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Tartan vs Plaid

Today, the terms Tartan, Plaid & Check are often used interchangeably and each of these iconic patterns is in fact different. These classic patterns are some of the most widely recognised and versatile textile designs in the world. They have been popular throughout history, across cultures and continue to be staples in both fashion and interior design.

Before reading on, let's establish a commonality between these three fabric designs. Tartans, plaids and checks are all comprised of horizontal and vertical stripes. They intersect one another at 90 degree angles creating grid-like patterns.

Tartan explained

A pattern consisting of multiple coloured criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands. The pattern of the stripes running vertically is duplicated EXACTLY on the horizontal axis. Where the different colours overlap, new colours are created. It is a beloved classic pattern that evokes feelings of tradition and nostalgia. In fact, the oldest known tartan fabric dates back 3,000 years!

Plaid explained

Traditionally, Plaid referred to a specific type of garment worn by the Scottish to protect them from cold, harsh winters. The word plaid is derived from the Gaelic word Plaide, meaning blanket. This oversized wool garment also known as a "belted plaid" or "great kilt" was worn around the waist and then draped over the left shoulder. The pattern woven into the fabric was Tartan. Scottish clans each had their own type of tartan such as, Black Watch or Royal Stewart. Often, the same clan would have two different types of tartans, one for hunting and one for dress.

Today, the term Plaid refers to patterns inspired by traditional tartan designs, and the term Tartan now refers to a type of Plaid. "Plaid" replaced "Tartan" once the patterns became popular with British and American textile manufacturers who would recreate fabrics inspired by authentic tartans. Plaids consist of crossed horizontal and vertical bands in two or more colours. The main difference between traditional tartans and other types of plaids has to do with the pattern's repeat. In regard to plaids, the pattern of the vertical stripe does not necessarily have to match the pattern of the horizontal stripe like the pattern of a tartan. Plaids have many variations of band width, repeat and/or colour.

Don't forget about check!

Check patterns are simpler than plaids. They generally consist of two alternating colours, but not always. Checkered patterns are symmetrical, consisting of crossed horizontal and vertical lines that form equal sized squares. Each line is intersected by the same kind of line in equal intervals and widths. There are many different types of check patterns such as Gingham, Buffalo and Windowpane.

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