All pictures credit: Alan Richardson.
All pictures credit: Alan Richardson.

Oldest known Scottish tartan brought back to life for people to wear

It was discovered 40 years ago in a peat bog after being buried for centuries. And now the oldest-known piece of Scottish tartan ever found has been recreated.

Dating back to 1500-1600 AD, The Glen Affric Tartan underwent testing organised by The Scottish Tartans Authority last year to confirm it was the oldest surviving piece of tartan. It went on to be exhibited at the V&A Dundee.

Although earlier cloths have been discovered in Scotland, this is the first to show a distinctive tartan pattern with multiple crossing lines of different dyed yarns.

It has now been recreated for people to wear by a manufacturer and distributor of tartan fabrics, the House of Edgar, under the guidance of a tartan historian.

The tartan features the colours that dye analysis of the original tartan had confirmed – this included the use of green, yellow and red, which would have come from woad or indigo to create the green along with other natural dyes. 

This, along with the determined thread count, helped The House of Edgar bring this piece of Scottish history back to life.

‘I create new tartans every day but this project is truly special – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recreate a piece of history,’ said Emma Wilkinson, the designer for House of Edgar who worked on the project.

‘Tartan is such an iconic piece of Scotland’s identity and it has been a true pleasure to see this fabric come back to life to be enjoyed for generations to come.’

The historian who guided the manufacturer in recreating the product is Peter E MacDonald, who is head of research and collections at the Scottish Tartans Authority.

‘It was a privilege to examine the Glen Affric specimen which represents an extraordinary survivor of our textile history,’ he said.

‘The dye-analysis, Carbon14 dating and a detailed study of the piece, together with a collaboration with House of Edgar, has brought back to life a tartan that allows us to reach back in time and touch history. 

‘It is quite special to see the tartan remade as it could have been 500 years ago.’

James Wylie, assistant curator from the V&A Dundee, added: ‘The Glen Affric tartan took the world by storm when it was revealed prior to the opening of V&A Dundee’s Tartan exhibition and continued to be a major draw for many visitors over the past nine months.

‘I am delighted that V&A Dundee could contribute to the preservation of this significant artefact. More so, I am excited its legacy can now live on through the studious efforts of The Scottish Tartans Authority and House of Edgar in reinterpreting its design, for the enjoyment and interest of all who cherish tartan’s historic allure.’

The new Glen Affric tartan is available for businesses to purchase from The House Of Edgar and the public can request it from any highlandwear supplier, with a percentage of all sales going to The Scottish Tartans Authority to support its work preserving the fabric of the nation.