Nice try though!

“You keep making references to some listing of tartans I supposedly maintain. For example you write, "I had contacted you and had asked some questions in regards to..what you had labeled as the Rob Roy and I told you at that time that it was incorrectly named so. You were stubborn Sir and did not change the name..."
Point in fact is that nowhere in my writings do I deal with the MacGregor clan tartans before my May 2006 blog post. “

Again a very nice try but, this WAS the only main reason I had contacted you so you were aware of the proper name for this particular tartan! Your attempt at dismissing and denying this fact is feeble at best!

“But since there is nothing on my web site about the MacGregor tartans until the above referenced blog post, I really don't know what "thought process" you are referring to!”

Again, denying the true fact of the matter because you have been caught misleading and stretching comments and questions.

“If I made any erroneous statements about any of the MacGregor clan tartans prior to May of 2006 I do humbly apologize. However, I simply cannot recall dealing with the topic of MacGregor tartans before that point. I certainly don't maintain a list of MacGregor tartans on my web site that would need changing or renaming, as you suggest.”

Here you admit to not recalling. Sounds like your pulling a Ronald Regan here. Selective memory I guess.
However, this does sounds like an attempt of an apology which, as weak as it is, I do accept it.

“I really think you have me confused with someone else. I humbly suggest that you may be thinking of the web site of the Scottish Tartans Authority, or possible the web site of the Scottish Tartans World Register, both of which maintain tartan listing.”

Again, NO mistake Sir. No mistake!

“I will close by dealing specifically with one charge you make regarding the Black MacGregor tartan. You write, "However, at the time, you had NONE of these stipulation or origin of this written anywhere to designate the why,how and what for!!! You or who ever do NOT state it was for a single individual and for that person only! Had you done this, there would have been NO questions at all!"
Truth be told, when I sent the details of the Black MacGregor tartan to Brian Wilton of the STA for inclusion in the International Tartan Index, I sent all the information about the tartan, including the fact that it was a personal tartan designed for Mr. Ronan MacGregor of North Carolina.”

Again Sir, you did not! But hey, if that’s your version, obviously you believe it to be true! Denial… is not just a river in Egypt.

I sincerely hope, this concludes this discussion! As I stated, our Honorable Chief has spoken and thus…there it is!

Matthew Newsome, FSA Scot, GTS said...

I apologize to the readers of this blog for allowing this tirade to continue this long. I'm closing this post to further comments.