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Friday, March 23, 2012

Tartans: Soft and Hard

Visitors to my web site may have noted that I now offer a variety of finishing options on the cloth woven for my Heirloom Kilts.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain a bit more about this option.  First, what do I mean by "finish?"  After the cloth is woven by the mill, but before it is shipped to the customer, it is sent off to the finishers.  This is an off-site facility (only one woolen mill I know of in Scotland does their own finishing on-site) where the woven cloth is run through a process that essentially cleans and softens it.  Different finishing techniques can be applied to different types of cloth, to achieve different desired results.  I don't need to go into all that much detail here, though I did find this interesting article on the subject which anyone looking for more information can read.  There is even a bit at the end about worsted wool.

Suffice it to say that the "standard finish" option on my heirloom kilts means that the cloth for your kilt will be finished in the same way that all worsted wool kilting material is typically finished these days.  This is what most kilt wearers will be used to.  This is doubtless what most kilt wearers will want for their kilts.

But, as with all things in Highland dress, there is room in the tradition for individual tastes and preferences, and so I am very happy to be able to offer my clients two additional finishing options.

The first is "teasle raised."  A teasle is a plant, cousin to the thistle, the dried tops of which can be used to brush woolen cloth to give it a slightly raised finish.  This lovely young lass is showing us a teasle.
The above and following photos were taken while on a tour of Johnstons of Elgin.  Johnstons was the mill I referred to above who does their own finishing in-house.  While they do not weave the tartan cloth used for my Heirloom kilts (that is done by D. C. Dalgliesh), I was able to see the teasle raising process whilst there and took these photos.

The teasles are attached to long metal bars to make combs.  You can see some leaning against the wall behind the young lady above.  Here's a close up.
And here is what they look like after they have been used to brush the cloth.
The process raises the fibers of the wool, giving the cloth a much softer feel, and a somewhat "hairier" texture.  It's almost tweed-like in its feel, though of course the cloth has not been woven from the blended yarns so typical of tweed.

The below photo shows two samples of our New House Highland tartan.  The top sample has been teasle raised.  The bottom has received the standard finish.

As you can see, above, the teasle raised sample does have a "fuzzier" appearance to it.  I can testify that it is much softer to the touch.  The below photo shows the same two samples of tartan from a further distance, which demonstrates again the visual difference to be expected from this cloth.
Here the teasle raised cloth is on the bottom of the photo, with the standard finish above.  The bottom sample obviously has a bit more of a tweedy look to it.

The closest comparison I can make is to older kilts I have handled which were made from a heavy weight saxony cloth.  This teasle raised cloth has a similar softness to it, which some clients may like for their kilts.  

A final option for your cloth finish is to not have it finished at all!  This I am calling the "hard tartan" option, which I will explain in just a bit.  In this case, the cloth is delivered exactly as it comes off the loom, with no finishing treatment.  Mills refer to this as "in the grease."  The cloth is stiffer, rougher, and decidedly more "crisp."  Some have compared it to a canvas-like feel.

Here are two lengths of cloth I recently had delivered "in the grease."
As you can see, there is not much visual difference between this and a standard finish.  To make the point, here is a close up view of the unfinished Armstrong tartan above, and a sample of the New House Highland tartan finished in the standard way.
While there is virtually no visible difference up close, there will be some difference in how the cloth hangs in a kilt, as it is a stiffer cloth.  (The length of Armstrong tartan in the above photo is for a personal kilt for myself, and as soon as I can complete it, I will happily model the kilt).

The major difference is in the feel.  Now, you may be asking, who would want cloth for their kilt that feels rougher and more stiff?  Well, as it turns out, this unfinished cloth is a very close approximation of the "hard tartan" which was commonly woven in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  And that is how we are billing it - as hard tartan.  

So who would want hard tartan?  Reenactors will find this cloth perfectly suited to their needs.  And anyone else who wants a kilt that has a more historic feel to it, or a traditional feel and appearance, may also be attracted to this style of cloth.

As I said at the onset of this post, most people will want -- and will be perfectly happy with -- the standard finish on their tartan.  But for those who want something a bit different, either softer or hard, I am very pleased to be able to offer these two additional options.

1 comment:

kilt rentals said...

Very inspiring story. This is how you do your mens kilts. I love the pictures and I am so inspired to make one kilt soon. Thanks a lot for sharing!