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Culture

The Art of Scottish Tartan Weaving

Tartan is Scotland's most famous fabric. Originally the cloth of Scottish warrior clans, tartan patterns tell tales of heritage and ancestry. The checked fabric is a recognised symbol of Scotland and has a long and storied history that stretches back many centuries. As The Balmoral unveils its new tartan uniform, designed in partnership with Kinloch Anderson, we take a look at the art of Scottish tartan making and discover the meaning behind hotel’s bespoke fabric.

The Birth of Highland Dress

Just as medieval noblemen were recognised by their family crests, Scottish clans created signature tartans. Each tribe conceived a pattern unique to them, which was worn around the waist like a kilt and draped over the shoulder. The fabric became so significant that it was banned for a number of decades as the government attempted to bring the clans under their control. However, the opposite happened and following the repeal of the Dress Act in 1782, tartan went from being a Highland tradition to the symbolic national dress of Scotland. Tartan is still used to this day, especially at important events such as national sporting events, weddings and cultural celebrations such as ceilidhs (Gaelic dances). The famous fabric features prominently throughout The Balmoral, which, like the original Scottish clans, has it’s own unique design.

The Balmoral Hotel Tartan

Set in the heart of the Edinburgh, The Balmoral is a grand railway hotel that epitomises Scottish tradition in every way, from the cuisine served at the restaurants to the tartan uniforms worn by the front of house team and the Whisky Ambassadors at Scotch whisky bar. The tartan worn by the front of house team at the hotel is a bespoke design named ‘The Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh Tartan’, which was created over 18 months in collaboration with local tartan experts Kinloch Anderson. The blue and green colours of the new tartan were inspired by the natural landscape of Edinburgh and Scotland. The contemporary design combines yarn in heather, moss, thicket, zest, greenfinch and rave hues to reflect the stunning views of landmarks including Arthur’s Seat, the Old Town and Princes Street Gardens, which can be seen from the hotel. 

For those interested in learning more about tartan, The Balmoral’s dedicated Tartan Butler Andy Fraser invites guests to explore the art through tailored, organised day trips. He can also source the tartan of a guest’s ancestors and arrange kilt fittings at recommended local tailors’.

Shopping for Ancestral Stripes

All official tartans are listed in the Scottish Register of Tartans. At tailors’ and shops across Edinburgh, visitors can buy existing designs or commission their own and submit it to the register. Kinloch Anderson is one of the finest tartan tailors in the country. The family-run company has been creating tartan clothing for over 150 years. In a time when tartan was predominantly used for military uniforms, the Royal Warrant holder was one of the first tailors to begin making tartan ready-to-wear, aiding the fabric’s progression into the fashion world, where it became a staple of designers such as Vivienne Westwood. Visitors to Edinburgh can browse an extensive selection of Highland Dress and kilt accessories in a range of styles at the Kinloch Anderson store in Leith.

A Lesson in Tartan

To discover more about the age-old art of tartan making, visit the Edinburgh Tartan Mill. Located in a historic building that was previously the city reservoir, the mill supplies another kind of lifeline to the city, tartan. Learn about the Scottish national dress with a tour of the exhibition, which demonstrates the entire production process from sheep sheering and loom weaving to kilt making. Elsewhere in Edinburgh, the Clan Tartan Centre invites visitors to browse the many varieties of tartan, learn about the history of Scottish clans and discover their own clan connection.

From Scottish tartan to Scottish heritage, stay at the prestigious, historic The Balmoral hotel to experience Edinburgh at its best.